Thursday, July 16, 2009

Recapping Drumheart and the use of outlines

Had a conversation with some friends a couple days ago in which we shook our heads over the (apparently increasingly common) practice of writing novels without outlines. I suffered a twinge of conscience, as I didn't think I had a formal outline for Drumheart, so who was I to talk? Then I remembered this post and decided to go back and look at it.

I actually stuck to it pretty well. A couple of things changed: Akshadhen somehow became Akshedhen. I wrote "Nitsur lives as a slave with Akshadhen's family for several years", but it ended up only being about a year and a half. "Nitsur alerts Akshadhen and his father to the secret practices of the temple"-- not exactly, A. and father were out of the city at the time, but N. does alert the authorities and events proceed as described. (This is important, because it sets up A's father's arrest.) So N's section is relatively unchanged.

In M's section I wrote "Along the way, they acquire a motley group of companions: ... even a Kesset who had been stripped of his rights and condemned to slavery for crimes" There is such a character, but he ends up traveling with A. and friends rather than N. and M.

The order of events at the end of this section is substantially rearranged: M's fight with W. occurs closer to the time of their arrival, before the rains and the (re)appearance of A.

A's section is really only hinted at in the outline. Unsurprisingly, it's the part that changed the most in the writing and editing. I notice that there's no mention here of the Locust People having taken Ahon ken Tai.

Overall, I was pretty faithful to the outline as far as it went. What amazes me is what's not in the outline: the tangle of interlocking motivations and event consequences that moves the story forward. Like the Sun temple raids leading to the disorganization of the city, that causes it to fall pretty much without a struggle to the Locust People. The stuff from M's youth feeding forward into W's actions as senior priestess. A's struggles with his nascent status as an Old Man.

I don't remember, now, how much of this was in my head when I wrote the outline: I think actually a lot of it was already implicit. For instance, A's conversation with N. at the gate of Ahon ken Tai-- where he talks about his ambivalence toward the Old Man cult-- I wrote that years before the rest of this.

What can I conclude? I don't think I'd want to set out to write a novel without an outline that's at least this well developed. I see also that the early posts to this blog contained a fair amount of background material, character sketches and the like. All good stuff.

For comparison, I pretty much wrote Killing Time off a plot outline that I spoke to Todd shortly before I started writing; I never wrote it down anywhere but I had it in my head the whole time. Of course, KT took less than a month from start to finish, so it's not as if I had time to forget what I was doing.

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