Wednesday, April 10, 2013

SD O’Donnell – Writing by the Seat of Your Pants

Writing by the Seat of Your Pants: Outline or No?

by SD O’Donnell

I am frequently asked if I write from a structured outline or by the seat of my pants. We’ve all heard stories of writers who do it either way. Most are passionate that their way is the right way. After finishing my first novel, my answer is: mix things up a bit.

I started Deadly Memories completely by the seat of my pants. One week when my husband and son went camping and left me alone, I immersed myself in books and movies. I was so immersed in plots, they showed up in my dreams. One morning I woke up with the idea of a catatonic woman being found in a park and the thought just wouldn’t leave. Who was she? What made her run away in such an extreme way? How would she get help if she wasn’t able to interact with people?

I have always been a strong and confident woman in my professional life but my first marriage was abusive. My best friend was the same – a power to be dealt with at work and a victim at home. I often wondered, for both of us, how two such extreme personalities existed in the same person. So I added that puzzle to my dream-inspired story. When the woman came out of the catatonia, she would have amnesia. Having forgotten who she was, she could be anything she wanted to be. Would that person bear any resemblance to who she was when she remembered everything? How and why would it be different?

That’s all I had to start with. I wrote the early scenes and worked out plot points at the same time. I wrote from two points-of-view: the detective that finds the woman and the woman’s. At first, his voice was third person and her voice was first. That didn’t work, so I had to rewrite everything to be in third person. For awhile, I had vignettes of the villain’s point-of-view. That turned out to be overkill, with too much foreshadowing, so I took all of that out. I’d write with the flow, then get to a point when I didn’t like where it was going. I had to go back and replot, then rewrite. Getting the picture? For me, seat of the pants created a lot of rework.

So, I took a deep breath and outlined. To my surprise, that wasn’t the end of rework. Sometimes my characters refused to do what I had planned for them. Sometimes, something that seemed so obviously right in the outline just didn’t feel right once it was written. Then I had to change the outline. And rewrite, again.

It took more renditions than I’m willing to admit here to finalize Deadly Memories. In the end, I outlined some and I wrote by the seat of my pants some. And I figured out that what works for me is a combination of both methods.

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Genre – Murder / Thriller

Rating – PG13 (some foul language, a few short love scenes)

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