The DuplicatesAnatomy of a Novel – Installment 4

The Outline


Today’s Anatomy of aNovel installment deals with The Outline.

And I’m sure that some of you who’ve read the first three installments are rolling your eyes and thinking;

“Geez, I thought this series was about writing a novel, when is this guy going to start talking about writing?

To those folks, I ask for your patience.

But like the first three, this installment is very much about writing, more specifically the overall writing process that I use to create a new piece of fiction.

I’m also sure that some of the authors reading this installment consider the task of creating an Outline challenging and tedious, overly restrictive, and a waste of time.

Some of you are saying;

“The hell with that. I’ve got my idea, my characters, and know where I’m going. Okay, here we go. Chapter 1.”

How do I know?

Because we’ve talked about outlines before and you’ve emailed me recently to tell me how much you’re enjoying the Anatomy of Novel installments.

But don’t worry, your identities are safe with me.

Here’s my opinion on outlines.

The outline is one of the most important elements of whatever book you’re trying to write, and I can’t imagine ever writing another book without one.

But I didn’t always feel this way.

The second book I ever tried to write was a serious piece about a young woman’s relationship with her successful father set on their horse farm in Kentucky. And set as a counterpoint, was the woman’s relationship with a magnificent yet untamable horse she was attempting to train.

I liked the idea – this was before I was using my two-step filter process – and knew how the story could move from Point A to Point B. I also believed I knew enough about my characters, especially my protagonist, to start writing.

I got about 35,000 words in when I realized I had written myself into a corner. I had introduced something into the storyline in an early chapter that was about to force the book in a different direction that ran counter to the character reveal I needed to make work.

It was an exquisite mistake.

By that I mean the mistake was so big, it couldn’t be fixed and required a page 1 rewrite.

So I did what many stupid people do when they’ve dug themselves a hole.

I kept digging and wrote another 20,000 words.

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

Man, what a piece of crap that thing was. It’s still in a box somewhere in the storage shed. I’m surprised I didn’t burn it.

But it was an incredible teachable moment, and I give myself credit for learning from it.

It confirmed – no, it hammered it into my brain – the adage;

When you don’t know where you’re going, all roads lead there.

My personal mantra from that point forward became; no outline, no book.

Why You Need An Outline

Focus and Structure

Outlines provide the skeleton that supports everything you’re about to do.

I had an interesting email exchange with another author who finds outlines confining and damaging to the magic and mystery of the writing process. If a character decides to go dancing on page 150, what’s the big deal? Isn’t discovery what the writing process is all about?

In a word, no.

For me, that’s the last thing the writing process is about. Most of the discovery is finished way before I write word one.

The writing process is about putting flesh and bones on the skeleton.

It’s about idea confirmation and The Four Cardinal Rules.

But don’t worry. I still get surprised along the way.

Occasionally, one of my characters will try to wander off on their own. I rarely let them. On those rare occasions when I do allow it, they always have an excellent reason. But nine times out of ten, I tell them to go to hell.

And it they keep it up, I warn them that I’m about to add recalcitrant-pouting to their list of character traits, or kill them off.

Having control of my characters is important. They work for me, not the other way around. And it’s my story.

Outlines Save You Time

In the upcoming installment dealing with the first draft, I’ll be sharing with you the Daily Output Log I kept for The Duplicates. As you’ll see from that tracking log, my daily word count was consistent and on most days I exceeded my daily target of 1,500 words.

By my calculation, each hour I spend on my outline saves about 2-4 hours of actual writing time.

For me, that’s a huge productivity boost.

And over the course of a 90,000-word book, that’s a lot of time.

As I’ve gotten better at creating outlines, I complete my first drafts much faster than earlier ones. And compared to the days when I started writing with just an idea, a beginning, an end, and some character sketches there is, well, there’s no comparison.

Your Write Better With An Outline

My first drafts these days are complete, strong, and reasonably clean. I attribute their quality to two things.

First, is the obvious one; the more I write, the better I get at it. Perhaps there’s some innate talent involved. But like most other things, writing is a skill that’s learned through application and practice.

The second reason is, without a doubt, the quality of my outlines. For me, everything is easier with an outline; Point of View(POV) consistency, pace, setting, narration, and, of course, The Four Cardinal Rules.

You Usually Start The Day With A Smile

I don’t know about you, but I hate looking at a blank screen, especially the first thing in the morning.

Having a detailed outline makes the morning blank screen much easier to face.

Since I use chapters that usually range between one and two thousand words, my daily word count target closely coincides with one or two chapters. As such, I do everything possible to finish a chapter before I stop for the day.

Then the next morning, I’ll review the previous day’s output, take a look at my outline, and know exactly where I need to start and get to before I stop.

I know some of you are thinking;

“Gee, it sounds so clinical.” “I’m not sure it’s a very creative process.”

And I completely understand if you feel that way. Like I said in the first installment, I’m presenting the process that works for me. Use all, some, or none of it.

But I strongly encourage you to find a process that works for you and use it. Then keep improving it, so you keep writing better books faster.

And if you are a proud member of the Anti-Outline Camp, you may find yourself all too often staring at a blank screen wondering;

“Is this a good time to bring Suzy back into the story?” or “Gee, maybe we should see what old Bill has been up to.”

If so, you might want to reconsider your opinions about outlines.

What Does The Outline Look Like

Any format can work. It doesn’t matter as long as it provides you with the things I mentioned earlier about why you need an outline.

Here’s the blank format of my Outline Template.

Outline template blank 7-3-16 copy

It’s very straightforward. From left to right; it’s chapter number, synopsis, character list, the point of view, and the Four Cardinal Rules. During the outline process, I don’t deal with the Cardinal Rules.

But they come into play during the first draft process. And I’ll be discussing how I use the Cardinal Rules in detail in a later installment.

The Duplicates Outline

As I mentioned earlier, The Duplicates is the fifth book in my Damaged Po$$e series, that is transitioning into more of a traditional thriller series. As such, the outline process for this book took a long time and was tough to get right.

I’m not going to share the entire outline with you since the storyline is on full display and I want each and every one of you to wonder what is going to happen then read the book.

But I will be sharing with you some samples along the way.

For this installment dealing with the outline, I’ll share the first chapter outline as well as the finished product so you can see how they work together.

Before we get to that, I’ll back up a step in the process.

The Duplicates is, thematically, about the disintermediation and displacement caused by technological advancements overlaid with the powderkeg of global unrest arising out of religious differences.


When End of Days prophecies and technology collide; run. Or hide and pray.


Doc gets a call from his former shrink telling him she has just killed her husband. After arriving on the scene, End of Days religious prophecies start appearing as images in the night sky. As the world begins to lose its collective mind, realer-than-real Duplicates get added to the mix, and the global threat soon reaches a tipping point. Doc is forced to embark on a bizarre and deadly mission to take the images and Duplicates down before the voice in his head does the same to him.

As I said, it took me a long time to even get to the point where I was even ready to do the outline. And then the outline took quite a while to finish. I attribute most of that time to the transition I was making with the series. But ideas for the next three Po$$e books came out of that all time, so it was well spent. I could start writing the outline of the next book in the series tomorrow.

The Duplicates Chapter 1 Outline

anatomy of a novel sample 7-3-16

Okay, so now I’ve got the first chapter sketched out. It’s 195 words and we’ve learned some interesting things about Eve and have some idea where the story might go. But the most interesting aspect for me in the first chapter isn’t the murder; it’s the fact that Eve discovers Jeremy has been cheating on her with Eve’s identical twin.

And it’s the best introductory hook I’ve ever written.

I want the readers to be asking themselves some questions when they finish the first chapter.

Does Eve have an identical twin, or just a look alike? Or is it something else altogether?

What is she going to do next?

Can the Lexus be saved?

I kid about the Lexus, but I chose it for specific reasons. It’s an upscale brand that fits with both Eve and Jeremy’s personalities. It’s a convertible which makes it a lot easier for Eve to conduct the murder. And the Lexus convertible is pretty cramped, so that adds a touch of complexity and humor to the idea of two people trying to have sex in the driver seat.

So how did the first chapter turn out?

You tell me.

Chapter 1

Day 1 – Washington, D.C.

Eve had well-entrenched plans to kill her husband.

Just not tonight in this condition.

Killing the philandering son of a bitch was one thing. The way she saw it, she’d be doing the planet a favor. But offing the bastard while soaked in a Shiraz-fueled haze that possessed the power to eliminate recall might make it impossible for her to savor the memory as the years passed.

And that would be tragic.

Eve laughed and chugged the last of her wine. Yes, temporary memory loss, not the death of her lame-ass excuse for a husband, would have been the real tragedy.

Their plan was perfect. And something they’d spent a lot of time putting together. The plan, if executed per the script, would set her free without ever having to worry about anyone connecting the dots and hunting her down.

Eve smiled.

She loved the plan. It was something, like her loathsome husband, she couldn’t wait to execute.

She opened another bottle of the Penfolds Bin 95; one of Jeremy’s prize possessions. She poured and took a sip. Even without time to aerate, it was delicious. She had to admit that the man knew his wine. Next to himself, wine was Jeremy’s favorite topic of conversation. Despite his passionate devotion to himself and other women, he always made time for wine.

But never for her.

She lit a candle, turned off the lights, and focused on her breathing; short, shallow bursts as it always did when she was about to start a new adventure. But the new chapter in her life unfolding had done more than alter her breathing. She leaned back and felt the heat in her thighs.
She remembered the last time they’d been together; making love, making plans. Plans for a future filled with luxury and fueled by passion. As ordered, she had meticulously showered and groomed while listening to his other instructions.

Don’t leave any clues. Just get in your car and drive. Pay cash for anything you buy along the way. Call me from the road, and I’ll make sure there’s a plane waiting. Leave the car in my garage.

He’d been demanding and in complete control. His eyes blazed whenever he was delivering commands. And it always made her tremble. Eve had closed her eyes, forced to wait as she stood before him naked. Then she’d felt his hands turn her. Quivering from his touch, she’d bent at the waist and sighed, again, forced to wait.

Repeating that sigh, Eve released the memory and sipped her wine.

She glanced at her watch. She should have been on the road hours ago and would need to sober up soon if she was going to make the drive. Opening the first bottle of wine had put her way behind schedule. And she knew he would make her pay for it. She considered some of the possible punishments he might inflict, then smiled and took another sip.

The lights had appeared before she heard the car. She waited for the sound of the garage door opening. But the headlights vanished, and the engine fell silent. Eve stumbled to the picture window, then peered through the curtains. Through the darkness, softened by a full moon, she saw Jeremy in the driver seat of his new Lexus convertible.

When she’d confronted him about the extravagance, he’d turned mean. Screaming at her, telling her to mind her own business, and making the point over and over about how much he deserved the car given how hard he worked. As if her fifty-hour workweek wasn’t comparable, or even worth mentioning. Then he’d stormed off, belittling her as he went. Shouting if she behaved, maybe he’d let her drive it once in a while.

In the passenger seat was a woman with long dark hair. Eve squinted through the curtains, but that was all she could decipher through the darkness. Not that either the woman’s identity or appearance mattered. She was just one more in the long line of playthings he would use, then discard.

One more notch on his bedpost.

One more cut into Eve’s heart.

Eve stepped back from the window and drained her glass.

What now? Stay and wait for the inevitable battle to play out? Maybe slip out the back door to avoid a confrontation? Stay hidden and let them get naked before grabbing Jeremy’s car keys and driving off in his beloved Lexus?

Eve giggled at that option.

Obviously, Jeremy’s plan was to bring the woman inside – into her house – for a night of fun and games, screwing their way through every room. The bastard probably had plans for the whole weekend. She poured more wine as she considered all their amorous possibilities. The thought of them in the kitchen searching for passion on cold granite made her laugh. And wince.

Have fun, kids. Been there, done that.

The notion they’d be sipping champagne soaking in the Jacuzzi barely fazed her. It was a bacteria factory she hadn’t been in for years. She did have to acknowledge the thought of them lounging in her bed pissed her off. But it was the possibility of them getting naked on her new VIG leather sofa that made her blood boil.

Eve again peered through the curtains. Now the son of a bitch was laughing, waving his arms the way he always did when talking about himself. The woman removed her blouse. Eve watched her wriggle, struggling to remove whatever she was wearing below the waist. Jeremy moved his seat back, and the woman slid over and climbed on top. She buried her head against Jeremy’s shoulder, and her long hair caught the moonlight as it cascaded over his face.

Eve watched the Lexus gently rock in the driveway. Despite her fury and intense hatred for the man she had once committed her life, Eve felt tears streaming down her cheek. She wiped them away with the back of her hand and drained her wine. Eve threw the glass at the fireplace, grabbed the wine bottle, and headed out the front door.

The lawn felt soft and moist against her bare feet as she staggered towards the car. The couple, already consumed by mutual lust, was oblivious to her presence. Eve stopped at the edge of the driveway. Her stomach turned as she listened to her husband’s tired patter.

“Where have you been all my life?… You’re amazing. And so beautiful. If you keep this up, I’ll never be able to walk again.”

“No, you won’t,” Eve said, reaching for the door handle. “You got that right.”

Jeremy stopped thrusting and glanced left when he heard the car door open.

“Eve? What are you – you’re supposed to be away for the weekend.”


Jeremy tried to extricate himself, but the woman, undeterred by the interruption, remained fastened around his waist. He shoved her hard, and she landed face down in the passenger seat.

Eve glanced down at Jeremy’s moonlit lap, saw his level of excitement, and felt another surge of rage. She raised the wine bottle in her right hand. Jeremy looked up and caught a glimpse of the label.

“Hey, is that one of my Bin 95’s?”

Those were the last words Jeremy ever spoke.

Eve launched herself forward and landed the perfect shot. Jeremy’s head opened and blood and wine blended, then collected in a pool on the driver’s seat. Eve watched the life drain from his face. He blinked, tried to speak, then his head fell back and rested against the seat.

Eve had been wrong.

Over time, it was possible she wouldn’t remember how unseasonably warm the night air was. The specific date and time might fade. Perhaps the moonlit image of them conjoined in the confined space of the front seat might pale.

But she would never lose the memory of the sound produced when bottle hammered bone. Nor would she forget the sight of her wine-stained, lame ass excuse for a husband bleeding out on the white leather seat of his Lexus.

Eve staggered back and stared at her dead husband. She glanced at the wine bottle, noticed some hadn’t spilled and took a long swig. Eve turned her attention to the woman still sprawled on the front seat.

“You,” Eve said. “Show yourself.”

The woman slowly worked her way upright in the passenger seat. She pulled her hair back and looked at Eve.

Stunned, Eve dropped the wine bottle. It shattered on the driveway.

“Oh, my god,” Eve said. “What the… who are you?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

Eve stood trembling next to the Lexus. The only thing obvious was that she was staring back at herself.


The first chapter final word count: 1,457. Down from the 1,601 in the first draft.

Don’t worry; we’ll get to the editing process later.

But the next installment deals with the first draft.

And I have a whole bunch of metrics to share with you.

Until then, be well, my friends.