Outlining – I’m Glad I’m Doing It

Posted: October 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

One of my reference books says that the average mystery novel has between forty and ninety scenes in it.  I don’t know what is more astounding, that there are so many or that someone has taken the time to compile all those statistics.

What’s a scene?  It’s any change in locale or time.  Each scene is like a micro story, telling about an event.  In a mystery, those events should all end in a little hook that makes the reader want to turn the page and read more.  Keep building up the mystery, the action, the adventure. 

Scenes tend to naturally group themselves together into acts, although you don’t label them as such, with about four acts in a book.  It’s just the way we’ve kind of settled on to tell the story, I suppose.  You see that mimicked in real life in your favorite TV cop show.  Four chunks of story, interrupted by commercials for an hour long show.

The average novel runs to 280 pages, but for NaNoWriMo we’ll be a little shorter than that at about 170 pages.  Whoever knew that writing had so much math to it?

So I’ve been working on my outline.  I’m up to nineteen scenes so far.  Each scene outline includes the scene number, the day (so that you can keep your timeline accurate), the time of day (so that your story is realistic and you don’t have your character doing something dumb like like wandering around outside with a flashlight when you just said two pages ago that it was mid morning), the characters in the scene, the action and finally the point of view of the narrator (who is doing the talking).

Outlining is a lot more work than I thought it would be, but it’s making my ideas of the characters and the story line come more alive.  It’s pointing out weaknesses in my characters and gaps in the plot.  For now, I’m very glad that I’m doing this exercise.  It’s teaching me a lot.

If you are an aspiring writer of mystery or suspense, check out Hallie Ephron’s “Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel”.    It’s a wealth of information.



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