By Daryl Wood Gerber
Do you like riding on a roller coaster?
I love it! I love the thrill of not knowing what comes next. Lots of spinning upside down, twisting to the right and left, going through dark tunnels, plummeting drops, and loop-the-loops. Love it. But I also like knowing that the roller coaster creator spent hours—hopefully years—designing that ride and personally testing it out hundreds of times. I want to know that the designer rode the roller coaster, feet dangling, nose facing the ground, seeing that pavement below. I want the designer to be darned sure that the roller coaster won’t collapse.
Designing a roller coaster is like writing a book. If the author (i.e. moi) doesn’t have a clue where the story is going, then the book can sag and have false starts and even plummet before it’s time. Trust me. I used to write by the seat of my pants and those books aren’t seeing the light of day. More power to those who can do it. I can’t.
So how do I make sure my roller coaster is safe? I create an outline. I like to know where the story starts and ends. I enjoy plotting out the turns, the act points, and the highs and lows.
What does my outline look like? It’s a grid, mapped out by place, time, people involved, and the action. It often includes red herrings, clues, and pay-offs.
How long does it take me to write the outline? About a month of tweaks and adjustments. You might ask whether this takes the surprise away while writing? Nope. Because . . .
Let’s return to the roller coaster ride analogy. While in the design phase, a roller coaster designer can tweak and change every twist and turn. So can I, as a writer. The outline and, therefore the story, can morph. Yep, you read me right. An outline has to be flexible. Because when a surprise happens during the creation process, and I know it’s the right surprise, then I have to grasp it and insert it. For me, an outline is like having a road map that shows the route to one destination. For example, I know I’m going from LA to NYC. But along the way, I might decide to take the scenic route. See the Black Hills. See the St. Louis arch. Stop off at that little town off the beaten track to have lunch, buy a trinket, have a brawl with a bartender or an ex-husband or a mean girl, and then get back on the road. [I’m not really the brawling type. Honest.]
The value of writing the outline, for me, is the comfort I get when I know where the end of the road is or what the climax of the story occurs, if you will. I like to know who did it and why and what justice will be served.
But what happens if who did it changes along the way, you ask? Ahem. Yes, that’s happened to me, too. I started out writing that one character killed another, until, surprise, I discovered it was not a woman, but a man. Not one killer, but two. Does that destroy my outline? Not necessarily. That’s when I go back and re-outline. And then I make sure I didn’t leave IN a red herring that now doesn’t exist or belong. I make sure that the twist I took to get to the original story point A is now a twist to take me to story point B.
I outline because I don’t like to feel lost. I don’t feel comfortable without a map in the car, a flashlight in the dark . . . or a weapon if I hear a crackle, a footstep, or heavy breathing down my neck.
But I do like a roller coaster—the faster and steeper, the better.
Fairy garden store owner Courtney Kelly believes in inviting magic into your life. But when uninvited trouble enters her shop, she’ll need more than a sprinkling of her imagination to solve a murder . . .
Since childhood, Courtney has loved fairies. After her mother died when Courtney was ten, she lost touch with that feeling of magic. A year ago, at age twenty-nine, she rediscovered it when she left her father’s landscaping business to spread her wings and start a fairy garden business and teashop in beautiful Carmel, California. At Open Your Imagination, she teaches garden design and sells everything from fairy figurines to tinkling wind chimes. Now she’s starting a book club tea.
But the light of the magical world she’s created inside her shop is darkened one night when she discovers neighboring dog-grooming business owner Mick Watkins dead beside her patio fountain. To make matters worse, the police suspect Courtney of the crime. To clear her name and find the real killer, Courtney will have to wing it. But she’s about to get a little help from an unexpected source . . .