Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reverse Novel Writing?

It's taken much longer than I thought, but I've (hopefully) finished sketching out the next three novels in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent / single mother Peyton Cote series. The four drafts have seen the synopses balloon from six pages to 12 and finally thinned out to seven ("Keep chopping wood," my screenwriter friend Clyde Phillips says). After reading each draft, my agent calls and offers helpful questions regarding the arc of books 4, 5, and 6 – or the next three years of my life.

To a news junky like me who follows ISIL's every move on CNN (I'm awaiting my library's e-mail saying Michael Weiss's new book has arrived), planning what I'm going to write three years from now is difficult. I write procedural novels that revolve around a woman whose primary professional task is to protect the U.S. from acts of terror. So predicting what Peyton's life will be like is not easy. It's also been a new approach to the writing process. I'm someone who equates writing to driving at night: I know the story as far as I can see it, writing one scene and then the next, driving to the edge of my headlights. Therefore, my focus during the outline process has been creating secondary characters I'd like to go the distance with and rough storylines that intrigue me (and, hopefully, my publisher, who should receive the proposal soon.)

So now that I have three ideas I like, I'm trying them out.

I talk to my students often about something called a reverse outline. That is, once you've written your paper, go back, highlight your thesis and topic sentences and make an outline of your paper -- after you've finished it. See if the outline represents the goals you began with.

I'm taking this process to my three-book arc, writing a short story based on the outline of book #4. Secondary characters and parallel plots will surely have to go, but the premise of the story can remain intact. A trial run, a reverse outline of sorts.

We've all heard the adage: If you can't write your idea on the back of my business card, it's probably not a good idea. Well, a writer should be able to describe his or her book in two sentences. So if my plot is to hold up, I should be able to write a story in 7,500 words or less, right?

I'll keep you posted.

1 comment:

Jean Steffens said...

Very interesting. I enjoyed your post.