When to Plot and When to Not :-)

Hi everyone!

How’s National Novel Writing Month going for you all?  I’m on page 65 of my manuscript, but to be fair, I had some of it written ahead of time, so I don’t feel like I’ve been very impressive at all.  But it’s really fun to work on, and it’s making me think about outlining vs. not outlining, as discussed in this blog post by J.N. Duncan.

Like most authors, I say do whatever feels right for you and the book.  I have not written out a proper outline for this current project, but I have thought about it so much and for so long that I know what’s going to happen pretty much all the way through.  And I have started a goofy color-coded spreadsheet to keep track of the multiple storylines, which is something I have never ever done before.  (So many pretty colors!  I could procrastinate on this forever!  Should Eric’s tabs be pine green or burnt umber?  Which one matches his personality better?  Hmmmm!  I should definitely spend at least four hours thinking about this.)  

It’s also the beginning of a series (everything is a series, especially in my head!), and I have an idea of what’s going to happen in each of the next seven books as well.  But instead of an outline, I just have a bunch of notes (“maybe R. and K. know each other! big secret!”), and I’m basically galloping into the writing while I’m excited about the idea.

That’s my main advice about outlining: if it makes you less excited about your story, to the point where it becomes boring to write it, then don’t do it!  Just start writing and see what happens!  Aaaaaaand…then be prepared to revise a lot.  This happened to me with the first Avatars book, where I got halfway through, finally figured out what was going on, and had to change pretty much everything I’d written.  WHEE!

On the other hand, I’m also working on a trilogy with a fairly complicated mystery at the heart of it, and this, I feel, requires a lot more outlining ahead of time.  Who are the suspects?  What clues will lead to the real perpetrator?  What are the red herrings?  What’s the turning-point clue and how will the solution be dramatically revealed?  (“Aha!  From our monocles and top hats and tea sets, we appear to be in a standard drawing room mystery!  Therefore the culprit must be…THE BUTLER!”)  (Not actually what happens.)

These were all things I had to figure out ahead of time while I was writing Never Bite a Boy on the First Date (mystery: who bit & killed the football player on the school steps?  sub-mystery: which cute guy will Kira end up with while investigating, and what secrets are they all hiding?).  Sure, it’s a romantic vampire mystery-comedy, but I assure you it was surprisingly complicated to plot!

And in this new trilogy, there’s a mystery for each book PLUS at least two overarching, intersecting mysteries as well.  OMG!  Brain exploding! 

Which is why it’s helpful to take a break from that and play with my not-outlined, let’s-see-what-happens manuscript, where the main goal is to be funny and action-packed and also to finish the darn thing so I can stop thinking about it all the time.  We’ll see if it works!  Or if I’m then like, “OK, apparently I can only move on after writing the other seven books as well,” which would be a bit ominous for all the projects that actually have deadlines.  ;-)  (Don’t panic, editors!  I promise this won’t happen!)

Speaking of which, I should go see if I can get any writing done tonight, but first I wanted to say a huge big thank-you to the wonderful librarian Sharon and all the folks at the New Haven Mitchell Library who came out to hear me talk yesterday!  It was awesome to meet so many enthusiastic readers and chat to you all.  Plus it was fabulously well-organized—snacks! crafts! books to sign!  Most impressive, and very fun.  :-)  You guys rock!

And thank you to my wonderful funny friend Cyd as well, who was the magic wand that made it all come together, and who let me hang out with her insanely adorable children for the rest of the day:

Oh my goodness squishable cuteness!

That is the impossibly serene and lovely Klara, who came along after I’d already dedicated a Pet Trouble book to her older sisters, so hopefully one day she’ll get a book of her own!  🙂

Jonah’s newest trick, by the way, is going “Dadadadada!” every time something exciting happens (my fault: possibly he has picked up on the fact that Adam getting home (“It’s DAD-DAD-DAD!”) is cause for extreme celebration (someone else to clean up the high chair! and make the squash! and hold the baby here you go I’m off to watch The Vampire Diaries TOODLES!))….and “Mamamamamamama…” whenever he’s hungry.  Or at 3am when he needs someone to come in and put his pacifier back in his mouth.  So…yay?  ;-)  Well, OK, yeah, it’s pretty cute.

Finally, if you haven’t already seen this on Sunshine’s blog or my Facebook page, here’s a link to the website my friend has set up to try and find her lost dog:  Help Find Marisol.  Marisol was attacked by another dog and ran away from her dog walking group on Nov. 2 near Medford, MA, and her owners are doing everything possible in the world to find her.  Their website seriously makes me cry every time I go to it.  I know I would fall apart if this happened to Sunshine.  So if you’re anywhere near there, please check it out and keep an eye open for Marisol, and we’ll all keep hoping that Marisol finds her way home to them soon.

More soon…good luck to the NaNoWriMo-ers out there!  I know this is the tough part…the slow boring middle of the book…so keep at it!  Try throwing in an explosion or an octopus or a tall dark stranger or a murderous butler if it helps!  🙂

Quote of the Day:
Cameron:  We don’t have to agree on everything.  I didn’t like the book you bought her last week, but I didn’t stop you from reading it to her.
Mitchell:  What was wrong with it?
Cameron: HOW was it a big day for Biscuit, Mitchell?  How?
Modern Family