Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Guest Post by Bill Walker, author of A Note From an Old Acquaintance

I hear a lot about authors who outline their novels before they start writing, outlines that can often be quite extensive. I’m not one of them, at least not with the books I’ve written thus far. For me, if I had to sit down and ponderously map out every little move my characters make and every twist and turn of the plot, I would more than likely lose interest in taking it any further. To then sit down and write the book would be like repeating myself. At worst, it would be excruciating. At best–anti-climactic. And I need that catharsis that comes with discovery. More about that in a minute.

The method that works for me is to first have an idea so compelling that it seizes my imagination and won’t let go. Call it an obsession if you like, because I won’t deny that it has the feeling of one, and for me I need that unrepentant passion to carry me through the months of work to get to a first draft. The next requirement is discipline, having the will to sit and type at least three pages per day. If I want to do more, fine, but that doesn’t get me off the hook for the next day.

Because I’m a film school graduate, I have always tended to see my stories as movies on a big screen in my mind. And that is the way I write, in a sort of cinematic trance. While I have a firm grip on where the story is going, the characters will often assert themselves and take the story in a different direction. Sometimes I have to rein them in and, at other times, I’m delightfully surprised to find them taking me in a fresh direction I’d never previously considered. These are the moments for which all writers live, and an outline will kill it. Not because those moments will elude you if you’ve outlined your book, but because you’ve put so much work into that outline, you won’t want to deviate from it to go somewhere else with the characters and the story.

My advice, then, is to take that basic idea and just start writing it. Once you get the first draft down, THAT will be your outline. You will then be able to see what needs to be changed with a much clearer vision and you will not have hampered your creativity at the outset by creating a rigid roadmap.

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Bill Walker is a graphic designer specializing in book and dust jacket design, and has worked on projects by Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King. Between his design work and his writing, he spends his spare time reading voraciously and playing very loud guitar, much to the chagrin of his lovely wife and two sons. Bill makes his home in Los Angeles and can be reached through his web site: http://www.billwalkerdesigns.com/.

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