Writer’s Life: Noveling Without A Net

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Nov 8, 2010 in Writer's Life |

Photo by hbp_pix Creative Commons

I love outlining. I really do. Every since I first learned how to structure one in grade school, I was hooked. Roman numerals, capital letters, cardinal numbers…it was all very exciting. There’s something extremely satisfying about seeing your novel lined out perfectly on a few sheets of paper. Within a couple of minutes you can experience all of the peaks and valleys, twists and turns of your story. But for me, it’s too satisfying. Once I know what’s going to happen in the story, I can’t see the point of actually writing it.

That’s why I went in to this year’s NaNovel with a very basic premise — a guy in a space station slum — since I was pretty sure I wanted to do a space opera. A week prior to November 1st, I looked through random articles on Wikipedia to generate some ideas and came up with the flatworm (I love you wikipedia) and a China reference from which I formulated a couple of supporting roles. And I thought barely sentient tofu should be involved, because why not? There was no plot in sight, but I knew I had 50,000 words to figure that out.

I’ll admit it. Noveling without a net is about as close as I’ll ever come to being reckless. It’s sort of exciting knowing there’s the possibility this could all turn into an intergalactic train wreck. But so far, my characters haven’t let me down. I don’t make them do things they don’t want to do, and in return, they tempt me with inklings of plot ideas, just enough to get me to the next chapter. It all comes down to trust. You dig the holes for your characters, and trust that you’ve given them enough breadth to want to fight their way out.

What’s your outlook? Does the fear of doing a literary faceplant into concrete stifle you or excite you?



Rebecca Schwarz
Nov 10, 2010 at 8:30 am

Sounds like you’re having fun! While I’m not doing NaNo this month I have and I think it’s great. A great way to loosen up and also to find community. Writing is a lonely business dammit. In answer to your question, for me, this year, I would have to say “stifle.” Right now I’m trying to get a handle on the short story form and for me that means learning to wrangle the outline to fit that form.

Nicky Drayden
Nov 10, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Ah! Shorts stories. Yes, those need to be tight and it’s a good idea to know where you’re going. I do well with writing flash because the plots can be minimal if not non-existent. But that 2000-6000 word range is tough! Good luck!

Tina (Its2Snappy)
Nov 12, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I am in the second week of NaNoWriMo hell. And I must say that flying by the seat of my pants is just not for me. I need those chapter outlines like a security blanket. I tried, got 4 chapters in, and said, “Oh heck no.” I don’t think I’ll achieve the NaNoWriMo victory, but at least I learned what works best for me. Good luck on your NaNoWriMo novel!

Nicky Drayden
Nov 12, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Hi Tina! It’s good to know what works for you and what doesn’t, so now you know you’re not missing out on anything. 🙂 Week two is always hell for me. Week three gets better. Usually. At least that’s what I’m telling myself…

(Cute Corgi on your website. I’ve always wanted one!)



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