In the movie Hook (Robin Williams as Peter Pan and Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell) Dustin Hoffman (as the evil pirate Hook) tells Smee, one of his scruffy underlings, “I’ve had an epiphany.” Later in the story, Smee, emulating his idol, declares, “Oi’ve just 'ad an apostrophe.” It’s one of my favorite movie lines.
I’m happy to say I’ve had an apostrophe. My current novel-in-progress had run aground at 35,000 words. Like some other authors—John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, and Lee Child for examples—I don’t write to an outline, preferring to make up the story as I go along, letting my characters do as they will. I wish I could outline like Jeffery Deaver so cleverly and successfully does, but I cannot. (I’ve met Deaver twice. He creates an elaborate outline for every book, refining it repeatedly until it’s all laid out in detail, one reason his stories are filled with exquisitely devious twists.)
I’ve often been asked at workshops and talks, “Do you outline?” I’ve said, “Well, if even I don’t know what’s gonna happen next in a story, the reader surely won’t, either, and that keeps it interesting.” But it seems a lame answer. And it’s not the most comfortable or confident way to write. Working on my second novel in a trilogy some time ago, I was 65,000 words along and nervously facing a looming deadline before I realized who the killer was going to be.
One morning over coffee I opened the novel I was reading but my eyes were only scanning the words, my brain unable to retain anything because my own novel plot seemed to be growing ever clearer by the minute as if by some wonderful magic, my relief and enthusiasm growing as well. Suddenly I could see nearly to the end of the story, with most of the loose ends weaving themselves together nicely like an exotic tapestry.
It was an excellent feeling. A major apostrophe.
I think writers like the great John D. MacDonald really have outlined their work, albeit subconsciously. Their stories are too refined and cohesive to think otherwise. I believe my own subconscious mind has been churning away at my novel the whole time I’ve been working on it, and finally that aspect of my mind came through for me with clear visions for the rest of the story. All that was left was to write it.
Wishing you happy apostrophes in your writing and in your life.