I’m in the outline/development stage of writing my next novel, a mystery/thriller called Stella Blue, and as I do with every major new writing project I take on, I have lately asked myself, “What do I want to learn this time?” It has become clear to me that my writing gets better, faster and is more fun (well, scary fun) when I’m out on the face of the wave between what I know and don’t know about my craft.
This time out, I have a couple of goals in mind. One is to do a much better job of outlining and mapping the story before I start writing a draft in earnest. As some of you know, I’m a proudly self-defined “pantser” – I write by the seat of my pants. I’ve always claimed that this was because if I knew in advance where the story was headed, I couldn’t be bothered to write it. These days, I don’t think that’s true. If I’m being honest with myself (as I learned to be from writing my last book, how to live life) I’d have to say that part of me rejects outlining because I perceive it as dry, dull work – heavy lifting at a time when I want light skipping and jumping. But my growth as a writer demands that I part with the pantser model, at least temporarily, if for no other reason than to overcome a certain prejudice and find out, really, if outlining has anything to offer me at all.
The other goal, related to the first, is to see if I can come up with some brand new ways to think about story development. I understand outlining to be the part of the process where I gather raw material for the story. I want to do a better – and therefore must do a different – job of this than I have in the past.
Why do I need new methods for story development? Because I hate story development. In the early days of finding a story it seems like I’m mostly just staring off into space thinking of nothing at all. Sometimes this feeling gets so bad, so frustrating, that the story never develops at all. I don’t lament this – I never force a story to come – I just call it another dry well and move on to the next.
This time around, though, I’m making great progress and having great fun by using a simple new technique I call “story porn.” Basically, all I do is look at pictures that I think might be relevant to my story, and then wait to get excited by what I see.