This last week I had the opportunity to speak at a club luncheon about my efforts as a writer. About thirty people gathered around for a mediocre meal. After taking care of business, they invited me up to talk about what it's like being a novelist. I described the challenges of a writer, shaping a good story, creating memorable characters, the importance of character names, conflicts, dialog and the use of humor. Then I took a few questions.
One asked me how detailed my outlines were. They were stunned when I admitted to never using an outline.
One lady was almost indignant. "But that's crazy! How else can you write a novel?"
I described my process. Usually I begin with one or two key characters and a vague idea of some type of mystery or crime. I make sure I know my characters well, how they will react to situations, what makes them tick, and then I put them in motion and kind of follow along. While I may have a glimmer of an idea about what's going to happen, the story usually takes a number of twists and turns along the way.
Now I'm not saying this is the only way to write a story. Many great authors use outlines or draft each scene's activity before they ever get to the keyboard. Others will use a whiteboard and spin what looks like a flow chart, where one scene leads to another. But that's the beauty of creative writing. We all find the approach that works best for us. I tried to write using an outline before and it was a painful process. The resulting story was dull and dry and boring. So I chucked it.
Many years ago I had the great good fortune to meet Elmore Leonard. http://www.elmoreleonard.com/
We chatted for a few minutes at a book signing he was doing. I asked if he still wrote using a legal pad. Leonard admitted that he would spend an entire day working on one scene, scratching it out with pen and paper before he was satisfied. Then he would sit down at the typewriter and write the finished product. The system worked for him and he had more bestsellers than I can ever dream of.
So I just follow along. I give the characters a nudge, point them in the general direction of mayhem and run beside them, jotting it down. It may be crazy but it works for me.
On another note, I learned this morning that my paperbacks are now available on a site called Books a Million. The link below should take you there. Turns out I'm not the only Mark Love who is a writer. Imagine that. I wonder if the other ones use outlines.