Sunday, August 8, 2010

To Outline or Not to Outline

The jury is still out, but I think I’m a convert to the yes side of a controversial technique in writing ... outlining. For years, I listened to the battle between John Saul and Terry Brooks (pictured) at the Maui Writers Conference. The one (Terry) touting the inherent story organizational qualities of the outlining, bringing the story step by step to the climax, while the other (John) swore to the surprise quality of spontaneous writing. “If I don’t know what’s going to happen, neither will the reader.”

Neither guarantees a great read if the story sucks, though. Both admitted that. And, as an aside, I’m missing those battles every year even though I thought they were petty at the time. Amazing the difference between petty and fun given the salve of time. Whew. I don’t know what happened to MWC, but what a good thing it was, and now it’s no more.

I remember Terry saying in his T-shirt, shorts and sandals. “Try my way. Just once. If you like it, keep it. If not, no harm done.”

So, as you wonderful followers of my blog already know, I have been outlining my novel Catch a Falling Star these two weeks and have loved the result. For the first time in twelve drafts, I can see the forest of my novel, the overall layout rather than walking from one tree to the next to the next, unable to peruse the whole of it. Wow! But even though draft thirteen is outlined, I’ve given myself permission to revise it as the story steams down the railroad track. Who knows, the characters may want to take me in a totally different direction. If so, I’ll stop there and revise. I love the old folk song “The Wreck of the Old ’97,” but I don’t want it to be my novel.

Damn, I really think this might work.

My next statement is going to sound like I’m straddling a fence, and maybe so, but my gut is telling me, ultimately, to use both. Just plow through draft one as John Saul would, putting the sweat and guts and tears and laughter on the page. Then, go back and analytically organize the story ala Terry Brooks. The Saul/Brooks method, I’ll call it. Gotta love it. Hey, I enjoy both of their stories. Both have sold millions. I can’t, in truth, disagree with either with credibility, but I can employ both. And am.

I’m one with the outlining process now. A single 3 x 5 index card per scene, and a flow chart of the entire novel. I’m stylin’. :-) Simpatico with the process. I can see the whole thing like I was in a helicoptor flying over Black Rock (Kaanapali beach on Maui). The prologue flowed pretty easily, as did chapters one and two. Chapter three is a little more difficult because I’m bringing back an event from later in the novel to the front ... thanks, Bonnie. But it’s coming together well. I’ll finish that today and move on painlessly to chapter four.

Obviously it’s too late on this one to do a single draft. Unless one could argue that I’ve done a dozen single drafts. But I sure can finish this one and polish it and start sending it out, then on to my NEXT NOVEL. And I’m looking forward to that day. More than you can know. I’d fallen into what Steve Berry (with whom I studied) said was the state where you hate your novel, you see.

And I was so there.

But with this outline, I’m back to looking forward to being with my characters again. Catch a Falling Star is a rite of passage for four people and I have to get them through, just as the actor Edward G. Robinson once said that he gave each character he played everything he had because he “owed them that.” And I owe it to them. I gave them life. And I need to give them every chance to live their lives between the covers of a book.

Every chance.

Oh, yes. I’m a convert to the outline while still a believer in spontaneously spilling everything on the page. And so I’m on to finishing chapter three then four and onward. I really am looking forward to continuing this afternoon. I’m jazzed. Six weeks? Maybe less?

And then ...?

My next lead character will come from one of two prospective novels, and will be named Miranda or Laura. I’m leaning toward Miranda. But I think they both ROCK! I can’t wait to spend time with both.

I’ll let you know next week how I did. And thanks for all of your comments. I appreciate each of them.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a fan of fence straddling :-) I use a combination of both sometimes, but admit when I don't outline even a little, I'm often heading back to the start and reworking the first few chapters to fit where the story is going. If only I could outline consistently! Happy fence straddling. xo