K. A. Stewart’s debut novel, A Devil in the Details, will be released next week (6th July 2010). You can learn about the book at the end of this post. But first up is a guest blog post Kari has written about her outlining process for Devil. Enjoy!
Hi, I’m Kari, and I’m a reformed pantser.
It’s true. I used to just write as things came to me, just spewing words out without a thought to where the story was going, or what I was trying to accomplish. Writing scenes out of order? Sure, why not!
I was hard at work at this EPIC fantasy thing I had going, when I got the idea for this nifty little urban fantasy project. And I thought, “Okay, I gotta finish the one I’m working on, and THEN I can work on the new one.” Only the UF wouldn’t leave me alone. It kept whispering to me, telling me awesome little secrets.
So, to appease the muses, I decided that I’d scribble those little secrets down, just some notes really, then go back to work on my EPIC fantasy. That way, I wouldn’t forget anything, and it would be there waiting for me when its turn came.
Only, my notes kept growing (faster than the EPIC fantasy, I might add) and one day I looked at those UF notes and realised that I had chapters delineated, I had a beginning-middle-end, all in summary form. Holy cow, I had an outline!
And y’know, since I had that outline there, and it seemed so easy to just jump in now and then…Y’know, just to write a little bit when I got stuck on the EPIC…I was amazed how easy the UF was coming, even just in tidbits. I was never stuck! Anytime I couldn’t figure out what had to happen, I just glanced at my outline, and realised, “Oh yeah, I gotta hit this plot point here! Duh.”
Somewhere along the way, the EPIC fantasy was trunked (at 78,000 words), and that cute little UF project I was just toying with became A Devil in the Details.
Devil was the first novel I ever outlined. I’ve written four novels since then, including Devil‘s sequel, and I’ve outlined all of them beforehand. I don’t think I will ever be able to go back to being a pantser.
For me, outlining typically starts with a random word doc full of notes. It’s rather chaotic, totally random. When I first start imagining a book, I often have to jot down the inspiring element, so I don’t lose track of what made me want to write it in the first place. It could be a song lyric, a poem, a random conversation overheard at the bus stop. I get my ideas, literally, from everywhere.
Once I have that inspiring element, that seed, I start scribbling down everything that comes to my mind. Kinda like a one-person brainstorming session. A lot of times, it spills over to a couple of my beta readers, as I try to express in words all the awesomeness that’s rolling around in my brain. Because every time I start a new project, in my brain, it’s the most awesome thing EVER. I’m not the most objective of audiences. My betas tell me what’s working, what might be cool. They let me know if I’ve got something, or if I’ve totally lost my mind.
I jot down character ideas. Snippets of dialogue. Plot points, or even scenes that have come to me so very clearly. Often, I have no idea where those scenes are going to go, but I don’t want to forget them in case I find a place for them!
I see what kind of research might be needed. Setting the book in a new city? Research the city! Need to know police procedures? Research that. Need to know the chemical makeup of lighter fluid? There’s an app for that. Seriously.
Eventually, my random scrawl of notes starts to take some form. My plot points start to drift into a logical order, and eventually even break into what will be chapters. That doesn’t mean I have every single event plotted. Quite often, you’ll see the note “something happens here” on my outlines. But it’s an excellent starting point.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that they don’t like to outline, because they feel like it forces them to stick to the outlined points. They feel trapped. But the way I do it, things change as I write! Some of my plot points don’t make it into the chapter they’re assigned to, or even at all. Those points I highlight in blue on my outline, and don’t worry about it anymore. Sometimes, at chapter eleven, I realise that I really should have mentioned event XYZ back in chapter three. Instead of screeching to a halt where I am, I just go add another blue note to my outline for chapter three, and I go on. The same goes for any nifty new points I dream up, partway through the process. “OMG, this guy SO needs to have x-ray vision!” The note goes on the outline, and I keep moving.
The second draft of any book I write is always going back through my outline, reviewing those blue notes and either incorporating them, or marking them off as unnecessary. Once I have that “correction” pass done, I feel confident in sending my creation out to my betas, and the poor little outline generally falls by the wayside after that point. It has done its job valiantly.
I like to imagine (when I’m suffering under delusions of my own grandeur) that someday someone will collect all of those old outlines and the world will get a good laugh at how different the finished books were from those initial notes and scribbles.
But hey, it worked.
K. A. Stewart
A Devil in the Details (Jesse James Dawson, Book 1)
Penguin Roc (US & CA: 6th July 2010)
Buy (US) Buy (UK) Buy (CA) Buy (Worldwide)
Jesse James Dawson was an ordinary guy (well, an ordinary guy with a black belt in karate) until one day he learned his brother had made a bargain with a demon. Jesse discovered there was only one way to save his brother: put up his own soul as collateral, and fight the demon to the death. Jesse lived to free his brother – and became part of a loose organisation of Champions who put their own souls on the line to help those who get in over their heads with demons. But now experienced Champions are losing battles at a much higher rate than usual. Someone has changed the game. And if Jesse can’t figure out the new rules, his next battle may be his last…