Saturday, March 31, 2007

Drafting a novel

So, if you've been reading any of the bloggage you might have picked up a hint that I am currently writing a novel. Well, I want to talk a little bit more about that today. I hit a milestone today in that effort. I've completed my draft / outline.

It took me about ten months to get it completed. That includes everything from idea generation, character sketches, background sketches, research, and the actual outline. Doing an outline first is a great idea. When I was a young man, intent on becoming the next JRR Tolkien, I approached novel writing as something done "on a spiritual level." By that I mean just writing whatever came into my head. It was a lazy, sketchy way of doing things. In my adult life, I have realized the power of planning. That's what this outline is.

The outline in fact crosses over into something of a rough draft. I included more than just descriptions of events and actions. I've got lots of dialog, description, key paragraphs, etc, all written out. Of course, the outline cannot be read like a book. It doesn't flow like a story. It's like a road map that I created to help me in writing it. Hopefully, with this level of detail I won't get lost while writing.

My favorite writer, Bernard Cornwell, claims that getting the story right is almost all the work of creating a novel. Once the story is down, he says, then the writing is like falling off a log. Well, I'll see about that. Also, once the story is down then it can take a lot of abuse in terms of changes. For example, when I started this I intended it to be a first person narrative. But about three fourths of the way in I realized that this will not only make the story too short for its genre, but will also deny me chances to increase suspense and to make other characters and situations more believable. So now with the story mapped out scene by scene, I can still go in and add other viewpoint characters. In fact, I intend to add three to four more characters to add depth and layers to the story.

So I guess the outline isn't really done, is it? I guess what I originally set out to do is done. The rest stems from the changes that I've decided to make while writing. But isn't it better to have written 170 pages of outline and decide that it needs to be changed rather than writing 800 pages of novel and realizing it needs to be changed?

By now you may want to know what the story is about. Either that or you stopped reading a while ago. For those who are still reading, this is a historical adventure novel set in the height of the Viking age, the late Ninth Century. It concerns the trials and tribulations of a young Norseman who loses his home and honor to the treachery of his half brother. He becomes an outlaw and travels with a few of his companions all throughout southern Norway and parts of Frankia (modern France). His path crosses with several famous Norsemen, like Harald Fairhair who sought to unite Norway under his rule and Rollo who sacked Paris and eventually founded Normandy. During the course of the novel he will at times be an outlaw, a prisoner, a Viking, and a respected Jarl. Throughout the whole of it, there'll be plenty of hot Viking action as his destiny leads him to hack a path through Paris and back to Norway where vengeance and history awaits him.

Anyway, that's what the outline says. Who know what I might yet change?

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