Today’s House Guest is fellow Phaze author Misty Malone. Over to you Misty.
Come closer and I’ll tell you a secret.
Just a bit more.
There you go. Okay, so here’s my deep dark confession: Until last year, I’d never written an outline in my life.
I’ll wait for you to recover.
Yup, I was a pantser, just winging it from chapter to chapter, a concept of plot in my head but no clear direction on where I was going or how I would get there.
Everything changed in April 2009 at the Romantic Times Conference. I pitched a fantasy series, two of which were finished, a third only a concept in my head. The agent I spoke with loved the concept and wanted to see the completed manuscripts… plus a treatment for the third book.
Treatment? As in pedicure, manicure, and facial?
Nope. As is a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the important plot points in a novel. A lot of research went into learning what a treatment was, I’ll tell you. Turns out, they’re a tool used in the film industry when scriptwriters pitch their story ideas to movie studios. Rather than reading a 500-plus screenplay, studio directors request a three to four page summary, breaking down the main plot points by scene. Seems the publishing industry has adopted this technique, too.
So there I was with not a word written for the third book. Where to start? Chapter one, of course. Four sentences, introducing the character—not by physical traits—but by what he does, by what is At Risk for him in the novel, by what his major goals and major obstacles are.
Chapter two follows the same formula, but also advances the story of the plot. What changes in this chapter? Do these changes help or hurt the main character’s plot goal? What decisions is he forced to make as a result? By planning out these chapters side-by-side, you ensure each one has movement and plot elements that will either help or hinder your characters during the course of the novel.
Another unexpected perk came when I gave the treatment to my critique group. I was just hoping for overall impressions. Instead, I got questions about character motivations, realism issues, and continuity concerns. In other words: plot holes. But this was great! Critters pointing out my plot holes before I even penned Word #1!
Imagine how much work that saved me during the writing and editing process. No wasted scenes that should never see the light of day because they didn’t do anything to move the story forward. A cohesive plot with no dropped threads or gaping holes. In short, the treatment became my ultimate writing tool.
Now, that’s not to say the treatment is written in stone. And here’s something the pantsers among you will love—things can, and will, change the further you get into the novel. For example, in the book I’m working on now, I decided to completely change the transition into the climactic scene of the book because of something I learned about my villain that the treatment couldn’t tell me.
And when it came time to write the synopsis, my work was almost already done for me! All I had to do was refer back to the treatment—which blueprints those plot points agents and editors want to read about in your synopses—and just check those chapter notes against what ended up in the final product.
So, here I stand, a recovering pantser. Not to say I won’t dip back into that mindset for a short story once in a while, but I’m converted. I’ve written treatments for four novels now, and the feeling of cohesiveness and closure is there in a way they weren’t before. If you’ve never dared a treatment before, go ahead. I won’t tell. It’ll be our little secret.
Bio for Misty Malone: www.MistyMalone.com
A new voice in town, Misty hails from the Big Apple itself. A Taurus with a penchant for angsty romances gone wrong and good ol' fashioned epic fantasy, Misty writes male/male romantic erotica. Her short stories can be found at Ravenous Romance, and her longer works at www.Phaze.com, including Dead Men Get No Tail, and her forthcoming historical fiction, The Consort.