With the first two novels, I made up the story as I went. In both cases, this resulted in finished drafts that lacked any real plot.
While I’m personally not big on traditional “story arcs” (more on that another time), a novel does need some sort of reason for being in order to keep a reader engaged. Both of those manuscripts required a lot of tinkering with the story mechanics during revision.
With this one, I decided to map out a plot before writing a word.
It’s a simple outline, just a placeholder chapter title I can use as shorthand for what needs to happen and a short description of the main “action” of the chapter. I’ve also tagged each chapter with its primary plot line.
I am already finding that there are pros and cons to this approach. One pro is that I can very easily jump around. Each day, I work on whichever chapter I feel most drawn to, whether that’s in part four or part one.
A downside, though, is that I am finding it harder to veer off course, to follow my intuition down rabbit holes. I have to remind myself that the outline is merely a suggestion. I created it, and I can change it (or trash it).
There’s that famous E. L. Doctorow quote about writing:
“It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
But Doctorow used historical events as guideposts. He had some idea where he was going.
I think the key, for me, will be to hold the outline loosely.
I realized this week that the whole backstory I have set up for my narrator is incorrect and unnecessary, which means the first six chapters are out the window. Who really knows, but I think that having the outline helped me to see that fact earlier than I would have otherwise. So it’s serving a purpose, for now.
I won’t abandon it, yet.