Novelist John Connolly has an interesting post on researching his novels. But what intrigued me was this little nugget about how he writes:
I brought with me to the US the initial draft of The Unquiet.
I imagine it would be almost unintelligible to anyone who tried to read
it as a coherent narrative. My first draft tends to be a little rough.
There will be inconsistencies of dialogue and character. Some
characters will appear in the early stages only to disappear later,
their failure to manifest themselves once again left entirely
unexplained. Some things seem like good ideas at the start, but quickly
prove to be distractions from the main thrust of the book, and as soon
as that realisation hits me I tend to let those elements slide.
I don’t fret too much about how untidy the text may be (although,
in my darker moments, I wonder what might happen if I didn’t live to
finish the book and someone else, for whatever reason, decided to piece
together whatever was left behind. I wish them luck. I mean, I’ve
written it, and sometimes even I’m not entirely sure that I always look
forward to trying to put all of the pieces together). After all,
there’s nobody looking over my shoulder, and my main aim is to get the
plot and characters from A-Z, even if that means bypassing Q and R
entirely, and occasionally having to loop back to P just to reassure
myself that I have a vague notion of what I’m doing.
I’m guessing that John doesn’t write with an outline. I know a number of authors who write the same way he seems to…just going where ever the inspiration takes him. I’m not going to knock it because clearly it’s worked great for him. But I don’t think I could ever write that way. That doesn’t mean that I stick religiously to my outline, or that characters don’t come and go (I’ve had characters who were meant to die in Chapter One that I kept alive through the whole book), but I need it to keep me more or less pointed in the right direction. I would find writing a book, particularly a mystery, very difficult to do on-the-fly.
10 thoughts on “Writing Blind”
Denise Hamilton does the same thing. She said this on a blog interview she recently did with me: “I really enjoy writing these Eve Diamond novels, but I don’t plot them out ahead of time or outline them, so I never know what is going to happen. This makes it more interesting for me to write, as the outcome is usually a surprise for me too, which allows me to maintain an honest suspense. Sometimes I don’t even know who the killer is. As my characters develop on the page, they become three-dimensional people to me with secrets, motives, hidden identities, desires and relationships with each other that then suggests who the killer might be.” Full text – http://www.alisonkent.com/blog/?p=1572
I don’t plot either. I learned to plunge my characters into an initial dilemma, and let them deal with it. Early on, I discovered that whenever I plotted, my characters went on strike. So I quit. I let the characters be themselves and resolve their troubles in their own way. When they take over the story and tell me what they’re going to do next, I rejoice. I never have any idea where my novel will go or how it will end. Sometimes I must rewrite portions to make it cohere, but mostly my improvising adds surprise and spontaneity. I have a prejudice: at least in my western field, plotted stories tend to be predictable and the characters robotic and I can spot them instantly.
I don’t use an outline, but I do map out plot points that I want to hit in sequence.
With my tiny mind, I have to outline.
I remember Lawrence Block talking about writing this way (no outline), and what impressed me most was his comment that he had a closet full of novels that died on page 50, page 200, or page 300 because he hit a stone wall and had no idea where to go next. Still, he made it work wonderfully.
Denise Hamilton doesn’t outline? That explains a lot.
What are you trying to say, Mark? 🙂
I love Denise’s books. The Eve Diamond series is one of the best things going in the mystery world.
I just read the first one and I found that it wandered all over the place before reaching anything like a plot. Not my cup of tea, but I realize I’m in the minority on that one.
I didn’t outline either, but I knew what the dilemma was, who the players should be and where they should go so it carried through to the end I wanted and went the distance I had planned. Maybe I had the outline in my head all along?
I do a little of both. I try to keep things as open-ended as possible, so the characters can work things out, but I know (at least I think I know) who the killer is and what the ending will be like, and I already have a couple of twists in mind. I just try not to let it set into concrete too early. I plot ahead a few scenes, and as I go, realize what the sequences are. It’s just a weird hodge-podge that works for me. Before I’m halfway done, however, I turn in a detailed outline (because I’m supposed to) which makes things gel, even though I find myself even deviating from *that*.
I guess there are as many ways to write a book as there are people to write them.
I tried working without an outline for years and hit the wall every time. The first time I worked with an outline, I finished the book and am now well into a second. Whatever works!