Monday, August 10, 2009

Writing 101: The Outline and The Old Recliner

When it comes to outlining a story, nothing beats being sprawled out in an old recliner. I do love my old recliner, which I bought new sometime back in the early 90's. I picture myself someday like the TV dad from the series, Frazier, hanging onto his old recliner. Well, I don't have any duck tape on it yet and for it's age it is in remarkably good shape. But, the poor thing is no longer "den" worthy so it was moved to a less-seen place in my writing room and crowned my "outlining" chair.

As far as outlines go, writers have varying opinions. One thing you should know is that an outline is not the same thing as a synopsis, which is much shorter. An outline goes into more detail. Some writers feel if they outline a story/book, then they'll have "told" the story while others want to write the story as it comes to them. On the other side of the coin are the writers who want to know the lay-out of the story and can follow their outline verbatim. I'm none of the above. And, I don't think a writer has to be a pantser or a plotter. Why not both?

I can't sit down and write at a computer, just going from one chapter to another, without direction. I can't hold all the plot threads, background and characters in my memory. I have to have notes. I like to think about my outline in three ways: as the whole project, as the next chapter, as the next scene. I have never sat down cold at a computer and just started writing. For one thing, I have to think and I don't like sitting in a desk chair, staring at the screen. It is hard on the back and I like to relax when I create.

This is when I go to my old recliner. I consider my outlining time as my "creative" mode. I want to be comfortable. I want to have music playing. I use Dr. Grip gel ink pens. All writers should have these. I have used them for several years. I also use the cheap unlined art pads for kids. No lined notebooks as writing on lined paper will do two things: it will stress your hand/wrist and writing without any guiding lines frees up your creativity. You can write as big or sloppy as you want.

You can draw boxes for chapters, which is what I do when I want to "see" the book. Often times, I'll sketch out a scene in a box and put see notes, then flip to next page and write down the dialogue and action that comes to me during this time. I also put "reminders" in my notes about the plot and loose ends that will need to be taken care of before the end. Most of the time, this is stuff I do on week nights if I'm too tired to sit at the computer. Then, the next morning, I'll take my outline of the next chapter and start work on it at the computer. However, that doesn't mean there are no changes. There are always changes. I have never followed an outline exactly as I have it down. Sometimes, the scene I outlined is too long once I start writing it, so I have to cut it down. Sometimes, only parts will work and I change a lot of it when I'm writing. I usually use up several art pads for a books. I am continously adjusting the outline as I write. Then, I do revisions to the finished draft on the computer as well.

I guess you are wondering why outline in the first place? For me, the outline is the potter's ball of clay. It is what I start with but not what I end up with. It is not the finished product but what leads to a finished project. Whenever I've been frustrated with a story at the computer, moving away from it and back into my old recliner, pad in hand outlining, new ideas come to me. Suddenly the story is fresh again. I have never found outlining to be a restrictive process. However, one word of warning, outlining is not writing. It is not a finished book so don't get so caught up in outlining that you don't write.

In the end, my advice to writers who are stuck in a book or even stuck in a rut, I suggest you go find a really old comfortable chair, some pen and paper: your brain and hand will like that(sorry no laptops or other electronic gadgets),and let your creativity flow.


Alana said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Jenna Reynolds said...

I do have a recliner but it's nowhere near as comfortable looking as yours. :)

I do outline and I had to do it becasue between working full-time (when I have work of course) and getting a bit older ;) I have to have a way of keeping track of everything. I just can't keep it all in my head and I also tend to work on more than one project at at time.

My tool of choice is Excel. I use Excel to keep track of just about everything. :)

gypsyscarlett said...

I need a nice comfy recliner like that!

I'm a mix between pantser and outliner, too. My method is actually plain madness, but somehow it actually works for me.