I realized last night that my current WIP was, how should I put it, doomed to failure. This was 6,000 words into it, and it just didn’t feel right, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. After a couple hours of re-reading it, and asking for input from my closest pre-readers, it became apparent to me that I’d screwed up the timeline of the story quite heavily, made some things too obvious where they shouldn’t be (though, that would have been easy enough to fix in edits) and not included all the main characters where I should have.
Basically, I have 6,000 words of a novel, but they’re not in the proper spots right now. It’s a bit frustrating seeing that, and a couple years ago I would have simply walked away from the piece (I know, because I’ve done it.) Instead, I went back to my drawing board, which happens to be XMind, a mind-mapping software, where I’m currently outlining the book.
The problem is that I create such convoluted ideas. This novel, for instance, has 4 main characters–2 protags and 2 antags–and 2 main-sub-plot lines, which combine around the middle (which is where I’d started the story) to create a single main plot line. To handle all this without an outline of some kind is insane, and I realize this now.
Basically, my working rule at this point in time is to write without outlining, but the minute it starts to feel like it might be a novel-length work, to stop, and really ask myself where this story is going, and start outlining the basic skeleton. I try to start with a raw outline, for example in my historical fiction novel I started the outline knowing that I had 4 distinct sections of the book which would encompass a time period, so I wrote a description for each section about what I wanted to happen. From there, I broke it down by scene, until I had an extremely detailed outline. This was good, since that book relied heavily on historical accuracy.
For my mystery novel I’m trying to form a basic skeleton, understanding exactly what clues I require for the outcome to be honest and real, and then find points in the story where that clue would come to light naturally. Maybe I’ll keep outlining after that, maybe not. I don’t subscribe to the theory that outlines restrict your creativity. I feel the outline itself is creative, it’s the start of things, you’re building the shell, and then you flesh that shell out with each pass. A lot of my outlines could be considered first drafts, simply because I write such details. Snippets of dialog, scenery, things that pop into my head when I think of each scene. I note it so I don’t forget it. Sometimes the outline changes, and that’s fine. That’s why I keep an outline, so I can manipulate it, and follow the ripple through the rest of the story.