Saturday, July 9, 2011

The joys of outlining

So there you are...enduring your daily commute, sitting at work, stirring up dinner or staring at your bedroom ceiling at 3am. And out of nowhere there it is; a new idea for a story.

Stephen King wrote that his inspiration for the Dark Tower series was found in its opening line: "The Man in Black fled across the desert...and the Gunslinger followed." From that first thought or visual that he had his enormous series sprung. 

I'm in no way comparing myself to the King, but I'm the same way, I get an idea or a picture and off I go. I think it's safe to say most other writers, whether successful or aspiring, are the same. I've always loved that initial excitement as an idea starts to take shape, characters and plot points emerge and, in most cases, I can visualize scenes early on.
"The hero needs to get there but first he has to..."
"The Antag' was the hero's best friend, but turned against him because..."
"But then the Antag'...NO, the hero's PARTNER turns out to be the..."
"I have no idea how the hell they get there but they square off for the last time atop the..."

So after some healthy brainstorming I have loose ideas for a plot, some characters, maybe even a theme and a vibe for my setting.  Now what...

For me that's where outlining comes in. Nothing new or original, but for me it's something I enjoy doing.  I'm sure there are many out there that type a title page and just go from there and I've done that in the past but now I'm comfy having a road map.  I've studied and practiced writing for a long as I can remember and I remember asking for and getting Writers Markets and "how to write" books for birthdays and Christmas when I was as young as 14.  However my "real education", college, was in media and film making, not English or literature. The writing classes I took were in screenwriting not fiction.  Screenwriting teaches a lot of fundamentals in economy and structure that I think have benefited me as a narrative writer. 

Outlining is something that every screenwriter learns to do, you simply have to.  To efficiently work within so strict a format every scene, line and word has to fit.  If not you tend to have aimless, senseless crap.  The same rules of economy are supposed to apply to narrative fiction as well but you can argue that in most books there are bits of fat here and there.  If and when I'm ever published I'm sure I'll be no different. 

I've gotten in the habit of outlining and with it you can map out, at a glance, every scene, plot point and character arc.  Before spending your precious free hours detailing scenery  (you may not use) OVER building characters (who may not live past page 10) and painstakingly choreographing action or thriller scenes (that may not make any sense within your finalized plot and end up in the recycling bin) you can figure out more specifically where you need to go and what happens along the way.

So for me, I love to outline. It's safe, there's no pressure, has zero risk and, at that early stage, you can get away with anything.

Let me know what you do you get your ideas off the ground?

Good times.  

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