This is a continuation of my series on The Labyrinth, that monstrous impossible maze so many of us writers get stuck in during our inbetween years. In the last few weeks, I talked about planning and outlining and the things that I personally learned while going through those steps with my first novel (The Deathsniffer’s Assistant, available this summer!)
It’s the big one!
I can’t say that I had fun writing The Deathsniffer’s Assistant. Not exactly. Now, don’t take that wrong. Parts of it were fun. Parts of it were pure joy. And other parts of it were slow torture that I struggled through and bled over and lost sleep and tears to. Some days, it was effortless. Most days, it was like giving birth.
Now, with my work on Deathsniffer done and the rest up to my wonderful production team over at Curiousity Quills Press, I’m concentrating all my efforts on the sequel. And I’m shocked to find that this time? It’s fun. Writing this book has been something so wondrously close to the simple joy I felt writing about Mary the Mouse that some days I can barely believe that I’ve gotten to this place. I look forward to my writing nights! I’m disappointed when Starbucks closes and I have to leave! I think about my book whenever I’m not working on it, excited to get back!
I am actually out of the labyrinth. I can remember what it felt to be like in those walls, where every word I wrote was a new hot coal I had to step on to get to the next word, and the next, and the next. But a memory is all it is for me now, and it’s because of the things that I learned about this very step. I like to think that all the advice I’m giving is pretty solid stuff, but if you’re only going to take one of my articles to heart, make it this one.
This is a continuation of my series on The Labyrinth, that monstrous impossible maze so many of us writers get stuck in during our inbetween years. Last week, I talked about phase 1 of any novel, planning. You can read the five things I learned about planning while writing my first novel (The Deathsniffer’s Assistant, available this summer!) in this blog here.
Today I’ll be talking about the second phase of writing a novel, outlining. This is a long one because I think this stage is so important and I have a whole lot to say about it!
1. If you are in the labyrinth, you need an outline.
Bear with me here. This one takes a long time to bring together. But we’ll get there.
I used to be one of those writers who preferred working without an outline. I’d rather find out what was going to happen as it developed, I said, and I did! All the books I wrote before my labyrinth years were written outline-free. I figured out how Mary the Mouse and her intrepid band of investigators were going to rescue Tommy the Turtle on the fly, and it was exciting and grand. I told people up until my mid-twenties that I preferred working without an outline. I hadn’t actually worked in ten years, but that was how I’d always done things before. Why change?
Well… because I had to. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the manuscript I came out of the labyrinth clutching triumphantly above my head was the first manuscript I’d ever written a full outline for.
There are two fine little ladies in this picture. The roly poly bald one is me, at about fifteen months. And the cutie wearing the exact same facial expression is Toby, the rescue dog my parents brought home as a sweet puppy months before I was even conceived.
Toby was a beautiful, sweet-tempered, playful little dog. No one could even guess at her breed. There was probably some collie in there. She was friendly and she listened well, and even my friends who were afraid of dogs loved little Toby. She lived to a ripe old age of seventeen. She was a great dog and she was unique, which is part of what’s fun about rescuing mutts. Nobody out there had a dog like Toby. I’ve looked and looked and never found another pup who had her curly ringlet ears, small stature, vulpine snout, and long hair.
Toby was such a fixture of my life. We had her since before I was born, and she died when I was sixteen. She was there through all the formative years of my life. So when I first heard all the stereotypes about rescue pets — that they’re poorly behaved, that they’re rangy, that you’ll never be able to train them right, that they misbehave around other animals — I was just so shocked I didn’t even know what to do with myself. Pets like Toby were supposed to be those things? There was no way!
Well, fifteen years later and I still believe that. If anything, I’ve only gotten more passionate about how great shelter pets are, because I’ve gotten a lot more of a sample base of choose from.
(This is a continuation of the ideas I started exploring in this post.)
It’s hard to say where I “got the idea” for my first novel, The Deathsniffer’s Assistant, available this July. It’s not so much an idea that I “got” as an idea I’ve always had.
I learned to read by eating through all one hundred plus volumes of Nancy Drew. I developed a real love for the traditional whodunnit from that girl detective, and I’ve kept it my whole life. Even as my interest drifted from mystery fiction to fantasy fiction, my love for private eyes, perpetrators, and puzzles never faded. It always made me sad there wasn’t much genre overlap, and I’ve known since forever that I wanted to write a fantasy mystery novel. It just seemed right.
The problem, of course, is that “fantasy mystery novel” isn’t a story idea, it’s a concept. At best! But it was a good concept, for one major reason…