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.
Outlining Your Novel by K.M Weiland – I like
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.
My Next Read:
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
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: