Friday, March 29, 2013

On Outlines and Planning Your Novel

I photographed this leaning royal palm while on vacation in St. Lucia. It got my attention. I don't know why the tree leans to the right, it just does and it has grown into a beauty. Perhaps heavy winds of a tropical storm or hurricane caused it to lean or maybe the tree to the left shaded it and the palm like a flower, kept searching for more light. Maybe it was always meant to lean, who knows! But for whatever reason, to me it's still a majestic royal palm with a quirky, interesting side. It wouldn't have gotten my attention any other way.

As a new writer, I made quite a few mistakes with my first novel, A Decent Woman, but I was enthusiastic! All I knew was that I loved to write and I kept at the business of telling my story. Ignorance was indeed bliss with me. I didn't compare myself to anyone and I didn't try to emulate other writers. As a matter of fact, during the year that I wrote the first draft, I didn't read novels about Puerto Rico so that I wouldn't be swayed by other writers. I wanted to see what I could come up with on my own, realizing that nothing is really original in this world and also realizing that five writers could write about the same town and come up with five distinct and original story lines. But I'm a little stubborn and love a challenge. So, that was my plan - just write.

I wrote the first draft without worrying about specifics. Some writers plan out every single detail with outlines, charts, plans and index cards, but I didn't. I had an outline and knew where I'd wanted to begin and end, but the middle was pretty much organic. Both methods work well in my humble opinion.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing my first novel and afterward, I began reading novels about Puerto Rico again and started reading books on the craft of writing. I did, however, do research along the way. When the first draft was finished, the editing began. I rewrote, strengthened the story and my characters and the direction and side roads that my characters chose became clearer. I learned a lot and tried out many different approaches in trying to better my craft and my novel, but being held to a rigid outline in the beginning wouldn't have worked for me. I'm a flexible, spontaneous person by nature and it shows in how I write books.

When it comes down to writing my second novel...I'm sticking to writing without a detailed outline, it works for me. I want my writing to be fluid, organic and I love the discovery along the way. To do otherwise would discombobulate me! I paint the same way - I don't have a plan in mind. I might have a theme or might have a series in mind, but that's about it. I just paint and see what comes about.

There is no wrong or right way to write a book, go for it. Just write. Write your story. Do what works best for you.

I'm following the same path with my second novel, Finding Gracia on the Path, a novel about a woman who finds herself along El Camino de Santiago in France and Spain. I kept detailed journals during our two week walk, I took dozens of photographs, and I have personal accounts of pilgrims I met along the way. I walked the medieval pilgrimage path with my children right after my husband left our family home. Talk about combat enlightenment! You know, that wouldn't be a bad title, either!

I'm getting it down in West Virginia...my way.

Happy Easter to you!
Ellie






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