Our guest today is Elizabeth S. Craig who writes the Southern Quilting mysteries for Penguin/NAL, the Memphis Barbeque mysteries for Penguin/Berkley, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently. She shares writing-related links on Twitter and curates links for the free Writer’s Knowledge Base. Her most recent book is Death Pays a Visit. From ForeWord on Myrtle Clover: “The treat here is Myrtle’s eccentricity, brought to life with rich humor and executed…with breezy skill.”[pullquote]If there are other writers out there who start doubting their writing process, as I did, I want to encourage them to experiment. The results can make a tremendous difference.[/pullquote]
Outlining: Why I Made the Switch and Tips for Trying It
I was a mystery writing pantster. I was rather proud of it.
This approach worked enormously well for me. Until, one day, it didn’t.
I was on a deadline and realized the book had several huge plot holes that I’d not seen until close to the end. I pulled some all-nighters and initiated a writing schedule that made NaNoWriMo look tame. I hit my deadline, but it was enough to shake me up. It shook me out of my complacency.
Around this time, I was signed to a new series. My editor liked reviewing outlines before the books were written. I had two books to write that year and one I wanted to put out myself. I realized I’d have to outline for the one editor anyway, and I’d either have to be super-organized and not make any mistakes to get the other two out…or else I could try outlining all three of them.
I became a reluctant outliner.
This is what I discovered
- I’m faster. Definitely faster. There was less mulling-over happening during my writing time.
- The drafts are cleaner.
- There are fewer plot holes because I can spot potential problem areas.
- I have better woven-in subplots and theme, if I use theme.
- Fewer character inconsistencies.
- More complete character development right off the bat. I have a better sense of who the characters are before starting the draft.
- If I must leave the manuscript alone for a while, I jump immediately back into the story with no problems. The outline basically states: “Here’s what you write today.”
- Cover designer and copywriters can create back cover copy and covers (for both traditional publishing and self publishing) before I’ve even finished the book. On a couple of occasions before I’d even started the book.
- Less creative energy except during the initial brainstorming process.
- I write shorter. Sometimes too short.
- Sometimes my writing can sound stilted or flat after outlining and have to be fluffed up later.
- Outlining takes time. A couple of outlines have taken over a week to complete.
Ways to combat the cons
I give myself permission to veer off the outline, if I’ve got a great idea. [Read more…]