Monday, June 26, 2006

The "D" Word and the "O" Word

I sent the Unforgiven manuscript to Kensington today. I have an account set up at usps.com and can print postage to deliver packages by Priority Mail. The U.S. Postal service will also set you up with boxes and Priority Mail envelopes if you start an account. Writers who are short on time (that's all of you, isn't it?) might find this service useful. The mail carrier will even come to your house and pick up the package, thereby saving you a wait in line at the post office.

This is my first manuscript submitted under a deadline. I also have a deadline for submitting an outline for the next book. I've never written under a deadline before. I think it's a good thing, although check back with me a week before the thing is due. I may have substantially more gray hair.

Publishers like to see an outline to get an idea of your story, and if it works for them. Some writers hate outlines. Others swear by them. I fall somewhere in the middle. The benefit, at least at the start of a book, of having an outline, is finding out if I have enough material. I start by writing out ideas for scenes, with one scene leading to follow ups. I have done this on index cards and I have done it simply by listing the scenes on a legal pad. My average scene runs 5-7 pages, so I know I'll need at least 80-100 for a novel.

I find that in the writing, the actual outline becomes less important. Characters grow and go off on their own paths. Events that seemed inevitable change. A new character walks on stage. For example, in Cruel Winter, I had planned on Ronnie Winter dying at the hands of the bullies. He managed to survive and the story went in a different direction. With my latest novel, The Unforgiven, a tough female cop named Donna Ricci came onstage, and I had a blast writing about her. I also find, that the best ideas for plot twists and turns seem to happen during composition. These are things I could not have planned out.

There's no one right way. If you like a detailed outline, go with it. Or if you like to shape the story as you go, that's fine too. Whatever gets the job done.

The Day's Work 12.12.17

Snow continues to fall in my town, which is about twenty miles south of Buffalo. Did morning snow cleanup at 5 a.m. and a second round tonig...