Sunday, February 1, 2015

Outlines, Plots, and Guilt

In April 1982, The Writer printed a four-page article by Michael McDowell: “Outlines, Plots, and Guilt.” In it he details his process for writing novels, beginning with an outline, sometimes sticking to his outline and sometimes not. If you're a writer and a McDowell enthusiast, you may find his thoughts on the process of interest. “Outlines” is not available digitally, however, so you'll have to track down a copy. Below I've included a few excerpts:


“In writing my first few novels (which for good reason remain unpublished), I would start with a title, fashion a few characters and a few scenes to prop up that title that had intrigued me so much, and then begin an outline.”

Gilded Needles, my third novel, was based on a very intricate plot which I had worked on (now and again) for about three years. I began writing the book with every intention of remaining close to the outline—after all, why had I labored on it so long if not to make the novel easy to write? But sixty pages into the manuscript, I suddenly got a bright idea for an entirely new character—Maggie Kizer, the octoroon prostitute—and threw her into the maelstrom.”

On writing Cobalt, the second installment in the Valentine and Lovelace series (written in collaboration with Dennis Schuetz) he writes: “We did have our location—Provincetown; a list of our suspects and our corpses; and half a dozen jokes. With that we began writing.”

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