Outlining the End of a Novel

80% of the time, I write into the darkness. I haven’t a clue what the next scene is, much less the next sentence. I write long, complicated novels like this, as well as simpler, straight forward ones.

The latest Cassie novel (Bloodied Ice) is a good example of that. It was the fourth and final book in the series. I had to tie up a lot of threads. I had no idea how to solve the problem of the series, not a clue until I wrote that final scene with Loki. I didn’t outline a lick of that book.

15% of the time, I have a vague notion of where I’m going. We tend to call it writing into dimly lit hallways. I will have some clue of what I call the heart stones of the novel, the solid pieces that ground the reader. Most of the troll books have been this way – I know a bunch of points of interest that I need to visit, but no idea in what order they’ll come in or even where they are, exactly.

5% of the time, I actually write what could be called an outline. Some of them are really short. Like the one for The Glass Magician. It was 26 words long. The two characters had completely different events occurring, but they needed to have the exact same emotional journey. I needed to spell out that emotional journey for myself. Then I had the sheer joy of making everything else up.

Then there’s the latest Franklin novel, Franklin Versus The Child Thief. I wrote a full outline for that (for me). It was 1200 words long and detailed most of the plot. The emotional journey was the discovery for me.

I’m about 2/3rds of the way through this latest novel, probably 15K words from the end. And I found that I needed to spell out the ending for myself.

This book is complicated – nine POV characters. It’s the end of a trilogy, but also, the sixth book in the full series. There were threads that needed to be resolved that had come from boon one.

So I figured out the order in which the characters would appear – always fun – as well as a sentence about that chapter. Some of it was just emotional signature, some of it was plot.

The “outline” is 86 words long. I don’t need anything more than that. I’ll refer to it as I start each chapter, go, “Oh, yeah!” then dive right into the fun.

And that’s what a lot of the outlining is for me – a reminder of “this is what I think happens next”. It isn’t a set of shackles – I’ll completely ignore the outline if it no longer makes sense.

So I guess, at the end of the day, you need to do what works for you. No outline is my preferred thing, but I can recognize when I need it. I don’t beat myself up for it, or consider that the books I’ve outlined are less creative or poorer quality.

Instead, I have a lot of tools in my toolbox, and I use the one that’s right for the job. Since this is my 35th novel, I have a better idea of what to do than writers who have less than ten novels under their belt.

There are some things I’m adamant about when it comes to writing. Like you need to put your butt in the chair. You need to practice. Rewriting is not practice. You will not get a better grasp on how to tell a story by rewriting, only by writing (and reading). And you need to be responsible for your own career, but that’s sliding into business and away from craft.

As for outlining, I’m okay with whatever it is that fits your process. Just be aware that your process will probably change.

I’m on my way to Orycon. Will be there all weekend. Hope to see some of you there!

PS. Kitty is well again. And so am I.

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