Writer friend Jay Hudson sent a book to me: Writing the Block Buster Novel by Albert Zuckerman, forward by Ken Follett (c)1994; published by Writer's Digest Books. He told me, "It's yours. Mark it up however much you want to." And I am!
When my advisor at school told me to make a list of reading resources I will be using for my senior thesis project I listed this book on Jay's recommendation. And now I've read most of it and I'm working by its recommendations. Zuckerman writes, "...there are authors who commence a novel without first working up an outline. Outlines, they say, cramp their creativity, inhibit their characters from roaming free and becoming interesting, and take the joy out of writing because this planning process denies them the possibility of making wonderful discoveries that come to them." And this spoke volumes to me.
Do you know how many novels I've started to write without an outline? An outline seemed to be an impossible accomplishment. But I have written to various points in each novel and came to the conclusion that I couldn't complete it because I had no idea where I was going with it. Whatever seeds I had started with, I lost sight of them. So this outline thing, I think there's something to it! And I am pleased about that because for my senior thesis I will be writing a novel!
Zuckerman uses Follett's novel, The Man From St. Petersburgh, as example of what he's talking about. Follett wrote NINE outlines before he began writing the story. Four of them are in this book. And while it seems to be a laborious process of reading, when I told myself, "Self, you want to write 'big novels' so just sit yourself down and read this because you need to know," I read it, and it wasn't nearly the mountain I had made it to be. I just read it straight through. And when I finished, I wrote the first draft of my outline, easily comparing it to Follett's first (and inadequate) outline. So, now I'm reading it again, and preparing to start working on the second draft of my outline because I want this to be everything it has the potential to be.
How many drafts of the outline will I do? However many it takes to plot out the story I want to tell. I will define the "high stakes" that a "big novel" needs to have. My main character(s) will be larger-than-life. I will have "a strong dramatic question," a "high concept," and "intense emotional involvement between several POV characters." Already this outline thing has narrowed down the plot to three short sentences that summarize the strong situation in this story.
Have you written your outline yet? Or maybe you just want to get your hands on a copy of Zuckerman's book to read, study, and learn some things that can help you.