Three simple steps to a bulletproof novel outline

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I went into New Yorked, my first novel, without an outline.

It took five years to write. Characters appeared, disappeared, and reappeared. Entire threads were added, removed, repurposes, rethought, and ultimately, trashed.

One of the lessons I learned over the course of those five years was: I’m the kind of writer who needs an outline. I knew the start and I knew the ending, but the middle—that’s where I was getting lost.

The second book, City of Rose, I wrote and delivered to my publisher in six months. Part of that was because I found my voice and my process. But a big part, too, was: I had an outline.

And it was a damn good outline. Because I took a cue from a friend of mine, who has this trick for writing short stories.

He writes the story, then trashes it. A day or two later, he rewrites it from scratch. The logic goes that he’ll only remember the good parts, and the rest, he’s had time to think about.

He trashes the second draft too, waits a few days, writes a third.

The third version is his working version, which gets subject to editing and rewriting.

So for City of Rose, I thought I would give that a try with the outline, because that’s where I was getting jammed up. I outlined the book in a Moleskine after I was done sorting out my notes and character sketches.

I went chapter by chapter, spelling out the place, the characters present, the conflict, and the hook to drive readers into the next chapter. No more than a paragraph for each.

Than I waited a few days. Without looking back, I rewrote it. And I only remembered the good stuff. The places where I hit a wall—I had fixes and answers, since I had time to think them over.

A few days later, I outlined again. That third version nailed the story, hit all the targets I wanted to hit, and guided me through the book.

Simple, right?

Write, trash, think.

Write, trash, think.

Write.

It’s important to note that an outline isn’t gospel. There were a few points where I veered off, or found in the writing that something needed to be moved or added or eliminated.

Think of an outline as a roadmap. You can cut around construction or take a longer route to get in some sightseeing—but you’ll arrive at your destination (the completion of the first draft) so much sooner if you’ve got some semblance of a plan.

What about you? Do you outline? Or do you write by the seat of your pants and hope you find the story in the process?

And you can find New Yorked here.

Barnes & Noble signing June 17

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On June 17, I’ll be signing New Yorked at the Barnes & Noble on Staten Island.

The festivities (me sitting at a table and desperately hoping people show up to buy my book) start at 7 p.m.

If you live on Staten Island, or can’t make it out to the release party in Manhattan, this is a good backup plan.

Details at the Barnes & Noble event page. There’s also a Facebook event page where you can RSVP here.

NEW YORKED eBook now available for pre-order

The paperback edition of New Yorked has available for pre-order for a while. I’m excited to see the digital editions are now up, too. I’m a fan of eBooks! So if that’s your preference, harness the power of the atom and have at it.

Kindle

iTunes

Nook

Kobo

Google

And if you like to nerd out over weird science stuff like I do, check out this post I did for LitReactor a few years ago about how eBooks do add atomic weight to eReaders.

Party with me at The Mysterious Bookshop

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I know it’s a little early, but I’m excited, and it’s official, and now you can’t claim that you made other plans that night: The release party for New Yorked will be held at The Mysterious Bookshop on the day of the book’s release, June 9.

This is a place that’s near and dear to my heart. Not just because I’ve been a customer for years, and not just because it’s where my office is (down in the basement)—but because it’s the last crime and mystery specialty store in Manhattan. It’s an institution. And it’s an honor to have my first major book event there.

So come on down. You can respond to the Facebook event here, or just write it down on your calendar like a Luddite. June 9, 6:30 p.m., 58 Warren Street, Manhattan.

There will be booze. Maybe snacks, too. But definitely booze.

If you’re not able to attend but you want a signed copy of the book, order it from Mysterious—I’ll sign any copy sold by and delivered from the store.

Want a free copy of my novella? [UPDATED]

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UPDATE: All copies are now spoken for. Thanks for playing!

I recently updated the print edition of The Last Safe Place: A Zombie Novella. This is for a few reasons:

1. I wanted to use a different font.

2. I wanted to add in the cover and release information for New Yorked.

3. There was a typo I was burning to fix.

The new edition looks very nice—but now I’m left with a handful of copies of the old version. So I’m going to give them away! I’m sorry you won’t get the new font and will be subjected to a typo, but hey—free book!

There are 10 copies available. Want one? Hit me up on Twitter or on Facebook. Just ask. First ten folks, I’ll send them a copy. United States only. I’ll pick the winners and mail them out, probably later this week.

All I ask in return is that you consider leaving a review of The Last Safe Place on Amazon, or that you consider pre-ordering a copy of New Yorked. Or both, if you’re feeling saucy.

None of that is required. The important thing here is: I’d like to clear some space on my bookshelf, and I’d like to get these into the hands of readers.