Per his permission to post it here, Michael McCullough of Uniontown, PA, recently asked me the following question(s) and thought since I get asked this quite a bit I would post it here for all of you to read.
How do you know you are at a halfway point? Is your novel already outlined to a tee, or do you know when you have done enough in your storyline and when you cross the thresholds to the new acts? I have a vague outline to my book, but I want to leave it room to grow…the problem I am having is that there is TOO much room to grow, and all the ideas seem worthy! Furthermore, it appears I have a case of the “muddles.” I have what I believe to be a compelling introduction and an “Aha!” ending, so tying them together is the hardest part I have come across!
First, thanks for the question, Michael. As far as outlining, it is really a matter of personal preference. Some authors like to jot down some ideas, while others will go full-bore with an outline – every scene, characters, action sequence, etc. It is really what works best for you and your thought process. As you stated, you have a lot of ideas, so it may not be a bad idea to at least do a simple outline on the manuscript you are about to begin. This might be a way to keep your thoughts from getting ‘muddled’ and stay clear for you throughout the entire story. As for me, I didn’t do any notes or outlining at all for Night School. With my short stories, I may jot down the basic story idea but that’s about it. Although, for the current novel I am working on, which is a monster type novel (can’t tell you the kind of monster yet, of course) I started off with just a basic idea and started writing. As I continued (I’m about 45k into it now – I go by what the publisher is asking for in regard to total word count – in this case it will end up around 80k) writing, I went back and jotted down character traits, what they are wearing, etc, so I don’t mess it up later (you sure as hell don’t want a female character of yours to start off wearing jeans and then 10 chapters later to only be wearing a pair of cut-off shorts or something along those lines). Although, I will admit about a week ago, I got some general scene ideas and wrote them down. But, as I continued writing (with the notes right in front of me on my desk) I noticed that no matter what I had written down I was veering away from them. Basically, what I’m saying is that outlining doesn’t work for me. I have always been one that I have to just let the story flow and see where it leads me. I feel, at least for myself that if you outline you might hold so tight to that predetermined storyline that you might miss a great twist that you previously wouldn’t have thought of while actually writing the thing (same goes for planning out your ending in advance – you never know where the story might lead you while writing it and if you already have the ending planned out you might miss something even better). In the end though it is really up to you and what works best. Hell, try doing it both ways and see what happens.
Again, thanks for the question, Michael. Hope this helps you out a bit.