February 4, 2015


By Daryl Wood Gerber aka Avery Aames

I love riding a roller-coaster!  Right, left, upside down, through a dark tunnel, plummeting toward the ground! I love the thrill of not knowing what comes next. However, I truly appreciate that the roller-coaster creator spent hours—hopefully tons of hours—designing that ride and personally testing it out thousands of times.

Writing a book is much like designing a roller-coaster. There should be twists and turns and lots of exciting moments. However, if the author doesn’t have a clue where the story is going, then the book can sag and even plummet before it is time to do so.

Therefore, I truly believe in outlining. I know lots of authors who prefer to write by the seat of their pants. They say it keeps the story fresh. I tried that, way back when, and my work lacked punch.  I prefer to know where the story starts and ends.  I enjoy plotting out the twists and act points. I set up clues and know how they play out. In the case of my culinary mysteries, I also have to plan where I’m going to include references to food, cheese, and cookbooks. Yipes! Trust me, when I’m writing, every scene feels fresh and new. The characters live and breathe on the page.

However, let’s return to the roller-coaster analogy for a second.  I must admit that I like NOT knowing what is going to happen, too. That’s why an outline, for me, is like a road map. It shows the route to one destination, but along the way, I can take the scenic route.  I’ll detour to a tourist town to the east, have lunch, buy a trinket [in my books it might be a little less docile, like having a set-to with a shop owner, a friend, a foe] and then I get back on the road, heading toward my destination. An outline brings me comfort because I know where the end of the journey will be.  I know who did it and why and how justice will be served.

Now, you might ask, what happens if I have an aha! moment and I realize the killer didn’t do it?  Ahem, yes, that’s happened to me, too.  I started out knowing for certain that one character killed another, until surprise, it turned out to be someone else—not a woman, but a man; not the husband, but the ex-boyfriend.  Does that shred my outline?  Not necessarily.  That’s when I go back and tweak the outline. It’s flexible. I make sure that the twist I took to drive the original story to point A is now a twist to direct the story to point B, and yet the rest of the story holds together. I don’t have to start from page one. Phew!

Big admission: I outline because I don’t like to feel lost. I’m not James Bond. Heck, I’m not even Laura Croft, Tomb raider. I don’t feel comfortable if I’m stuck in the dark without a flashlight…or a weapon…and I hear a crackle, a footstep, and then feel heavy breathing down my neck. By the way, a deadline can often breathe heavily down one’s neck. Ever felt that? An outline helps keep those panicky feelings at bay!

Have you ever tried outlining? If not, what’s stopping you?

By the way, here is a chart of my outline headings, if that helps you get started. Enjoy the process!

People in Scene
Clues, Red Herrings + Food references

DARYL WOOD GERBER writes the nationally bestselling Cookbook Nook Mystery series. As AVERY AAMES, she pens the nationally bestselling Cheese Shop Mystery series. Latest Cookbook Nook release: Stirring the Plot, The next Cheese Shop Mystery: As Gouda As Dead, releases today. Fun tidbit: as an actress, Daryl appeared in “Murder, She Wrote” and more. Visit Daryl or Avery She blogs & shares recipes on Mystery Lovers Kitchen. WEBSITE, BLOGS & LINKS:

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