May 14, 2010

Building the Perfect Beast by Tom Weston

Building the Perfect Beast

As I’ve said, my approach to writing is an iterative process. To those that say that outline is redundant, I offer the following explanation for my approach:

At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I would say that, for me, writing a novel is comparable to creating a life – For we authors are godlike in the power we wield over our characters and the events in their lives – and the creation starts with building a skeleton.

I have a three stage process, and the first stage is to build the skeleton – This is the outline, and my outline is generally about 20% of the finished novel in terms of word count, but more importantly, 100% of the ideas. When I have the skeleton, I can stand it up, take it for a walk and make it dance. I can see if the beast is complete. I can also see if the beast if flawed. Yes, next I have to put flesh on the beast (the actual writing) and to give it strength and intelligence (the editing), but without a sound underlying skeleton, it’s still not going to walk on its own legs.

My novels, which meld a number of disparate themes of fact, fiction, mystery, fantasy, history, and philosophy, can be quickly overwhelmed by the complexity of trying to fit all these themes together. The outline helps me to see that everything does indeed fit.

So much for redundancy.

Now to the second argument that such a mechanical approach to writing stifles artistry. I would content that having such a detailed outline actually gives me more freedom during the writing phase to express myself. I have my skeleton. I can now work on the flesh, and heart and lungs. I can now spend my time honing a witty piece of dialogue or a cutting-edge metaphor.

Artists such as Titian and Rembrandt always began by sketching an outline in charcoal on the canvas over which they would begin to paint, usually after several preparatory sketches. I don’t know of any artist that looked at a blank canvas and said, “Hmm, let’s improvise today” – not even the Impressionists. Rembrandt is praised for his use of light and economy of brushstroke – these things determine our opinion of him as a great artist – but it was still having that detailed outline to work from that freed his hand.

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Originally from England, Tom now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. Before turning his hand to fiction, Tom had a successful career as the CEO of a consulting company, conference speaker and writer of industry articles and business books. His novel, First Night, set in Boston during the New Year’s Eve festival, introduced the unlikely heroines, Alex and Jackie, and the ghost of a 17th century Puritan named Sarah Pemberton.

First Night won an Honorable Mention in the Middle-Grade/Young Adult category, in the Writers Digest 17th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards. The sequel to First Night, called The Elf of Luxembourg, was published in January, 2010. As with First Night, The Elf of Luxembourg is also a supernatural mystery, with a blend of humor and history that has become Tom’s trademark.

Tom is currently working on Book 3 of the Alex and Jackie Adventures, and is researching the background material for the story, which will be set in Ireland. Tom has also written the screenplay, Fission, based on the true story of scientist, Lisa Meitner, and the race for the atomic bomb, and which was named a finalist at the London Independent Film Festival.

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