(Posted 6:08 PM PST, March 14, 2006)
I am truly in awe of
authors who claim that they can write a book, soup to nuts, without any
sort of chapter outline or synopsis.
At that same time, I'm
jealous of authors who are at the stage (eighth, tenth, twelfth novel)
who can pitch a book like a screenplay, to the editor of their choice:
you know, toss out a logline that succinctly sums up his or her plot.
"Hey, I can do that, too," I think to myself….but in all honesty, I'd prefer to have done an outline to back it up.
At the same time, I'd go crazy
if I followed the routine of other writers I know, who give each
character their own backstory, or piece together intricate maps even
before they starting their meticulous chapter outlines.
So, what's the norm?
Truth is…there is no norm.
Plotting your book is a lot like making soup. Everyone has a different recipe–or none at all. Which just goes to show you that there is more than one way in which to create a delicious broth, er, plot.
The one thing all of these authors do have in common is the desire and drive to
– see their books completed (preferably within their editors' deadline);
– bring their characters to life for their readers;
– tie up any loose ends in their plots; and
– create a manuscript worthy of their names and reputations.
would never dream of telling another writer that there is only one way
to make his or her soup. Personally I follow a recipe card (really, a chapter outline, though others call it a synopsis). I find that it keeps my broth (or in this case, plot) from being too thin.
For a 300 +/- page contemporary novel, I will write 15 – 19 chapters, which are anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 words each, depending on the amount of action or dialogue that takes place. Each chapter is one or several scenes. I try
to keep my scenes to no more than five pages long, though some are only
a page long. My goal is to devote only a 1/2 page of the outline to each chapter. That means that this outline runs about 10-15 pages long.
parameters give me the structure I need to begin the process of giving
my book a beginning, a middle, and an end–exactly the term I used in
my last post. It also allows my to see the waves of action that sweep
over my characters, and to allow them to sink, or swim.
I'm a firm believer that characters take on lives of their own, they
join me in my messy kitchen of a mind, suggesting ingredients to give
the plot tastier action and dialogue.
An example of this: Midway through TRUE HOLLYWOOD LIES,
I play up one of the secondary characters, Ophelia Randolph, the
armcharm girlfriend of Ethan Bount, the independent director in Louis
Trollope's posse. Ophelia typifies the kind of woman revels in
her"plus-one" status to a Hollywood power player (or "Power Ranger," as
I call them in the book). She is the antithesis of the book's heroine,
Hannah, which allows her to give the plot some of the spiciest scenes
The end result: a thicker plot that, I hope, my readers find satisfying.
Now, back to my own plottin' and schemin',