Monday, November 1, 2010

To Plot or Not to Plot your Novel

Many novelists worry about plot and go through elaborate outlines. My own experience with plot produced  one certainty...if I outline it then I surely go off my outline. On my second novel, Tobacco Sticks, I used a large notebook to hold the voluminous outlines that took place over years and years of planning the book. I really thought that I could just map the novel out, all I would have to do is connet the dots. When the day came to begin writing I ended up going off my outline immediately.

The worst thing was I cut the first fifty pages of my carefully plotted novel. Then I decided I didn't like all the characters I had so carefully researched, complete with genealogical histories. So I cut some of them and swung the focus around to my narrator. The book immediately went off the outline again as the nexus of the plot changed and what I thought was the central crime of the novel became ancillary to a much deeper crime. So I crossed out and changed and made arrows and scribbled out huge sections of my outline.

Then the novel began to really run into trouble once I passed page seven hundred. I did not plan on War and Peace and that was where I was headed. So I hastily cut a lot of back story and took a run for the end. When I finished the book it did not resemble my outline except that some of the characters I started with made it to the end. So I threw out the outline and came up with a much more fluid approach to the book. I would simply outline the scene for the next day in a notebook and not go beyond that. This turned out to be the perfect solution and  one that I continue with today. I know what I am going to write the next day and it allows for the twists and turns of any good book. So much for plot.
His new novel Rocket Man will be out in January.

Books by William Hazelgrove