Knowing where you are going

signWhen I start to write a book I have a general idea of how it is going to end, but the specifics have surprised me every time. I’ve recently finished the first draft of my fourth novel, c3, and I am still enjoying some of the  unexpected twists and turns. The good news is that I always know exactly where I am going once I have finally gotten there. 🙂

A few months ago I wrote a guest post answering the question of whether I used an outline or not. My answer was yes I did and yes I didn’t. That seems to have become more true with each story I’ve written, and I’d like to share the post with you.

catWe’ve gotten very into particle physics at my house lately, mostly because my husband is reading about entanglement.  We are household of geeks, and the three of us and my older daughter who is visiting are fascinated by Schrödinger’s cat, hidden in its box simultaneously both dead and alive. For until you open the box, every possibility exits. It’s not a case of an “or”, it is an “and”. Dead and alive, simultaneously, as impossible as that seems.

And so it goes with my writing. In my twenties I thought planning was evil and that true creativity would spring forth from my subconscious only if it was unfettered by something mundane as an outline.  I still have pages of long hand creative brilliance that go on and on in a fascinating if somewhat illegible fashion and then go nowhere in various interesting ways.

My thirties brought children and a real job and a need for order, and my attempts to write went with it. Carefully planned lists and plot outlines filled neat folders on my computer, and my first book was outlined so many times it got ridiculous.  I didn’t write, I just made outlines, but they were really spectacularly thorough ones.

Today I do both, or neither. My fourth book started just like my first, with a series of chapters each defined only by four to six bullet points that got me from where I wanted the story to start to where I wanted it to end and provided a sense of pace for getting from here to there in about twenty chapters. No details.  Each time I have written the first few chapters with no further constraints and watched to see what happened. Each time, there were surprises, mostly in the subplots and additional characters that emerged.

outlines 1

research and outline in progress

Then for each chapter after the first couple, before starting  that chapter I expand the bullet points out to maybe ten to twenty items for just that chapter, so that I can now make sure that all the growing complexity is getting moved along in a timely fashion.  Every few chapters from then on I stop and look ahead, adding a bullet point or two to my later chapters to make sure that all emerging subplots will get carried through to conclusion. But I never plan details, leaving room even in the current chapter for my characters to surprise me.  They do that a lot, and I think that is the most incredibly fun thing about writing fiction.

So it is a little like Schrödinger’s cat.  It is both outlined and it is not. Only in the cat’s case, the probability function collapses when you open the box, and it becomes one thing or another, dead or alive.  My novel’s probability function collapses when the book is done, when it becomes both a story with form and structure and yet a tale full of events I could not have predicted when I started.

This appeared as a guest post at
Bunny’s Book Review
on June 8, 2013
Kindle Nook Books on June 13, 2013
The Book Connoisseur on July 28, 2013

Check these blogs out for a wealth of information on reading, writing and publishing as well as leads for many fine books you aren’t that likely to hear about elsewhere.