In author interviews and while giving book talks, one of the questions that often comes up is, “Do you outline the whole book?”
For one of my books–Inherit the Past–I wrote a three page synopsis of the book and then wrote the book using that as my guide. For another book, I wrote a brief outline of the whole book and followed that. But for most of my books I don’t do either.
Over the past few years my writing process has evolved into what works best for me. Every writer is different. I may start a book with a vague idea–starting with a series of what if . . . questions. Or I may start with a place and then start to fill in the characters and main plot.
The idea for my next book–a suspense/thriller tentatively titled The Secret Town–began while I was on a cross-country road trip to California with my husband and daughter. We were driving on a freeway in a mountain area in the early evening. We spotted a road sign for an exit called ‘Secret Town Road’. It led off into a heavily wooded area. My daughter and I said we wanted to take that exit, but we didn’t get a chance because we needed to get where we were going, quickly. That sign stuck with me, though, and kept nagging at me. It became the inspiration for my ‘running away from bad guys and the government family’ from my Project Chameleon book series.
Anyway, after getting a story idea, I start up a Storyboard document which will eventually become kind of a roadmap that helps me get from Point A to Point Z and begin making notes about my idea. I will eventually create the main characters–details about their appearance, their personality, their background, and their family.
I’ll create the plan for the book’s opening scene and I’ll have an idea of how the book will end. The hardest part is filling in everything else. Often I will outline the first five or six chapters and then begin writing. It’s during the writing that I will discover what the book is really about.
Somewhere along the way–maybe halfway–I will go back to my storyboard and fill in much of the story plan. By the time I’m two-thirds done with the book, I usually go back to my storyboard and outline the rest of the book.
What’s harder when writing mysteries is that I have to figure out not only the plot, but also who committed the crime and why, who the other potential suspects might be and what could be their motives. I have to leave clues and red-herrings. Often I will also foreshadow something. All of that takes additional planning, so I have to go back to my Storyboard frequently and make notes.
While my methods might not work for all writers of fiction, I hope my article will give writers some ideas about how to find their own methods.