Saturday, November 27, 2010


When we sit down to write a story, the first decisions we have to make is what are we going to write about, and how are we going to go about it? Which is the subject of BookMarc #3.

Idea and Outlines

First you need the idea.

I like what Lawrence Block said at a MWA-Mid Atlantic Chapter. If we need to talk about how we get our ideas, we probably shouldn't even be looking here. That's okay for fans, but not for writers. Besides, a story idea is the least of our problems. Of all the ingredients we'll be putting into this pie, the idea is the cheapest item. People have offered me ideas for a sure-fire bestseller and ALL I had to do is write it up and split the profits. Yeah, right.

Having said that, however, some of us think of story ideas in plot form–-suppose a man were to wake up and find himself in a different time? What would happen next? And what would happen after that? And after that?

Others think in terms of character--Sundance Moonflower. What is she like? Chances are with a name like that she’s a Native American or a sci-fi character. How does that affect her? Where does she live?

Just know it all works. Which way we go depends on how our minds are wired.

So the next decision is to outline or not to outline. Once again it depends on the individual. It’s not how others do it, but what works best for us. Some will be happy with one-page outline, just enough to start putting down words. Others will write a small outline and then keep reworking it until they practically have the first draft. Some just have an idea and strike out for parts unknown. Contrary to what I have heard some authors say, it all works. We really have to try them on to see what fits. If the short outline doesn't get us into the story, try working out a long one, and if a long outline starts to destroy your interest, slap something short on a piece of paper and go for broke.

I think for the beginner it's best to start with some sort of an outline. This gives us something to pull out and look at if we find ourselves facing a disappearing trail.

But one thing is a given. An outline is not a Moses tablet. Follow it too rigidly and we will ignore logic for storyline and lose credibility. Treat the outline as a map. If we come to a fork in the road, go with it a bit, see how it works out. As we write with the forefront of our minds, our subconscious keeps churning away like a computer chewing over mathematical data and at unsuspecting times slips us new solutions. We have to be ready to grab them and go because they often result in a better story.

In BookMarc #4 we'll take a look at blocking out a story.

And remember: It's always better to light a candle in your mind by reading Easy Reading Writing than to curse the darkness of rejections. To check out the first two chapters with an easy order link to B&N, simply click on:

Peter E. Abresch - BookMarc© February 13, 1998.
Author of The Faltese Malcom, Capitol Coven, If They Ask for a Hand at: and the James P. Dandy Elderhostel mysteries at:

1 comment:

Brenda said...

Awesome post! Great advice to writers to follow what works for them.