WRITE FROM AN OUTLINE AND FINISH YOUR NOVEL. There you go. The reason this sentence is in all caps is because if I shouted from where I am writing this article, you couldn’t hear me. Some authors write from the hip. This practice is called discovery writing. Some authors are successful at this method. I am not. And, based on what I have heard from writers who can’t seem to make it through a first draft, not many find success in this wandering-through-the-woods approach.
I’m going to let you in on a method I use while outlining. The old adage goes: “Drama is conflict.” I believe not a word should be written without the presence of clear conflict. If there is no conflict in even a paragraph, you must choose from one of two options; either add conflict or cut the paragraph. Therefore, conflict becomes part of my outlining process.
I am currently writing a paranormal investigator novel entitled, Dead Girl. I use an exhaustive outlining method when I write. Otherwise I run the risk of becoming lost. The final step for me before putting down the prose involves writing a blow-by-blow outline.
I use a series of chapter headers, which I later delete, as a kind of dot-to-dot puzzle. When I get to prose, I read the headers, write the chapters and move along. Below is a reprint of the first chapter of my current, unfinished novel. Be warned: this is only a second draft so forgive errors please. I am sharing this for academic purposes. You will notice three parts of the chapter header: 1) a descriptive title, which I use as a handle to quickly understand what will happen in the chapter; 2) a brief synopsis of the chapter; 3) a description of conflict(s) that must appear in the forefront.
I have pasted the chapter header and the full chapter for your review. Hope it helps.
Bless you for reading,
Chapter : DeeDee Calls Block
[Block shows up late for work to find 2 notes on his desk, a pink slip and a note from DeeDee Corelis. He steels Sheldon Sharp’s Coffee. Ernie Sanidoro, Block’s boss, calls him into his office to fire him. Block ignores the pink slip. He reads the pleading note from DeeDee and leaves to find a private place to call her.
Conflicts: Between Block and Sheldon Sharp over the coffee, between Block and Ernie Sanidoro over Block’s termination.]
The news room smelled like a bag of molding towels when I hit the floor at quarter to ten, eyes still puffed up like a couple of country biscuits. Sheldon Sharp—I always hated his pen name, it reminded me of checkered coats and white Cuban heeled shoes—had left his desk. His cup of coffee steamed away, sitting next to a stack of files. I snatched up the mug, ignoring the affirmation printed on the side, some fluffy quote from Anthony Robbins. I took a sip: too much sugar, too much cream. Oh well, the caffeine would help deflate my eyes and bring reason to my foggy head.
When I sat at my desk, I noticed two handwritten notes staring up at me; one surprised me, one didn’t. I picked up the pink note, the one that said termination notification in block print along the top, the one that didn’t surprise me, and walked to Ernie Sanidoro’s office. Since he had taped a note with the words, PLEASE KNOCK, in black sharpie to the privacy glass of his office door, I had taken to barging right on in.
As I pushed into his office, both he and Terry Running Fox, a respectable culture vulture freelance writer, looked up at me. Terry sat on the leather couch across from Ernie’s cheap, pressed cardboard desk, stacked as usual with cantilevering piles of books and files with one clean piece of real estate reserved for that damn abacus he had won at the Platinum Pen conference back in ’05.
“Do you know how to read?” Ernie asked, nodding towards the Sharpee note taped to his office door.
“Look, Chief, I got a lead I want to follow up on,” I held up the note I had found on my desk, the one that hadn’t surprised me. “I thought I’ll take the rest of the day to dig into it.”
“Lay off the chief bit, Block, this isn’t the 50’s. And it’s not exactly P.C.” Ernie shot an awkward glance at Terry Running Fox. Running Fox grabbed his bangs, lifted them up, and made a tomahawk slashing motion with his other open hand—scalp ‘em.
Ernie glanced at the pink note in my off hand. “I see you got the memo.”
“What memo,” I held up the pink, pretending I was looking at it for the first time. “Oh, this? Yea, I got it.” I tossed the pink slip into Ernie’s aluminum waste paper basket.
Ernie snarled, making his nostrils even larger, more like chasms than breathing orifices. “What lead are you planning to follow? I put you on movie reviews to help Sharpton out.”
“Come on, Chief. You know I’m not one of those pretentious armchair Hollywood director types.”
Ernie pointed a beefy finger at my chest. “I want you to review the films. I only gave you two.”
“Does that mean I have to go see them?”
“Don’t be a pain in my ass, Block. I’m not kidding around here. Now get out and see that new Micheal Bay flick and put down 200 words for me STAT, or this is coming out of the trash.” Ernie pointed at the pink slip lying on a stack of crumbled papers and Styrofoam Starbucks coffee cups.
“Michal Bay, that’s right. I got your review right here.” I pointed to my temple. “Tons of action, no story, 2-D characters, plenty of explosions and market research. I’ll get it straight to Eve for proofing. What was the movie called, by the way?”
Ernie clenched his fists.
Running Fox chuckled.
“Just kidding, Chief. I’ll go see the flick after I follow up on my lead.”
“You aren’t following up on any lead unless I give the sayso.”
“But Chief, it’s a really, freaking good lead. One afternoon and, boom, I’ll give you a banging story that’ll rattle even your hair out of alignment.” I flicked a glance at Ernie’s perfect Johnny Cash pompadour.
The color left Ernie’s face. He moved around his disaster-area desk, having to take a few extra steps due to his girth problem. He rifled through a stack of files and trade rags. It took a full minute for him to find what he wanted. I and Running Fox exchanged more than a couple of glances as he kicked up the dust.
“Here.” Ernie picked up a copy of the most recent issue of The Star—one of those believe it or not rags with everything from bat boy to the president of the United States visiting aliens. The cover headline read, WITCH COVEN HELPS SALT LAKE CITY MAYOR IN ELECTION. I smiled. I knew the story well.
Ernie leafed angrily through the crisp pages and landed on the cover story. He tore the page out, held it up, and pointed to the byline. “I want to know what this is all about.”
I read the name. “Ernie Hunshuler? Who’s he?”
“What do you mean, who’s he? You tried to tip my ear with this story two weeks ago and I told you it was a lark. The least you could do is omit my first name from your pseudonym.”
Running Fox burst into laughter.
“Shut up, Running Fox,” Ernie shouted. “Why do you gotta write this slop for Artie Prichard?” Prichard ran The Star. He and Ernie had gone to college together. Most of the newsroom speculated that they were roommates back at Utah State University. A rumor even circulated that Ernie had been best man at Prichards 2nd wedding. But now, Prichard edited The Star and Ernie edited The Wasatch Times and there they were, tooth and nail rivals. I understand hate. Hell, I hate a lot of people. More people move from my annoying club to my hate club every year I get under my belt. But Ernie had refined hate to a dangerous point and aimed it straight at Artie Prichard’s heart.
I liked Prichard okay. I wouldn’t play poker with him, I’m not keen on cigar smoke and unnecessary, high decibel laughter. But, other than a few heartless moves that come naturally to any veteran newsman, especially if he runs a rag like The Star, he was a relatively decent guy.
“You write for Prichard and you’re sleeping with the enemy, Block.” Ernie tore up the article and tossed it like confetti on his desk. The rumpled bits of newspaper would probably remain there for at least three months. “I can’t run a respectable news service as long as my reporters are moonlighting for thin rags like The Star. Word gets out that you are writing for Prichard and a hole breaks open in the bottom of the boat. And guess who winds up down in the bilge with a bucket? Yours truly.” Ernie pointed at himself with one of his bratwurst-sized thumbs.
“So what are you saying, Chief?”
“I ain’t saying nothing. I already said it. You found it on your desk this morning.”
“For the record, I gave you first right of refusal on the Wicca story.”
“Like I’m going to print some baloney about a gaggle of teenage girls with their nails and lips painted black.”
“You didn’t even read it.”
“I read the title and byline in Prichard’s dopey rag; that was enough for me. You gotta decide; Are you Block Vang or Ernie Hunshuler?”
“You know something, Chief; you’re right; I gotta decide. I need to boogie now. I got a hot lead to follow and apparently I’ll be sitting in an aisle seat at the Gateway for Micheal Bay’s latest romp.”
Ernie took a long, deep breath. He held it in and massaged his forehead with his fingers. “Block, you’re the biggest chump I ever met in the business.”
“Great, Chief. I’ll be off then.” I turned to Terry Running Fox and raised an open palm. “How.”
“How, Kimosave,” Running Fox said.
Ernie massaged his tan temples even harder.
I walked out of his office, closing the door behind me, and went to my desk. On my way, I put Sheldon Sharp’s empty mug back on his desk, careful to avoid the corkboard coaster to the left of his keyboard. He looked at the mug then up at me. “You’re an adolescent,” he said.
“Young at heart, baby, young at heart.” I pointed at him as I walked away.
When I reached my desk, I picked up the second note I had found, the one that had surprised me, and read it again.
Dear Mr. Hunshuler,
I fear that people will soon die of unnatural causes. I need help, but I feel you are the only one who will believe my story. Please contact me.
She had written her telephone number at the bottom of the note. I snatched my briefcase, which contained my tools of the trade, a micro recorder, notebooks, pens, and a .38, and headed out the front door of The Wasatch Times to find a private place where I could give Mrs. Corelis a call.