The Lights of The Arno (which you can check out at the top of this page) was not the first book I tried to write. There were precursors. Actually, if you look on my business card, you’ll see that I had another “Work in Progress” written down: A Flock of Crows. It was a dark book, about two boys who conspire to kill their friend’s abusive stepfather.
It’s pretty interesting, and I still plan to write it someday, even though I had to do some gnarly research for it at the time (do not look at my Google from that time period. Questions like, “How much blood does a body have?” or “Show me research about matricide and patricide” don’t look too good for future job applications, but at least I didn’t call my local police station to ask.)
What I learned from writing that book was how difficult it was to write a book without an outline. I would sit down every day and start writing, but I couldn’t remember what kind of whether the town had, or the kinds of clothes I said people wore, or whether that thing that happened actually happened and I wrote it down or it didn’t because I forgot it and it was all so goshdarn confusing!
Writing off the cuff can be fun and interesting, but if you’re looking to make a solid book with memorable characters and a sustainable storyline, you’re going to want to outline your novel. New writers especially don’t want to hear this kind of thing because they’ve already got the creative juices flowing and they don’t want to be slowed down. But you have to think of this in the same way of that archetypally ugly and brutish German woman that taught you violin, but wouldn’t let you touch one for six weeks. Outlines are a little like that.
When you make an effective outline, you’ll understand exactly who the characters are, why they do what they do, their history, their favorite foods, their quirks, where they live, the conditions of it, the limitations of their characters, everything. And this takes a bit of time. Renowned novelist Ken Follett says that his outlines take up to a year to complete and they’re about 25 to 40 pages.
This may be daunting to writers, but my suggestion is to make an outline anyway, because you can write off the cuff, but if you want your novel to be good, you’re going to do all the same work anyway. Writing without an outline will ensure that you spend twice, three times, or even four times as long on your novel, and the easy way to not do all that backwork is to do the frontwork first.
Some suggestions of books to help you get there would be the two books pictured above: Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland. They are excellent resources to structuring your novel to be the perfect and beautiful masterpiece you want it to be.
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Photo Credit (Crow)