I actually got into a discussion with fantasy author Brandon Sanderson about this during a writing convention last year. He pointed out the differences between what he called the “planners” and “discoverers” as far as writing is concerned. Planners in this case religiously following an outline they had made for their books, outlines usually being very meticulous and detailed with a clear concept of opening, middle of the book and ending. Unlike planners, discoverers are the kind of writers that like to just go by a general idea and watch the story unfold as they wrote it.
Back then I found myself very strongly agreeing with Sanderson’s middle approach of this: I had a general idea that I was going by, but also had kind of an outline, one however that lacked both an ending and most of the details, thus resulting in me mostly just winging it.
Now I’m not so sure that this is the right, or maybe just not the appropriate approach to this novel anymore. Maybe this has to do with the fact that by now I’ve been working on this for over three years and the book has grown from a “general idea” to “scraps that just featured the wrong main character” to “a partly horrible, partly readable first draft” to “some more, much better yet still mediocre, rewritten scraps”.
Anyway, three years later I felt like it was finally time to put this whole thing that always went by the work title Light into an outline. And something interesting and fabulous happened! Structure! Logic! A well-rounded plot! Wooo!
The bottom line is that in this case going at my book by stripping it to its studs, isolating separate scenes and deciding what to keep and what to can, resulted in an entirely new book. Yes, what was originally conceived to become a trilogy, or two books at best, with a very vague idea of how in hell this whole mess is going to end, could be compressed into one single volume! Hurrah! Finally I have what this book was lacking all along – an ending, an a complex and dense but coherent (in my opinion at least) plot – yay! Now it just needs to be written. And then…well, then we’ll see.
As far as the outline is concerned I discovered the virtue of COLOR CODING and POST-IT NOTES! Seriously, they are a writer’s best friend 🙂
Since I have two first-person characters whose narrative as well as numerous scenes containing sex and violence, I decided to give each of these characters and elements a distinct color. Green for Ares, yellow for Damian, orange for violence and pink for sex to make sure they’re more or less equally distributed throughout the novel, and to get a closer look at the plot. After a couple of edits I also added content notes, and the finished product is now hanging in my apartment making me all kinds of happy.