There’s a lot of different ways to write a novel. Not every way is suitable for every writer, and part of maturing and growing in our chosen craft is to learn what style suits you best.
Sometimes you’ll fit into a neat little category – you might be a Snowflaker, a Seat-of-your-Pantser, a detailed Outliner, or use any number of different strategies. Each of them is slightly different, and discussing them is a completely different blog post (that I might do in the future).
Personally, I use a hybrid model – part Snowflake, and part Outline. For my current NaNoWriMo novel, I spent the better part of a week prior to the competition by outlining the general structure of my novel.
I get intimidated by the blank page. Sometimes it’s quite paralysing, not knowing what to write or where to direct the book and its characters – so having a general outline always helps me. Snowflaking is great for this, allowing me to start with a general premise, then build around it and add extra details.
Outlining the entire novel is also a great help. In fact, I did an entire A3 sheet of paper with the various chapters and plotlines that I wanted to follow. And for the first half of my book, I followed the outline.
Then something happened.
I realized I was slowly writing the novel differently. My characters were still operating within the bounds of my outline, but now they were drifting from the chosen path. Rebelling, perhaps, against the path I’d chosen for them – ironic considering my book largely involves the theme of unchangeable fate.
To a non-writer this probably sounds crazy, perhaps diagnosable and curable by a nondescript bottle of brightly coloured pills. But to other writers, we know it’s not a mental apparition, but our subconscious (our muse, if you like that word) directing the novel in a different, perhaps better route.
For me, I know my outlines aren’t particularly strong when it comes to endings – I prefer to let my characters direct me towards their own end. And it’s happened brilliantly for my NaNoWriMo novel, because the new direction has opened my eyes to a potentially better storyline. Sure, it means more editing and rewrites come December, but overall letting my novel forge its own path has contributed to a better ending.
It doesn’t come without consequences. In abandoning my plan, I no longer know where I’m going, which has stalled my progress and cut my word count. So perhaps for a deadline event like NaNo, this wasn’t the smartest idea. Then again, hamstringing my novel to an outline scribbled on a piece of paper would only serve to make my life more difficult come editing time.
Seat-of-the-pants writing has never sat well with me – I like knowing where my story is going, at least in the early parts. My outlining is always strongest in the first half of a novel, and falls away after that. I see a vision of the beginning, but never clearly the end. I enjoy letting my characters and story direct itself, but I have a controlling urge that’s difficult to shake.
And that’s where a hybrid model comes into play – I can have the best of both worlds, so to speak. I can create an outline with ‘milestones’, key scenes and revelations that my characters should, or must, experience, while the blanks in the middle can be filled as I approach them, letting my characters develop themselves along the way.
I wouldn’t recommend one style or the other – like I said, it’s a matter of personal preference. But I would be curious to know what your preferred style is, or whether (like me), you use a mixture of styles.
Feel free to comment below, or tweet me at @BrettMichaelOrr.