How do you develop your stories?  Do you plot in advance, complete with outlines and maybe index cards, or do you drive the book by the seat of your pants, letting the characters sort of lead you around by the nose?

I'm in the latter category.  I have no idea in the world how a book will turn out, or where it will take me during the process.  I started my current one with nothing but an image: a six-foot, feather-winged angel walking down a crowded street in a Bangkok slum.  I'm now almost 90 pages in, and I still don't know exactly who he is, but I'm having a wonderful time.

I'd love to hear from you, and also to suggest (if the subject interests you) that you look at my blog at, where some really good writers are addressing the question.  So far we've had Stephen Jay Schwartz, Bill Crider, Rebecca Cantrell, and Gar Anthony Haywood.  Up right now is Helen Simonson, whose first novel, COLONEL PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND has had amazing reviews by everyone from Oprah to Publisher's Weekly and the NY Times, and which entered the Amazon rankings, two weeks before its pub date, at 126.

I'd love it if you dropped by and took a look at the way these folks do it, but I'd also love some replies here.  This is a topic I can read about and discuss pretty much any time.

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I do pretty much what you do, Tim, though I usually have a notion of the crime. Mind you, that notion changes frequently as I move foward.
What you touch on here is how entertaining writing is. You are first of all telling yourself a story, and not knowing what happens next makes the process more suspenseful.
It also makes for a hell of clean-up job when it's all done. :)
Absolutely. Not knowing is one of the things that propels me through the writing process. It seems completely instinctive to me, and yet Stephen Jay Schwartz creates detailed (and I mean DETAILED) outlines before he begins his narrative, and BOULEVARD, his first, and excellent, novel, has no mechanical feeling whatsoever. All I can surmise is that some people have a better sense of plotting than I do and know their characters well enough at the outset to move them through the story in ways that are completely consistent with who they are.

I couldn't write that way if my life depended upon it, as it does every time I write a book proposal. And my book proposals stink.
I'm a plotter. Detailed outline before starting. while writing, detours will pop up, as will new characters, but I always maneuver my way back to my outline.
See, you're another one -- a writer whose books feel as random when they're happening as real life does even if, in retrospect, the story developments seem inevitable. I think maybe it's impossible to tell whether the writer of a really good book is a plotter or a pantser, while bad books are easier to identify: the plotter's tend toward the mechanical and the pantser's toward the meandering.

I like your books, in case that's not clear above. SMALL CRIMES blew me away.
Timothy, thanks.

Even though I'll write detailed outlines before starting a book -- about 6-8 pages single-spaced for an 70-90K word novel, I go into an almost REM-like state while writing, and get deep into my characters's heads. Situations pop up or new characters come along that I didn't anticipate, and they quickly become very organic to the story. And sometimes part of the outline no longer fits the story (as happened with my latest novel), and that will get bypassed without a seconds thought. So while I need my outline as a roadmap, and feel lost without it, I do take plenty of detours.

I don't write outlines for short fiction, but the story plays out fully in my head before I start writing.

I'm definitely in the latter category - I begin with a general idea of the plot, but I never outline in advance or know for sure where it's going. Usually I begin with a specific image or scene, as in ELDERCIDE, where the first scene I wrote described the protagonist gazing down at an old mill stream that ran beneath an artistically restored office building. That scene finally ended up somewhere around the fifth chapter.

My brain works entirely differently when I'm at the computer, typing. It seems my fingers have to be active for the ideas to start flowing. Longhand doesn't work, either.

Julie Lomoe's Musings Mysterioso
Hi, Julie --

Great website, by the way.

You and I work alike. I'm beginning to think (as I read the stuff that's being posted on my blog) that this is purely a matter of temperament -- some people (outliners) can think story in sort of long bolts of cloth while others (pantsers) have to follow characters into the story. It may also be that some writers are more comfortable making a leap of faith and growing their wings on the way down. (I didn't make that up -- the world's most prolific screenwriter, Yoji Yamada, did. 100 films produced from his scripts.)
Thank you, Timothy. I'm flattered that you went to my website already - I went to yours and bookmarked it. I'll definitely have to read some of your books, and Helen Simonson sounds intriguing too.

Julie Lomoe's Musings Mysterioso
I've done both with my mysteries. One of my favourite ones was The Noon God, where the story was a picture in my mind. There was no need to map it out; it was already complete. However, with more complicated plots I've planed them out, leaving myself as much room as I want to wander. Nothing is ever cast in stone.
Hi, Donna -- A complete picture? Whoa. I get snapshots with no connective tissue at all. In the new book I've got the angel and the slum, a transvestite showgirl (don't ask -- there are hugely ornate transvestite cabarets in Bangkok) dressed as Beyonce when she was in Destiny's Child, and a couple of possible scenes that might as well have appeared on the wallpaper for all the context they've got.

But the book is coming, and I'm really liking it.

When you say a picture, do you mean essentially a visual schematic or image of the entire story?
I do both.

I sometimes make up a detailed outline. I sometimes go hog wild with nothing but a few notions.

One project I'm working on, a big sci-fi crime epic set in California in the years 2068-2070 has a lot of characters, and an extremely complicated plot, which has to be assembled in pieces from four different points of view. I need to outline it very carefully to keep everything straight.
I think it's unusual to do both, but I have no scientific data to back that up. My plots are pretty complicated, although I generally avoid multiple points of view because I'm not sure I could write them convincingly -- usually sort of semi-limited third person that goes wide when I want the reader to know something the protagonist(s) don't or when I want to switch from one story line to another. But my plots are complicated because that's the way they turn out. I think at the beginning of every book that I'll keep this one simple, but . . .

Still, I don't know many writers who outline sometimes, and sometimes don't/


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