Writing is an individualistic pursuit. While it’s perhaps wise to read the advice of those who have gone before and certainly to read their fiction (if they’ve written any), at some point you’re going to want to do things your own way. This is made easier by the fact that some advisors tell you in case A, do X, while others tell you that case A absolutely calls for doing Y. Whatever boneheaded thing you do, there’s probably some other bonehead out there advising just that thing, or close to it.
Alas, making your own path is also made more difficult by the same division of opinion. If you’re a beginning novelist like me, you have no idea whose method is best, or if they’re all equally good, or if they’re all dead wrong, at least for you. You have to just point your bow, start paddling, and hope that star you’re pointing at is the right one.
Having completed the rough draft of the beginning part of my novel, I’ve decided to revisit the plot, which seemed to have a lot of unnecessary stuff cluttering it up. This goes against the advice to keep going, no matter what, and only partially with the advice to have a galvanized outline (iron-clad would be too inflexible, I think) before writing a word–you see, I wrote sort of an outline, wrote some prose, did another outline, wrote a lot or prose, and am now doing another outline.
If you take a look at the outline below, you’ll see it really does need some work. The Beginning section has 35 sections, while the Middle has 14 and the End weighs in at a mere 10 sections. That’s a little out of whack, isn’t it? (Don’t worry, the full version has lots more detail.)
To get myself out of this jam, I’ve returned to my original cookbook, The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, which gives a clear, if somewhat traditional-publishing-oriented (that is, non-indie-e-book) approach to the process. One of the many useful features in this book is a section template. Here’s an example of my own modified version:
Denizens/staff of Tartarus figure if Colin & Faust are down there, they are supposed to be punished somehow, for something. Aegaeon, a hundred-handed giant, is in charge of Tartarus. He is incredibly strong and ferocious (per wikipedia).
From # Oracle’s Word Surprise #1
To # Reacting to Oracle
Section Character: Soul-Colin
When: Early morning, June 17
Goal from character’s last section: Get back to his body ASAP. Get out of Tartarus before the alarm gets too much. Stay true to his values. Continue trying to get free with Faust’s help. Just now, he feels to heck with the souls.
Cliffhanger from character’s last section: They leave the island and the demons are after them. (Maybe they go further into the lake of fire to get away.) This Cliffhanger part is my own addition.
Against (person or circumstance that brings crisis): Tartarus demons, especially Aegaeon.
Conflict (occurrence of crisis; section character’s reaction): Colin & Faust want out of Tartarus. The demons want to imprison them there.
Failure (unless opposition) (inability to undo or deny crisis) (swift and sudden): Faust gets caught and Colin can’t rescue her; he has to get away.
New Goal (or go to a Reaction section) (character doesn’t necessarily have to devise, but describe it here; can devise here, though, or devise in Reaction section): Rescue Faust before he does anything else; figure out how to do that. AND… Get back to his body ASAP. Stay true to his values. Continue trying to get free with Faust’s help. He feels to heck with the souls, except for Faust.
Cliffhanger: Faust getting dragged away. Colin diving back into the lake of fire, swimming deep.
REACTION (Used if a character is not acting, but reflecting on events from his or her previous scene.)
Failure from character’s last action section (briefly describe; the section will restate it):
With (other character that shares the section):
Emotional reaction (character’s gut reaction to the previous failure):
Rational reaction (character’s analytical reaction to the previous failure):
New Goal (character devises): He/she will X in order to X.
By slowly and carefully completing one of these for each scene, or at least trying to, I’m starting to get plot #3 into some kind of shape, with a better sub-plot, a more coherent main plot and a good storage bin for bits and pieces I want to see if I can use once the big rocks are all carved up and placed more or less to my liking. With any luck, I’ll have Middle and Ending sections outlined in a few weeks.
Without any luck, I may find that the start I pointed my bow at is the light of an oncoming supertanker. We’ll see. All I can do for now is cross my fingers and keep paddling.
1. Mine! (R)
2. Worst Tip Ever (A)
3. I Ain’t Got No Body (R)
4. TS & Coven Revealed (R)
5. Welcome to Hell (A)
6. (A) Getcher Hands off my Garbage
7. (R) Today is the First Day of the Rest of Eternity
8. (A) Satan: Prince of Darkness, Major Ass-Badger
9. Body-Colin Bodyguard (A)
10. All Busted Up (R)
11. (A) Welcome, My Son… Welcome to the Latrine
12. Sucking Up to Satan (A)
13. (R) Septic Beastie
14. (A) What Really Happens to All Those Missing Socks
15. (A) It Pays to be an English Major
16. (A) Gimme Shelter
17. (A) Into the Slop
18. (A) Thanks, Superpigs!
19. (R) Friends
20. (A) Br’er Fox Makes a Comeback
21. (A) One Fancy Stick in the Mud
22. (A) Pretty Tough for a Dead Guy
23. (A) Shelter Skelter
24. (A) de Retz Promoted
25. (A) Colin Becomes a Gladiator
26. (A) Hitching a Ride
27. (A) Colin’s First Battle; Spares Faust
28. (A) Roadies
29. (A) Oracle Explanation & Escape
30. (A) I’ve Got Rythm
31. (A) Journey to Tartarus
32. (A) Coven Concert
33. (A) Demon Head
34. (A) Oracle’s Word Suprise #1
35. (A) de Retz, Big Demons, Angel Hint
37. (A) Tartarus Trouble
38. (R) Reacting to Oracle
39. (A) Body-Colin Gets Away
41. (A) Swiping the knife–but not the bough
42. (A) Swiping the Bough!
43. (A) Discovering Satan’s Plan
44. In Heaven’s Court
45. DIY Saving Universe
46. Working Drummer
47. Hiding the Bough & Knife
48. In Arena with Traitor Angel
49. Lost Fight
52. de Retz finds the Bough
53. Attack on Heaven
54. Killing Colin
55. Taking the Universe
56. Utterly Screwed
57. Annihilation Again
58. No Annihilation
59. Animals Stampede
60. Colin gets Bough
61. Freeing Angels