Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I Dare You to Outline!

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Outline? Sure. Go ahead. I dare you.

Rest assured, dear reader, I am not preaching a "do as I say, not as I do" sermon today, but I have to admit, like my Word-Whore blog family, outlining is not how I work.

Oh, as a newbie, I outlined one hell of a story. *sits back and looks contemplative at the memory*

It was my first legitimate adult attempt to write a novel. I'd had a dream, and from it sprang this idea. I started getting it down on paper. My English teacher would have been so proud! I was building an awesome, organized and thoughtful product ready to springboard into the writing part of creating a novel. But as I progressed and figured out more of the plot, the more the outline evolved. Every new creative idea meant rearranging or adding things to this pretty, pretty outline.

Before long, I had a 29 page monster. (Makes me cringe just thinking about that now.)

When I decided to start writing it out, I wasn't feeling it. All the details were in there already. There was nothing new for me to discover. New ideas that dared to appear had the gall to wave their arms around like shipwreck survivors on a beach, begging my brain to acknowledge and rescue them. But they were ignored because they didn't fit with HOW THE ALMIGHTY OUTLINE DEEMED IT MUST BE.

*facepalm* Ah, what might have been.

New writers make all kinds of mistakes. It's normal. It's okay, even. There are many ways to squeeze all the love out of a project. Locking yourself into the stringent constraints of a biggie-size outline is just one of the ways that I personally sampled.

What I learned: DON'T DO THAT.

Over time, I've also learned that a single page full of written notes to myself, a handful of major plot points, a note on the development of this or that character arc, a comparative/contrasting subplot, and I'm good to go. With the series, I will reference previously used locations for consistency and add sticky-notes to both sides of my page, but that's hinging on another subject.

Maybe I can work this way because I have proven to myself that I can work this way. I wouldn't have dared to try in the beginning. I NEEDED to see the big picture. I NEEDED to explore all these possibilities and tame them into manageable sheets to reference at any given point, to see where I was putting my foot down next so I knew it was solid and safe and I wouldn't trip and fall.

Maybe I've come to trust myself with "major points" because I allowed myself, eventually, to break free of the outline and see what happened. Confidence is earned by daring.

So write an outline. Make it good. Then write! When you're sailing along, happy-go-lucky, and suddenly you discover there are some ideas off to the side, marooned either by your muse or someone else's, waiting on that little skiff of sand over there. Look at how hungry they are. Some of them, guaranteed, will be about dead...with practice you'll recognize them more readily, and be able to pinpoint the healthy ones, too. You'll understand how grateful these ideas will be for your rescue, and how much more you'll gain for giving them a chance.

Go ahead. Change course. Pick 'em up. Put 'em to work.

Write that outline. See what you learn.

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