Friday, July 24, 2015

2 Bestsellers Disagree on Outlines

Image result for two men boxing
Mr. Patterson and Mr. King Duking It Out
I had a planning session with my father-in-law yesterday (he's a retired time management consultant). I'm not a very organized person by nature, so self-publishing is gonna be a real challenge for me. I'm down to the basics: like creating a proper To Do list every morning.

It reminded me of one of the lessons in James Patterson's Masterclass. Because writing a To Do list at the beginning of your day is kind of like doing an outline before you start a book.

I've always been interested in why some writers outline their books and others don't. You think that one or the other method is 'right.' But that's not true.  Because two of the biggest writers on the planet disagree about outlines.

Patterson thinks it's the most important part of the process. He spends between 2 weeks and 2 months outlining every one of his books. Character arcs, plot twists, conflicts, et al.

Image result for archaeologist imagesStephen King, on the other hand, detests outlining his books. He considers stories to be like 'fossils' that already exist out there and writers are the archaeologists who dig them out.

I'm on the fence. I didn't outline my first novel, but I had to do one for my second, because the manuscript wasn't finished and the publisher wanted a complete chapter breakdown. So I can work either way.

I do agree with Mr. King on one thing though: I believe stories are 'out there' waiting to be told, too.
But I don't necessarily see a book as an archaeological dig. When an idea first occurs to me, it seems more like a 'forest.'

Image result for rain forest images

Yes, a forest. A huge one, like the Amazon rainforest, stretching to the horizon on all sides.  I have a bird's eye view of the forest - as if I'm seeing it from above. And that's the way I see the book too. I just have a 'general' sense of it.

This usually includes the major characters or storylines, an important scene or two, maybe even an ending - though that's no guarantee I'll end up there.

But what I really have is the 'feeling' of the book. How does it make me feel - and how do I hope it will make readers feel when it's done. Is it dark, light, tense, funny, sad, romantic? Just an overall sense of the story.

But a huge forest - like a whole book - is intimidating. Even scary. I guess that's why this forest imagery works for me. Because in order to write the story, I have to come down out of the sky and get to ground level. Then I have to take a deep breath and walk into that forest. Er, story.

Image result for rain forest photos

It's almost as if I'm a botanist taking notes. Each tree is a character or plot twist. Each stone or flower a detail or scene. It takes time and patience. It's often difficult and frustrating. But sentence by sentence, character by character, twist by twist, I keeping writing until I end up with something that resembles the original inspiration I had. The story I saw from 'above.'

But it's a long process and I'd really like to speed it up. So I think I'm going to listen to Patterson's advice and try outlining my next project - just to see if it helps.

One way or another it's good to know that when it comes to outlining your book, there really is no 'right' or 'wrong' way. Because Mr. King has a pretty decent career too.