tim’s sunday quickie: Plan Is a Four-Letter Word

I try to outline novels, really I do, and I usually follow the outline for a good thirty or forty pages before I get a better idea, or see the insurmountable flaws in the original outline, or lose the bit of paper I wrote it down on, or get bored and throw in some kind of monster with a knack for lateral thinking.

I do usually have sort of mile-markers in my novels that I work toward, what I think of as linchpin moments — scenes I really want to write, be they lavish set-pieces, particularly nasty betrayals, moments of impossible coolness, or whatever — and those don’t usually change, because the linchpin moments are generally why I wanted to write a book in the first place. In Blood Engines I knew there’d be a scene at a sex party with a guy exhibiting ectoplasmophilia; knew I wanted a scene on a magical underground train; knew I wanted the scene with the Possible Witch; knew there’d be some kind of apocalyptic monster-fight at the end. Knowing I wanted to get to those moments, I just wrote my way up to them.

This is true: any outline I attempt to write usually starts with a fairly clear idea of the initial set-up, then the words “Hijinks ensue.”

I can always count on a few hijinks. If I planned my novels meticulously beforehand, if the work itself were a mere typing exercise, I’d get bored and wander off. For me, half the fun is discovering what the hijinks are going to be.

(As for stories, nah, rarely do I outline, unless there’s some complicated blocking I need to write out. I think about the stories a lot, and usually have them pretty-well put together in my head before I start writing. Occasionally I’ll dive in with nothing but an image or a character or a phrase, and sometimes that works, but sometimes, it doesn’t.)


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