We recently devoted an entire meeting of our critique group to the Rune Skelley Method. Jen and Kent brought the rainbow, and a hard-copy of the outline, and a few sample stubs. Our fellow authors were keen to hear details of how we use all these components in our process. How we do things, of course, is not necessarily what will work best for you. (But details are available at the links above, if you’re interested.)
The key is that we have a process.
You know you’re supposed to have an outline. You know that the more you road-test your plot before you start writing prose, the less likely you’ll get stuck. You know you’re supposed to get enough sleep, and eat your veggies, and not run with scissors. We certainly hope you’re heeding at least some of that advice, but knowing what you should do and doing it consistently are not the same thing.
That’s another hidden strength of writing in a partnership: you can’t get away with winging it, which forces discipline upon you. It makes you actually do the things you know you’re supposed to.
The conversation at our critique meeting spanned the entire Rune Skelley career. We didn’t always have a defined process — we didn’t know we wouldn’t get away with winging it, and wing it we did. We ran, with and without scissors. We wrote much of our first novel from inspiration, letting the characters find their ways into more and more trouble with little supervision. It built up effortlessly into a top-heavy mess. There was no outline, just a vague sort of mission statement for how it was all supposed to end. For a while, it ended in tears and an abandoned manuscript. We had to put it aside for a year. A year. We just stopped writing it. When we did go back, we largely started over. It took a long time and a gigantic amount of work to figure that book out.
What we know now is that all those impulsive maneuvers our characters came up with, which we spent months transcribing into elaborate prose, should have been explored in brainstorming sessions where they could be be debugged quickly, and where potentially better alternatives could more easily be considered. By doing all the exploration in long-form text (written longhand, BTW) we gave ourselves a huge disincentive to think about changing it. So when it became clear that we didn’t have a way forward from where we were, that something had to change, we needed that year off before we could face the task.
In contrast, Novel #5 worked the first time. There’s still work to be done, but it came out the proper overall shape in one go. We devoted a considerable amount of time up front to documenting what was supposed to happen, and fleshing out the setting, and analyzing the characters’ psyches. Considerable time, but way less than a year. And we didn’t have cry about it.