Premise as Pole Star

I finished my comprehensive outline for my next novel yesterday. I took an organic approach to “pantsing” through my last work of literary fiction. It produced some rich work. Problem was, it was buried in the body of a bloated manuscript I had to disembowel to find. So though I still look forward to letting the muse whisper in my ear for this next book, (Autumn Imago) I’m going to be damn sure I have a road map to follow when I do.

I tried sketching one midway through the last book, but though I understood the principle of crafting a single premise to guide my work, I found it difficult to align each chapter’s mission with that overarching vision. When I started the process this time, however, I realized what I was missing: a bridge. That link between my premise and the 59 chapters in Autumn Imago is my four-part “Protagonist Evolution.” These four paragraphs describe the internal changes my main character undergoes in the four stages of novel development I adopted from Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering model: 1) Setup, 2) Response, 3) Attack, and 4) Resolution. Here’s an graphic abstract from my full outline that puts this plan into perspective:

Creating the outline inspired a very different approach to my writing process. Instead of furiously tapping keys as I lived the scenes in my story, I took a lot of long walks and spent many quiet minutes in front of my screen trying to feel my way through my tale. I was beating myself up for the wimpy word-count this process produced until I attended Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace writers’ conference last May. There, in a class given by novelist Ann Hood, I learned that this published author had a similar slow, deliberative process to kick off her novels. I came home, relaxed, and then got to work. Now I’m looking forward to adding meat to the scenes I’ve looked at from a distance. And with a map that’s clearly lit by the pole star of my premise as my guide, I can’t wait for that journey to begin.

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