I outline the way I iron – only when I’m desperate, drowning in piles of unsorted material, and unable to leave the house unless I do something drastic.
Of course, I start a book with a clear, simple premise. I know who gets killed, by whom, and why. In the three books I’ve finished so far, that hasn’t changed much. I may kill off more people, add nasty co-conspirators, and dig deeper into the rationale for the killing as I try to understand my killer. But I haven’t so far lost the thread of the original story in the writing.
At Malice Domestic, just ended, someone asked that question at the panel I participated in and, as usual, I cringed inwardly. I think I sound so haphazard, so unorganized, so downright careless when I try to answer. But the truth is that even as a kid in school, I couldn’t get the hang of the outline form. I’d start with I. Then, I.A. and before you knew it I was on I.A.1 and I.A.1.a. and I.A.1.a.1) and… on page two before it occurred to me you need to have a II at some point. I get dizzy thinking about it. Come to think of it, I frequently get dizzy after ironing a half dozen blouses and pillowcases.
When I am completely entangled in a plot that has driven itself into a corner, I try various outlining methods shared by other writers more organized than I am. But that’s like trying to fit a blown up balloon back into the plastic pack it originally came in. Ultimately, I need to go back to the beginning, read the whole blasted thing with gritted teeth, and deal with it page by bloody page.
Not inspiring, is it? Not very helpful? I am sorry. The only aspect of this that seems to me – and other “pantsers” (as in seat-of-the-pants) – a possible upside is that we remain as intrigued by our stories as we hope our readers will be because we have no idea what will happen next!