Outlines

To be a writer is to sit down at one’s desk in the chill portion of every day, and to write; not waiting for the little jet of the blue flame of genius to start from the breastbone – just plain going at it, in pain and delight. To be a writer is to throw away a great deal, not to be satisfied, to type again, and then again, and once more, and over and over….

John Hersey

Every summer for eleven years I sat around campfires, sang camp songs, rode horses, and rowed canoes down the Guadalupe River at a wonderful camp in the Texas Hill Country. The summer after my last year as a camper, I returned as a counselor. It was still a beautiful, warm, and peaceful place. But the shift in perspective from camper to counselor made me realize the work that it took to create that easy, relaxed atmosphere.

I think I struggle with the same shift as a writer. When you come to writing from the experience of being a reader, it takes a little while to peer behind the curtain and see the complicated decisions that add up to a story. Years of reading have given me good instincts, but bad habits.

One thing I am working on is my ability to create an outline. My first book, THE FIRE HORSE GIRL was created with a loose outline based on The Hero’s Journey and then revised into submission. It was messy and a little chaotic. I spent a lot of time stepping blindfolded into the next plot point only to fall of a narrative cliff.

The first time a fellow writer tried to convert me to outlining, I cringed at the memories of my ninth-grade English teacher saying, “If you have an A you have to have a B under your roman numerals” as I hunched over my college-ruled paper that was full of eraser holes and tears.

That experience taught me that writing an outline is like etching your paper in stone…with your fingernail – painful, pointless, and permanent.

Now I am realizing that a story’s outline can have the fluidity that I crave. It can also allow me to layer story elements through scenes in a second or third draft instead of a twentieth or thirtieth draft. Sometimes I think of it as a first draft.

Stories can be created without outlines. I don’t think the outline serves the story. Stories existed long before outlines. I think it serves the author (which, of course, trickles down to the reader).

I am starting to buy into the ‘why’ of outlines, and I am trying to figure out the ‘how.’ Here are a few resources that have helped me.

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks – A great look at the structure that lies under stories.

Z9190c_StoryEngineweb

Outlining Your Novel by K.M Weiland – I like

outlining-your-novel

The Writer’s Journey by Christophe Vogler – This is what I used for my first novel. It is a nice way to mark places your story needs to stop before it gets to the end of the road.

 WritersJourney3rddrop

My Next Read:

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

 save-the-cat_medium

If you worry about getting too organized (or you just need a smile), you can check out this fun TED Talk on “Tidying up Art.” I get tickled every time I watch this:

http://www.flavorwire.com/261120/charts-and-diagrams-drawn-by-famous-authors/10

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