Friday, July 25, 2008

How to start a novel: write first or outline first?

In March, I gave a seminar at the LDStorymakers writer's conference entitled, Creating Your Inner Writing Team. One point I discussed was the way one's natural preference (right brain or left brain) can affect the process of writing. While most people have and use both sides of their brains (hee, hee), our natural preference affects how we go about a project. I gave the example of folks who find it easy to outline a paper and then write it following the outline and folks who are frozen at the prospect of beginning with an outline. They have to write the paper first, then the outline!

So now Nancy and I are working on a project (Lael's writing a YA novel for the national market), and the question of how to begin raised it's head. When writing my earlier novels, I had an idea, and then sat down in front of the typewriter or computer and started writing. I often only had the vaguest notion of what characters besides the protagonist would populate the novel and what the plot points would be.

For example, when I wrote my first novel,  The Broken Covenant, I wanted to explore why and how a "good" LDS woman would move from being a devoted wife to having an affair. I had no idea how to begin, so I started writing the conversations I knew this character would have. With the man in question, her husband, her children, the bishop, etc. 

I followed much the same process with my other novels. However, working with Nancy as co-author requires a different plan. Outlining and plotting first! Oy vey! Nancy came up with a great idea. Through brainstorming, we knew who the main characters were and what the general plot line would be (a road trip/development novel). But we had to go far beyond that so we wouldn't waste time going down paths that were unproductive.

Luckily, about that time I got a copy of The Writer's Journey/Mythic Structures for Writers by Christopher Vogler. What a fascinating book. Basically, Vogler shows how every successful work of fiction--humorous, epic, whatever——has a character arc that can overlay classic idea of The Hero's Journey. There's been much discussion, for example, of how The Hero's Journey can be seen in the Star Wars trilogy. 

So I used the points on the character arc that Vogler outlines in the book as a scaffolding to begin plotting the new novel. The points are, 

1.  Limited awareness of a problem
2.  Increased awareness
3.  Reluctance to change
4.  Overcoming reluctance
5.  Committing to change
6.  Experimenting with first change
7.  Preparing for big change
8.  Attempting big change
9.  Consequences of the change
10. Rededication to change
11. Final attempt at big change
12. Final mastery of the problem

I was amazed at how working with these points opened up all sorts of possibilities. Before long, I had a basic structure on paper. Now Nancy and I can have fun filling it out and refining it. 

Of course, even with this outline, new ideas and unexpected plot turns will come up in the writing itself. I'm looking forward to seeing where we'll end up, but happily we have a good idea of where we're going!


David G. Woolley said...

Hi COBs:

So happy I found your blog. I found the link somewhere. What a treasure you three. Congratulations on writing endeavors and successes. I am excited for you and very interested to read what you've written.

All the best,

David G. Woolley

Join author David G. Woolley at his Top of the Morning Blog or his Promised Land Website. He is also a weekly contributor to the Latter Day Authors blog.

Wight Family said...

Thank you so much for posting this little tidbit of priceless knowledge! I'm absolutely positive it will help me on my journey as a writer!
I'm sending in my review of Surprise Packages to a few more papers than just the local tiny one. Thanks for the opportunity! I LOVED it, though I'm suffering withdrawals and the whole Nicole Beto saga needs to live on... And I'm so glad Deenie makes it, I couldn't have been more worried!!! Great job!

Carroll said...

Vicki, thanks back at you for writing a review! Getting the word out really helps!

David, I'm so in awe of your Book of Mormon series! The kind of research and creativity it takes to write convincingly is amazing.

I'm especially curious to know how guys respond to our series--be sure to drop back our way when you've read them and let us know what you think!

David G. Woolley said...

Hi Carol:

I will stop be here often. Thanks for the email. That is a great way to catch me.

I love your work, your blog and your COB personalities.

All the best,

David G. Woolley

Join author David G. Woolley at his Promised Land Website. He is also a weekly contributor to the Latter Day Authors blog and he writes commentary and opinion at the Utah Ranger's Far Post blog

Mer said...

Very interesting post, Carroll, thanks!

Congrats on your book, ladies, it's marvelous!

Josi said...

Very cool--and inspiring to know we can change our spots. I tend to think I can only write one way, but I need to be more flexible. I'm hoping to see you gals in Cali come October, cross your fingers for me!

David G. Woolley said...

I read your first chapter. I have some thoughts, but I won't post them here...

Well done ladies.

David G. Woolley

Carroll said...

Talk about creating suspense, David!