Today’s creative writing: 778 words on “The Reluctant Magician”

866 words total. I’m just getting started.

Rather, I’m just getting started for the third time. I made a couple of false starts.

Then I read this essay from Michael Moorcock on how to write an adventure novel in three days.

I do not plan to write this novel in three days. If I can finish it in a year, I’ll be satisfied. But the essay got me thinking about outlining.

Moorcock doesn’t outline exactly. But he does have situations and locations worked out in advance, at the ready, like a metaphorical briefcase into which he can dip and pull out whatever he needs to keep the writing going.

I’ve never tried creative writing with an outline. I always thought outlining was the opposite of creative, and looked down on it. But after reading the Moorcock essay I realized that’s just a silly prejudice. Some excellent writers work from outlines. Others work freestyle. It’s just a matter of what works best; outliners are no better than non-outliners. Maybe outlining would work for me?

I did some research on outlines and came across the snowflake method. You’re outlining your novel by starting from the center and working outward. Like a snowflake — get it?

You start with a one-sentence summary, build that to a paragraph, expand further to studies of your secondary characters, and so on. I started with the snowflake method but abandoned it immediately after the one-sentence-summary stage, because it wasn’t working for me. But outlining was working for me.

I don’t mean a formal outline, with roman numerals and all that. I mean I just started writing down notes about the novel, in sequence. Who were my main characters, what was their problem, how were they going to solve it?

I also remembered a tip from Cory Doctorow on how to structure a novel: A character gets in trouble, does something intelligent to solve the problem but that only makes the problem worse. Repeat that several times until all is very nearly lost, and then the character does one more intelligent thing to solve the problem, and this time it works

Or something like that. I can’t find where Cory said that; the closest I can find is this article on InformationWeek that I wrote nine years ago but have no memory of writing. (That happens sometimes. I write a lot of articles.)

I worked on my outline for a couple of weeks and ended up writing 3,178 words, which I think covers the whole novel.

I think an outline is great for me for a couple of reasons: First, it allows me to forget about the big picture for a little while. I don’t have to hold the whole novel in my head every day, just whatever bit I’m working on at the moment.

The outline is also helpful because the novel I’m working on is a cross between a caper story and urban fantasy, in a fantasy city resembling 1970s-80s America in some ways, and drastically different in other ways, with a lot of background that needs to be explained in a lively fashion and moving parts to keep track of.

I’m not going to claim “aha! I’ve solved the problem of creative writing and will just keep plugging along and producing one novel after another!” I’ve thought that was the case many times before.

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