I’ve just come off the first phase of my book tour for Every Last Secret, and one question that I was asked at almost every event was: “Do you outline your novels before you write them?”
That seems like a simple yes or no answer, but with me, it’s a little more complicated. Yes, I outline my novels before I write them. No, I don’t follow those careful outlines when I write.
The truth is that I’m genetically incapable of following a pattern or a plan. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought a sewing or knitting or weaving pattern that I wanted to make. Once I begin, though, I can’t stick to it. I have to tamper with it, to redesign it. I just can’t do what someone else tells me to do. Perhaps I have a problem with authority figures. (Do you think?)
This is why I never bother with patterns when I knit or quilt something anymore. For me, they’re a waste of time and money. I just go ahead and design my own work “on the needles.”
When it comes to writing novels, I’d like to change my rebellious attitude, especially now that I have contracts to fulfill with deadlines, and I’m not writing on spec any longer. So, I sit down and do some hard thinking about characters’ needs and motivations, about various actions characters might take, about conflict and pace and things like that. I write out a scene-by-scene outline for the book.
Then, I sit down to write it. After a while, I find I can’t go on. I feel there’s something fundamentally wrong with the book. So I start looking for problems and testing out characters for new villains. (It’s often the murderer who seems to be wrong.) As I continue to fiddle and play around with the characters and the scenes and various possible actions, I inevitably come up with a stronger villain, a more original motive for murder, and as a nice side benefit, more scenes with powerful conflict enacted.
My method is hard on the nerves, but in each case the book that came from all the redesigning is a much stronger book than the original would have been. So my answer to the question: “Do you outline your novels before you write them?” is still yes and no. Now, I usually outline for about 50 pages and write that before outlining the next 50 pages. That seems to be working for me at this time.
How about you? If you’re a writer, do you outline your novel before you write it?