With Camp NaNoWriMo starting up in April, I’ve got the urge to leap in and start writing. I’ve done that for several novels in the past, but that simply isn’t going to work this time. Right now I’m taking my fast-drafted novel of Madam Cloom’s Garden and giving the story a major steroid boost. The characters, the world-building, the sub-plots – I’m slowly weaving together a tale that is far more complex than what I had expected it to be when I wrote the first draft back in April of last year. The outline is introducing some really cool characters and others are getting far more fleshed out than I ever had them before. I’m loving it, but I have my doubts that I’ll be able to have it finished and ready to start writing come April 1st. Even if I am ready to start writing on it, I doubt I’ll want to churn out 50k in one month, so I’ll have to set a shorter goal. I don’t think I’ve ever done a NaNo with anything less than 50k though, so I’m not quite sure where to start.
Once I’m done with my outline, I’ll be doing a final read over of Ghosts of Pikes Peak to see if it needs any final tweaking before I start work on the query, synopsis, etc. Then that baby is getting shipped off to agents that I’ve compiled together on QueryTracker. I have no idea if it’ll get any traction, but I certainly had a blast writing it. Ideally I’ll have that in the reading queues of several agents by the time I start writing on Madam Cloom, though that might be a tad too ambitious considering it’s already mid-March.
Outlining has been a strange experience to me. I’ve been a “pantser” for quite some time now, and the idea of locking my world into an outline felt like carving it into stone. It felt too permanent, too immovable. This is the first time in years that I’ve sat down and worked out a detailed outline for an entire book, and the plot has therefore become more complex than I had anticipated. With Ghosts I had a handful of characters and followed them throughout the tale and I never felt that an outline was necessary, but that wouldn’t work with Madam Cloom. The world was too big, too vast, and the cast of characters too large for me to keep up with sans outline. The fast-draft was therefore very thin, and although the pulse of the novel was there, it was little more than skin and bones. If I remember right, I did write up an outline before I wrote that first draft, but it looked like chicken scratch next to the one I’m doing now. I’m don’t regret that early draft though, even though it’ll get trashed once I’ve pulled loose to good parts. I enjoyed the freedom I had writing it. The plot could go anywhere it wanted, though when I was done I wasn’t at all happy with the ending. That’s good though, at least then I knew what the story was not.
With Ghosts I’ve had to take multiple editing passes through it because of several reasons:
- I didn’t know how to edit properly on early drafts. That sounds awful silly when I say that, but it’s true. I didn’t restructure the story or get inside the head of my characters the way I should have. It was only on iteration two or three that I realized my folly and began correcting it.
- My writing style has greatly improved since I did the first draft back in 2011. I don’t want to say I’ve found my voice because that’s something that seems to change for a writer over time, but the imagery is more crisp, the dialogue makes more sense, and the plot doesn’t feel horseshoed in.
- Finally I’ve learned how to properly construct a story. It certainly wasn’t a single book I read which helped me figure this out, or a single blog post for that matter, but kind of a mix of everything I’ve been consumed. It’s like I put all that knowledge into a blender and let it spin. Now I feel like I have a better grasp of not only writing, but also of storytelling, which is in my opinion is one of the most important parts of being a writer.
I no longer give a hefty sigh at the idea of outlining the way I used to. I’ll be curious to see if it takes as many editing passes with this novel like it took with Ghosts. I don’t think it will, but I might be too optimistic. It also might just be the style of the book as well. Ghosts is what I would consider an Adventure novel first and foremost (though you could cross that with Horror or Supernatural easily enough), and Madam Cloom is a Fantasy novel, possibly a YA Fantasy novel, but still Fantasy. Perhaps that explains my dependency on an outline to keep everything straight. Madam Cloom requires extensive world building whereas Ghosts was a reskinned version of our world.
Anyway I’m closing the lid on the writer’s toolbox I’ve been building for now and diving back into that outline. If I do end up signing up for Camp NaNo this April, you can bet I’ll be posting updates here like I do for just about every NaNo I participate in.