What have you learned, Dorothy?
I learn something with every book I write and this one is no different. In this case, I have a better understanding of what I want each part of the book to do. Every scene has to have multiple purposes; it must advance the plot and our understanding the characters and the world in which they live. While this may appear formulaic, the point is that it’s not about me and what I want; it’s about what will engage the reader and pull them through to the end.
Writing the ending
I’ve often said that I usually know the ending of my books about two-thirds of the way in. In several books I’ve written the ending, and then gone back and written toward it. Bandit Girls was a little different; I didn’t write the ending in advance, but I knew where it had to end up. And lo, although at that point I was writing organically, it all came together with a great satisfying conclusion.
Outlining vs. Pantsing
I am beginning to see the virtues of outlining. I’m not saying that I will do a formal outline for my next book (although I’m leaning that way), but with the minimalist outline that I did for BG, I could see where it kept me going on the right path instead of allowing the story to deviate from where it should go. The proof is in the pudding, or rather the cut file; it’s probably my smallest cut file to date. Note to aspiring writers; save everything you cut from your working draft in a cut file. It’s not a question of if you will need it, but when. A small cut file means that these deviations are fewer, saving time, and making the first draft go more smoothly. As a former died-in-the-wool pantser, that’s the kind of improvement I can get behind.
Does an outline make a work less imaginative? I used to think that, but talking with friends who are staunch outliners, and reading their manuscripts, I have changed my opinion on that. Their work is wonderfully inventive.
Writing The End
The two most important words a novelist — especially an aspiring novelist — can write are: The End. It signals a project completed and a commitment kept. You learn more from completing a novel that doesn’t work very well (note: there are no “bad” novels, just novels that don’t work very well) than from dozens of fabulous novel starts. Remember that, even when the middle-of-the-book-suck has you in its merciless grip.
But when it comes right down to it, The End is just the beginning. It’s the beginning of the editing process, the redrafting, the polishing, and possibly, the publication process. No matter how many novels you write, The End is a mighty accomplishment. Embrace it! I do.