I don’t outline. I try to outline, but it doesn’t seem to work. If I struggle to put together some kind of framework for the book, because that is what you’re supposed to do, it is either destroyed before I finish the first chapter or I am bogged down in fitting the action into the outline and the story doesn’t flow.
Sometimes I wonder if I write the first draft of the books at all or if someone else is channeling through me. The characters often go where they want to go, do what they want to do, and have conversations that seem to come out my fingertips without going through my brain. When they decide to take a break, I might as well put the book aside for a while. It’s time to blog or promote or do the dishes or something until they come back.
Some planning has to be done, however. For instance, it took so long to write the first two books in the Marge Christensen series that I need to fast forward in time between each subsequent one or continually write about the past. That involves knowing what has happened to the characters since the last book before starting the next one, while not skimming over anything the reader will want to be in on. And I normally have to decide who is going to get killed, and usually where, and sometimes how, though I often don’t know any of that or, especially, who did the deed until I’m well into the book.
The first draft of my books are always at least ten thousand words shorter than the shortest books in the mystery genre are supposed to be. That’s because my characters don’t always look around them. They miss clues, which I have to spell out for them. They don’t observe their surroundings, so I, not a visual person myself, have to try to make them clear for the reader. It’s up to me to polish words and sentences, make sure the plot hangs together, and to plug any loopholes. I usually go through three or four drafts before I feel the book works. But it is still too short.
After all of that, I do some word searches. Do you know how many times a person can use the word “then” or “and then” in telling a story? Too many! I find every one of them. Getting rid of them always leads to more active, vibrant language, which means telling what happened in the “then” space always adds good words to the book. Not like the word “just”, which mostly just (oops) gets deleted.
I’ve learned not to worry if the book is still somewhat short before going to the editor. Editors, because they come from a different perspective, have this way of spotting what you have missed. That’s why I have my books edited by two different people. Two different perspectives. The third book in the Marge Christensen series reached the desired length when I revised it after the first editing. That’s good, because one never knows if the second editor will want to take some stuff out!
I’m now trying to get a start on my fourth book in the Marge Christensen Mystery Series. I’m only doing this, you understand, because Marge let me know there was still more going on in her life. Because at the same time I’m trying to start a new series set in Michigan, where I now live. I might have given up on this idea, since Marge is so insistent that I pay attention to her, except that the characters have already taken over. They have let me know they have a story to tell, and I just (oops) have to get started and let them tell it.