Friday, March 11, 2011

I Want to Outline Like Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison and I had a chat yesterday. Well, technically, Harrison talked with all two hundred of us gathered for her book signing (my first-ever book signing). But I did get my two minutes of one-on-one time with her, in which I gushed shyly about how inspiring I find her writing, and she encouraged me to keep writing. "You speak about it with such passion, I can tell you'll be published," she told me. I was struck speechless, frozen in place while I had a momentary commune with the Universe and whatever power Harrison might have to evoke the truth from those words. Then I mumbled my thanks and danced away from the signing table, feeling elated and like an enormous dork all at once.

The question and answer portion of the evening was insightful. It was refreshing to hear an author answer questions like, "Why is your main character an adrenaline junkie?" and "When will the main character grow up?" with the blunt truth: It makes it easier to have a story with a main character who is quick to judge, quick to emotions, and has a thrill for getting into dangerous situations. Harrison didn't treat her characters like they were people who spoke to her, but she did talk of them with affection. I love that she didn't lie and say something like, "It was the way the characters wanted to be and they wouldn't let me change them." (Ahem, LKH.)

One of the things about her Rachel Morgan Hollows series that has always impressed me is the sheer amount of action she packs into every novel. So much happens in every book, and not just plot, but character development too. And not just the main character develops and changes, but the secondary and auxiliary characters grow and change. It's truly astounding to me how she keeps it all together and moving forward, so I was leaning forward in my seat when someone asked, "How do you keep all the threads straight in your head?"

Her answer was to explain the way she writes:
  1. She starts every novel by writing on a paper everything she wants to happen in the book. This can be everything from "see Keebler elves" to "evil guy gets what's coming to him."
  2. Then she sits down in front of the computer and puts together a three-page synopsis, one page for each part of the book—beginning, middle, and end.
  3. Synopsis in hand, she then writes a page for each chapter, detailing what she wants to happen in each chapter and how she's going to make a smooth transition from one chapter to the next.
  4. Only then is she almost ready to write the book. With her chapter note in hand, she writes out all the dialog first. She said this draft ends up looking like a play, with simple notation to indicate who is speaking.
  5. Last, she fills in all the other details.
I'm enthralled by her novel-creation process. She says it takes her about three to four months to write a book that way, rather than the three or four years of writing it by the seat of her pants and having to go back and edit it down to something sellable.

Given my recent extensive troubles with my own novel, even with my own outlines, I'm definitely looking for a smarter way to write, and a way that makes more sense to the way I think during every stage of the writing process.

I know my novel-writing flaws by now:
  • I get tricked into thinking the story is done when it's actually only the end of the second act.
  • I get a little lost in the story—writing a novel over a month or several months, an hour or two each day means I often lose my place, lose my focus, and before I know it, the story's off the rails and I've gone down some crazy rabbit hole.
  • I write WAY too much.
I fully intend to adopt Harrison's strategy on my next novel. Hopefully by following this example I'll be able to keep track of the entire story no matter what part I'm writing since it'll already be thoroughly outlined for me. Also, hopefully this will help satisfy the excitement and pressure that builds up in those early phases, when I'm so excited about the novel it's hard for me to concentrate on the details like the ending and the final act's scenes. This way, I'll actually get a stab at writing part of them without detriment to my outline.

Which means the next novel will hopefully not require the extensive rewrites I know Faye is going to require, and it also means, fingers crossed, it won't take me nearly so long to write the next book!

Thank you, Kim Harrison, for sharing some of your wisdom with me!

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