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Writing an outline or not for your novel?

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Do you painstakingly outline your characters every move and every plot development in your novel before you write it? Or do you jump right in and write from your idea of plot and characters? With a series (like my Beyond Blood series) the second option is modified as you already have your main characters – they just need further development.

I do a little of both and by that I don’t mean outlining to the last detail what is going to happen. I start with an idea and some new characters and start to type in an outline. But something happens as I do this. The darn story wants to be told so I involuntarily switch to writing mode.

Not that I’m through doing outlines. Far from it. I have had to stop and think between writings what could happen next. I say “could” because characters and situations change (like people in real life situations). And being anal and sticking to the original plan is often not in the best interest of the novel. This is creative writing – fiction.

Because a few things happen when you are in creative writing land. You get better ideas and characters like to take over. Listen to them. Some original plot ideas may not work out. Some characters need fleshing out and/or need to be connected to the story more, particularly what I call the “guest characters” as opposed to the series regulars.

I tend to write complicated plots and am constantly going up and down the screen to fix inconsistencies. I do have a list of inconsistencies and also a list of what I call “Balls being juggled in the plot.” The latter refers to what evolves as I write, but they must be worked out in the story telling. Let no story thread be left well, unthreaded.

One thing readers hate is if some plot development is left hanging at the end of the novel. I’m not referring to continuation of series characters’ private lives – for example relationships that have formed in the novel and may continue in your next novel. If Alice and Joseph start dating in your novel, you don’t have to marry them off at the end of the novel. Leave that open-ended one way or the other as anything can happen in the next novel. But if you have a subplot that is a red herring (part of the criteria for mystery novels), you better resolve that one.

So I ask you again – how do you write – from an outline or by the seat of your pants?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Click on the Beyond Blood cover at the top to find out where copies are available.

 

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Short Story and Novel Writing with Series Characters – Part 4

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.

– William Faulkner
When writing series fiction, particularly novels, how do you keep the continuity going with your main characters from novel to novel? As mentioned in last week’s post, you need to put some reference to previous novel(s) plot and characters or the reader is left confused.

For example, in novel No. 1, let’s say your main character, a police officer, is shot during the story’s climax. It is touch and go, but he wakes up in a hospital bed and is able to talk to his partner, his girlfriend, etc. However, he has been shot in the chest and it just missed his heart, but he still has a long recuperation period.

Unless you are skipping a period of time until he is up and around, you need to include this recuperation period in your next novel. Perhaps your detective is put temporarily on a desk job or he is still on sick leave. His (or her) colleagues get a case or two that he wants to be involved in and they need his help. But he is supposed to stay put. You can work around that by having him act as a consultant – his colleagues can drop into the hospital or recuperation facility (if he is not home yet) or his home to talk it over with him. He could be on the phone constantly to his colleagues or at least his partner. They can be doing all this behind the back of their supervisor and you know how that can pan out. You can hype it up with his shooter still out there (that would have to be clear at the end of the previous novel) and trying to get him. He has to get through the recuperation period but you don’t want a novel all about that if you are writing a mystery novel. You need to blend in what is happening with the characters, how they are developing based on what goes on in their lives. An injured detective recuperating and somewhat immobilized would have much to face, especially if he is used to being active.

The late Robert Parker in his Spencer series did this very well. His private detective, Spencer, was shot in the chest in one novel and the next novel incorporated his recuperation with how it affected his relationship with his girlfriend, Susan, a psychologist, plus the novel’s mystery. Parker was good at writing complicated.

Most of the TV series now follow the main characters’ development and well, private life, and incorporate these into the story. The hit series Rookie Blue (now back on for the summer, 22 episodes this year), does that very well, even if you don’t agree with what they do. The five original rookies are still there and each season they add one or more new rookies. One of the original rookies has been promoted to detective. But all have personal lives and with all these characters who work closely together, their personal lives become entwined and changes occur. It is complicated, but well done. I suggest you watch it. The Good Wife is another TV series that has work and personal lives intermingle with a lot of complications. This time the characters are lawyers, instead of police officers. They even killed off one of the series main characters this season. Rookie Blue did that a couple of seasons ago as well. Killing off a main character is not always a good idea, but if you do, you need to incorporate the repercussions from that and how it affects the other characters in future books or TV episodes.

All these things will affect your plot. It’s the chicken and egg situation. Which comes first – the plot or the characters? It is a combination of both – either can lead – but both are connected and drive each other.

Meantime, read any of the mystery series novels by Peter Robinson and see how he handles continuity and consistency in character and plot.
Also, you can read more about the characters and their stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

Sharon A. Crawford’s prequel novel Beyond Blood, featuring the fraternal twins will be published fall 2014 by Blue Denim Press. Stay tuned.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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