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Outlining And Writing By The Seat Of My Pants, by Douglas W Jacobson

There’s an old saying that goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going you won’t know when you’ve arrived.” I believe this describes the process of writing fiction pretty well. If you don’t have pretty tight concept of the storyline, and a very tight concept of the endpoint, what you will end up with is a rambling sort of jumbled story that will frustrate the reader.

Before I begin writing I always develop an outline of the story and have a clear concept of where I want it to go. Because I am writing historical fiction, my outline is generally a series of chronological historical events that I try to weave together in a story. I use the events as “stepping stones” through which my characters will progress as the story unfolds.

Now, having said all that, I must admit that my “outline” is a very fluid thing that changes many times during the writing process. Two things cause this to happen. The first is research which I continue to do as I write. I’m always discovering interesting new historical tidbits to toss into the mix and give my characters something else to deal with. The second is the story itself which evolves as I write. As the characters develop and evolve I find the story moving off into directions I hadn’t necessarily thought about in the beginning. So, I have to keep tweaking the outline but all the while making sure that I’m staying on a pretty tight narrative.

In writing The Katyn Order, I had decided that I wanted my two main characters, Adam and Natalia, to meet during the Warsaw Rising of 1944. I had originally envisioned doing about four or five chapters in that setting. As it turned out I did twenty-two chapters set in the Warsaw Rising because it turned out to be a very compelling storyline and the characters were evolving so well that I stayed with it. Many readers have told me it’s their favorite part of the book.


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Night of Flames: A Novel of World War IIThe Katyn Order     Blood of the ReichAuslanderNecessary LiesMarrying MozartThe Sultan's Wife

Writing Historical Novels

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. As a WW2 historian and historical fiction writer, I’m looking forward to reading your books (though my library doesn’t have them, darn it!). I had a pretty solid outline for my latest book, but like you, as I wrote it, I found that things changed, but it only made the story better.
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

    January 15, 2013

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