I realize that Dickens is not our mentor of the month, but I came across something very interesting in Edwin Drood, his last and unfinished novel. Namely: the notes on the book he didn’t finish.
In the back of the Penguin version of the book it gives his final notes–the next few chapters. I’m not going to go into mad amounts of detail because this is a blog and not a dissertation but: what I found interesting is that he had the next step very clear in his mind. Chapter by chapter he described what was supposed to happen in those chapters. The first three or four chapter notes following where Drood leaves off are very detailed. After those it obviously gets pretty fuzzy for him because there’s only a sentence, maybe even a fragment, of what should happen around that point in the novel.
Why did I find that interesting? Because I don’t ‘outline’ but I do something verrrrry similar to what Dickens did. Last night I wrote out the sections that I needed to complete Part 1 of the La Llorona novel I’m working on. I have some vague concept of the pieces that come after that because I know what needs to happen by the time I get to the end (because I know the end of my story…and according to a letter that Dickens wrote, documented by a contemporary biographer, apparently he knew whodunit at the end of Drood–the ‘twist’, now old-hat, being that the criminal was writing the whole thing from jail).
The notes show that, even though Dickens didn’t have a computer, or even a typewriter, stories are developed as differently for every writer then as it is now. I know people who outline, who fly by the seat of their pants, who write a section and then skip to another section and paste it all together at the end.
For me, writing a scene/chapter list as I go gives some control, but I can still blow it off or adjust it because it’s just as in flux as the novel itself. I’m creating both at the same time. Helps me know where I’ve been and where I’m going. Helps me decide what’s important or if two scenes that cover similar ground are too close together.
What do you do? What’s your process? Is your process the same process for everything or have you mixed it up a bit?