Phillip Thompson

Crime Fiction writer

There’s a gazillion websites for writers out there — how to write, how to market, how to get an agent, etc. — and usually hit around a dozen or so a day, mostly just trolling to see if there’s something out there that makes me sit back and think or gives me an idea to keep from becoming just part of the white noise.

As you can imagine, there are plenty that tell you what The Secret To Successful Writing is. But when it comes to the actual craft of writing, you have to look a little longer to find something that is actually helpful.

Found this yesterday. It reminded of a question I get asked a lot — and one I’ve heard in classrooms: “How do you outline a novel?”

My answer is: I don’t. That answer usually leads to a debate over how to write a novel. One side is the Outliners/Plotters and the other side is the Characters. I used to outline — and by that I mean plot out — my novel ideas. Makes sense, right? Yes, to a degree, but I found myself writing to the plot, not the characters. The result was that I — the writer, the constructor of this story — was leading the characters through the story like marionettes, rather that letting the characters develop and tell the stories themselves. (I didn’t come to this on my own — I was taught by an outstanding writer and teacher, Bob Bausch). Once I discovered this bit of craft, it drastically changed not only the way I wrote, but my entire approach to writing.

That still left me with the age-old problem of staying on track and keeping the story coherent rather than a rambling mess. I was discussing this one day with another writer, a co-worker. During the course of the conversation, he introduced me to a “mind-mapping” program that he used in our job (which required a lot of brainstorming and idea generation). I was hooked immediately. If you want read more about the concept, this will get you started.

I now use Mind Node (for Mac); the program isn’t as important as the capability. It’s perfect for me because I’ll start with a central thought or idea and let my mind wander a little — a kind of freestyle thinking. I still build a very general thread of where I want a story to go, but once I get that in mind, I use the mind map to let the characters start telling the story. The process usually generates more questions than answers, and that’s good for me, because it gives me a way to get the characters moving.

So, if you find yourself stuck or feeling “trapped,” give it a shot.

And of course, don’t forget to check out the Kindle edition of Enemy Within — download a sample here.

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