When I heard Jeffery Deaver say his outlines for works like XO extended to some 200 pages, I was surprised—socks got blown off, to be truthful. With the Ensign Locker, I had an idea for the ending. I knew what I wanted the middle to be, but I struggled mightily with the beginning. I was not at a place then, where my brain knew how to visualize a work's structure in outline form. So I wrote from the seat of the pants, what-words-shall-I-turn-into pixels today sort of planning, and via the writing school of hard-knocks, through the help of a lot of people, I learned a bit on the way to publishing the first one. In Sundown Town, I used critique services from Writer's Digest, two professional editors, and several friends, and I will tell you in the words of a character in my third book, "I've come a long way, baby ... " from Pantserdom. (The character only said part of what I needed him to say)
I doubt that I will ever be a Deaver-level outliner. When I get ready to launch a project, I get impatient to get going. Before starting Sundown, I worked out a timeline on a 1968 calendar, had a pile of 3x5 cards with characters' features and characteristics, and the storyline outlined on three white boards, one for the beginning, one for the middle ... Then my huddled masses of 3x5s yearned irresistibly to breathe free. The first draft, critiques, and back to the outline white board to fix storyline issues. More drafts, more outlines to address character development issues. Before finishing this second book, I did have a detailed storyline outline, a detailed calendar of events, an outline for the development of six of the characters. I also found that a commitment to outlining gives me a better appreciating for rewriting and editing chapters, paragraphs, and sentences. So on my path from Pantserdom, I'll just say that to me, outlining became not just plot, character development, and timeline. It became a tool to be used from the initial gleam in the eye until Imprimater.
Still, Mr. Deaver, thanks for coming to St. Louis and speaking. A real pleasure
John Zerr is the author of four novels, The Ensign Locker, Sundown Town Duty Station, Noble Deeds, and The Happy Life of Preston Katt.
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