Tuesday, September 14, 2010

To Outline or Not to Outline with Guest Blogger Dean DeLuke

Win a copy of Shedrow by mystery novelist Dean DeLuke today at the Book Boost!

Here's what he had to say about the process of Outlining your novel...

One of the things I have always found interesting in speaking with authors is how diverse their writing routines, methods, idiosyncrasies and rituals are. One chief point of separation divides “outliners” versus “seat of pants” writers. Clearly either technique can work, and I can point to two of my own mentors from the medical thriller genre to illustrate that point.

Michael Palmer tends to be in the outliner camp. He writes on a computer, and usually starts with an outline. Tess Gerritsen, on the other hand, has said she is more inclined to just let the story and the characters take on a life of their own. She writes in longhand on unlined paper, and someone later transcribes for her. They are both enormously successful writers of medical thrillers.

One of the clear advantages of outlining is that it allows the writer to craft the story along generally accepted guidelines for plot structure, classically described as some variation of exposition, conflict, climax and resolution. A disadvantage is that it could potentially limit creativity, though an author can certainly deviate from the outline when the mood strikes. Any author will describe those memorable times in writing fiction when the story or the characters do, in fact, take on a life of their own. For me, that represents one of the more inspiring points in the process of fiction writing. Some of the best twists and turns in Shedrow just seemed to come out of the blue. Looking back, you wonder, now where did THAT come from?

So in my case, my approach was more like Gerritsen’s—though I do compose on a laptop. However, once the first draft was completed, I did go back and re-order certain chapters and events to conform to general rules of story structure. I also constructed a running graph of emotional tension in the story, trying to end up with a rolling pattern of highs and lows that crescendo upward to the ultimate crisis. I attempted not to have any low tension chapters show up in close proximity.

Take advantage of the fact that following any of those emotional highs, you likely have the reader’s undivided attention. That would be a good time to provide backstory or fill in needed information for the reader—information that may be critical but perhaps not as exciting as what just transpired. I also went back several times and looked at each chapter ending, trying to assure that the reader had been given enough reason to want to continue reading. Pose a question, end with a minor cliffhanger, or at least assure that there is enough accumulated tension in the story.

So the bottom line is: do what works for you. If you are an outliner, your first draft will likely be better structured. If you go more by the seat of your pants, you may have quite a bit more work to do following your initial drafts—I know I did.

A Note from the Book Boost: This is great information, Dean. Thanks for sharing your method with our readers and writers. I'm one of those "pantser" types but a very rough skeletal outline is useful from time to time even for us hard core pantsers. Thanks for joining us, please tell us more about your exciting book!


From rolling pastures in Lexington, KY to darkened alleyways in Newark, NJ, from Manhattan’s posh ‘21’ Club to a peculiar and mysterious landfill in Eastern Kentucky, and from Saratoga Springs, NY to the tiny island of St. Lucia, Shedrow portrays a collision of characters from many divergent worlds. High society and the racing elite, medical and veterinary specialists, mob figures, and Kentucky hill folk become entangled in this unique twist on the medical thriller.

Dr. Anthony Gianni, a prominent Manhattan surgeon, becomes involved in a racing partnership as a diversion from a thriving surgical practice and an ailing marriage. The excitement builds when the partnership acquires Chiefly Endeavor, a two-year-old colt with the breeding, the spirit, and enough early racing success to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.

When a new partner with an unsavory background appears and a breeder’s nightmare becomes real, Dr. Gianni and a dedicated veterinarian must confront organized crime and solve a complex mystery that threatens to destroy both of their careers, and possibly a great deal more.


Gianni was seated at a metal table, his hands bound behind his back. At one end of the table stood Sal Catroni. Unlike the other man, he wore no disguise. His longish hair was slicked back neatly, white at the sides, darker on top. His brow was furrowed in a scowl, amplifying the deep frown lines between his black-looking eyes.

Catroni spoke first. “You know who I am?” he said.

Gianni shook his head.

“I’m Sal Catroni, of the Catroni family, and this here is Hector. Hector was a medic in the Marines. He’s here to help you with some medical treatment.”

Hector stood at least six-two, all of it solid muscle. He wore a tight white dress shirt, its silk sleeves rolled neatly to the middle of his massive forearms. A ski mask, open at the forehead, concealed his face, and his closely cropped black hair stood mostly on end. It reminded Gianni of a 1960s style flat-top cut, only not as stiff.

“Hector has some tools for you, Doc,” Catroni said.

Hector opened a clean white linen cloth, the texture of a dishrag but with a starched white appearance. Inside were surgical instruments. Dr. Gianni instantly recognized them—there was a blade handle and several large #10 blades, the kind a surgeon would use to make a long incision. It was not a delicate blade, but one meant to cut hard and fast through a lot of tissue with a single swipe. Next to the blades was a bone cutting forceps, which Gianni knew to be a Rongeurs forceps. Then there was a large pile of neatly folded gauze pads.

“Recognize those tools?” Catroni asked.

Gianni nodded.

“Well, Hector here is prepared to do a little surgery today.”

Catroni released Gianni’s hands, placing his left hand on the table beside the white cloth, and the other hand behind Gianni’s back, re-binding it tightly to the chair with duct tape.

“Now Dr. Gianni, Hector here is going to start with the tip of your ring finger, on your left hand. You are right-handed, aren’t you?”

Want More Dean?

Visit his website here: www.shedrow1.com
Watch the book trailer! Click here!

Pick up your copy today! Click here!

Contest Time:
Leave a question or comment for Dean and be eligible to win a copy of Shedrow. Winner selected in about one week and posted in the Recent Winners box on the right hand side of the blog. Check back to see if you've won and to claim your prize!


Lucy said...

I liked your interview and thanks for the giveaway!

Please count me in.


TheWaldos said...

You had me at horses! Glad I stopped by today.

The book trailer was smashing as well.

Moridin said...

What do you think the result would be if you tried outlining?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments. Moridin, for my next book I will, in fact, work from a rough outline. I just won't be too rigid about it. I would expect it will make for less re-ordering and hopefully less work overall at the first draft stage. We shall see.

Bethie said...

Great interview. I think it is so interesting how authors apporach the writing process.

lizzi0915 at aol dot com

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