I finish up at the end of the elaboration process with between 25-40 typed pages. That is the outline. The outline says chapter by chapter what happens in the book and it contains potted biographies of each of the characters. Most importantly though, it tells me and my editors what the dramas are. I then show this outline to various people including my editor in New York, my editor in London, my agent and actually anybody else who is interested. Some of my kids are very interested in this process, some are not, so I send the outline to the ones who are interested and they call me or send me a note.
Some of these people are amateurs and some are very smart experts on story telling. I listen to what they all have to say and their views change my perception of what I’ve done. I can then look at my work from the point of view of a reader. Someone may say, for instance, “I don’t really want to read a story about a man who beats his wife.” This may not be because it doesn’t fit in with the plot, but because people just don’t want to read a book about that sort of thing. I may say, “I hadn’t thought of that, but of course nobody wants to read a story about a man who beats his wife.”
When I have all these comments, I rewrite the outline – and this may happen several times. Typically there will be a first draft outline, a second draft outline and a final outline, so it would twice go through the process of being shown to a number of people. The whole process of coming up with idea, fleshing it out, doing the research, drafting the outline and rewriting the outline comes to about a year all told. There are quite often a couple of false starts within this. I may spend a month working on an idea before I realise that it isn’t going to work and abandon it. But after this whole process, I’m ready to write the first draft.