I recall Tony Hillerman, the late author of a Navajo Tribal Police series, discussing his method of writing. He talked about how he started a novel. It usually began with the idea of a situation happening to one of his protagonists, Joe Leaphorn or Jim Chee. From there he began to write. No outline. Just sitting down and creating the story. And, each time he had a publishable novel that, I’m sure, delighted his editor.
But, what he didn’t say was just as important. He didn’t talk about his years of journalistic experience, his many hours of reading other writers in his genre, his time spent in the area of the United States and his contact with people in that area that is featured in his novels, and his millions of words written over the years.
At the other end of the spectrum was an encounter I had at the same conference. During a break I stepped out onto a large patio area and there stood one of my idols, Robin Cook, author of Coma and many other medical thrillers. I’m usually a pretty shy person but this was the chance of a lifetime. So, summoning up all the courage I could and recalling that we had something in common (we are both physicians), I introduced myself and stuck up a conversation. It was a delightful five minutes. Later, during an autograph session, he had placed his outline for one of his recent novels on the table beside him. I looked through it. Running some two hundred double spaced type written pages, It was as detailed as the novel itself.
I don’t recall much else about the conference, but I do recall Dr. Cook’s departing words to me. It was short and to the point: “Bob, outline.”
I’ve taken his words to heart and extensively outline before I begin writing. I think it provides numerous advantages. I take a look at these advantages in my next blog.