Sunday, July 26, 2009

Simple Craft-Starting without an outline

In a recent seminar the speaker intoned the following words, "professional writers always begin with an outline."
Hmmm- so after nine books sold, I am still not a professional writer? Wait, what? Pronouncements like that are ridiculous. As I've said in past blogs, every writer has their own individual process. Even some NYT best selling professionals don't begin with an outline--imagine that.
The problem is that if you don't have an outline, your opening pages can wander and you can end up writing 10, 20, 50 sometimes even 100 pages that go no where, do nothing and must be cut. Which is okay if that's your process. I've learned a few simple tricks over the years that help me to avoid wandering. I'm going to offer them to you right now to put in your tool kit, play with and see if these tricks or some version of them work for you.

Trick one: Write down your character's full name and a brief description-plus one quirk and a secret fear. Ex. Jennifer Sumner is a single mom who works at home. She has blonde hair, blue eyes and an average build. She likes really spicy food--the hotter the better-- and is afraid of toads.
Trick two: Write down your character's most elemental story goal, their motivation and the story conflict. Ex. Jennifer wants a safe place to raise her son. Her divorce splashed across the tabloids made her vow to do whatever it took to keep her son out of pubic scrutiny. A favor for her brother, finds Jennifer tangling with a man whose life (and supposed death) is tabloid fodder.
Trick three: Create a simple W plot. (Nothing has to sparkle here-this is merely a general guideline which is fluid and can change.) A W plot is this~ opening incident. Then things go quickly downhill to plot point 1. Things improve slightly to plot point 2. Things get much worse to plot point 3. Finally conflicts resolve to end. W plots are great because you can connect a bunch of W's for longer plots or subplots.
Now with these three simple things you can start your story and see where it goes from here. The tricks are not too time consuming. They won't bore you and there is no outlining necessary.

The examples above were used for my book, Mr. Charming, which releases this Friday from The Wild Rose Press. Following is a small bit about the book:

After a painful public divorce, advice maven Jennifer Sumner vows to stay out of the glare of the limelight, but then she makes the mistake of saying yes to her brother’s request for assistance.
Kane McCormick loves his playboy lifestyle, using his fame and fortune as a barrier around his heart until the day the world assumes he’s dead. Then Kane learns that he had it all wrong.
As Kane discovers that Jennifer and her young son are the family he’s been looking for, his would-be killer discovers his whereabouts and threatens to kill them both. Can Kane convince Jennifer to step into his public life and escape the clear and present danger? Or will she stubbornly keep to her vow and take his heart to her grave?

Look for it at Cheers!


Meg said...

I love the W idea! Recently gave up on outlining, the W might be a good thing for me to turn to. I don't want to wander for 100 pages.

Oo, your book comes out on payday. :D

The clear and present danger line just makes me think of Harrison Ford. My family is a huge Clancy fan.

That aside, it sounds like something I'd enjoy reading.


Jessica said...

Sounds like a great book Nancy! My kind of romance. *sigh*

I've never heard of the W thing. It's a great idea and not to brain-numbing for us pantsers.

Curious: Was the speaker a pubbed author?

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Meg, thanks... LOL on Harrison Ford.

I hope you do get a chance to read Mr. Charming. Have a great week!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jessica-

Yes, I love the W plot because outlines and synopsis drive me to distraction...I really do best as a pantser. :)

Oh, the speaker who made that pronouncement... a college professor...

Jessica said...

Hahaa! That figures, right? It's the professor complex. There's even an archetype called professor. *smirk*

~Sia McKye~ said...


The W idea is a good one. I want to do your exercise. sounds good.

I don't write from an outline, sheesh. But I do know where my story starts, where it's going, and ends. I'm a pantzer and make no apologies.

I LOVED Mr. Charming. It's a great read by a skillful author. :-)

Lynnette Labelle said...

Congrats on all the books. I agree. If you're not a plotter, outlining won't work for you. I used to be a pantser, but am now a plotter and find this style works a lot better for me.

Lynnette Labelle

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I once tried the outline thing because I heard I needed to - it didn't work for me at all. I just started book three and I think these suggestions will really help me get things rolling in the right direction. Thanks.

"Mr. Charming" sounds very interesting.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Sia-

Thanks for the good word on Mr. Charming!

I think most pantsers keep a W plot in their head- :) Writing it down helps you express your plot in a fast simple way when you need to...

Nancy J. Parra said...


I started as a pantser, tried to be a plotter, but always go back to pantsing. LOL

Its always great when you find what works for you!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jane!

Let me know if the W helps. I use it when I have to write a synopsis for a partial~before the book is done.

Marilyn Brant said...

Cannot wait for your book, Nancy!! :)