Friday, August 9, 2013

Tell Me Why it Don't Feel the Same - The Journey of an Outline


Yes, the title was taken from a Collective Soul song, and yes, I listen to Collective Soul…good stuff, no, great stuff. Just like when I started this blog, there was a time where I was completely, absolutely, positively against chiseling out an outline for a novel before belly-flopping into the writing. Before I even started working on my first book, Redial, I read dozens of articles that were pro and anti-outline from authors high and low, even though I’d already had it in my head that I wasn’t going to do one. It was just nice to see other people’s opinions, but I quickly found mine was of the minority, but a very outspoken, passion-driven minority it was.
I mean, from an efficiency standpoint, hashing out an outline makes sense, it really does. Everything’s all neatly laid out before you, ready to be elaborated on in roughly 80,000 words. It’s like coloring in a picture from a coloring book. The shape is there, the size and scope of the drawing are set, all you’ve gotta’ do is fill in the lines with colors of your choice. Simple, easy, step-by-step…like I said, efficient. So, why was I, and many authors still, against it?
To answer that, it’s important to understand this. When you’re in a “flow”, a scene that you’re just be-bopping and scit-scatting away fluidly, everything’s coming together as well as a puzzle piece, it’s a great feeling. That your head could pop this shit out from nothing, and it be cohesive, is nothing short of amazing sometimes. An outline, I largely thought and accepted, would restrict that by giving it boundaries, like cramming the world into some neat little box where all creativity is pre-defined and set in stone, never to be changed less there be bloodshed. It’s true, that’s what I thought. By pre-setting the story and events, there would be no room for the creative side, that it would be cookie-cutter. So, under that belief, I ventured into writing, starting with Redial.
That book took me a little under a year to write…
Now, I’m not saying that any book should take a certain amount of time to write, no, but I CAN tell you that it should NOT have taken me a year. So many nights I stared at the computer screen, my tank on empty, hanging on a word or a period, not sure where to go next. I like to equate it to travelling without a map or a GPS, you’re just driving up a road because it looks nice and it might be the direction you want to go, only to find it’s a dead end or the road just becomes gravel, or dirt, and you can’t drive any further. That was most of my experience with writing Redial. Dead end roads and wasted trips. Personally, when I read it, I can tell from the writing. Luckily, most people can’t, or haven’t noticed at all. But, when I look back at that year, it was a struggle. Maybe some of it can be attributed to a learning curve as a first time author. Maybe, but I know exactly what it was.
Lack of a blooming, bloody, damned outline…
So, with book number two, Lonely Moon, I endeavored to do a damned outline. It took me about two weeks to do, and a lot of it was fragmented bullet points, random lines of character dialogue that struck as powerfully and randomly as lightning, and short descriptions of scenes and settings. The outline was about 15-20 pages of these tiny, half-whole bits, but it was something, and it was out of my head, no longer floating, threatened to be potentially forgotten, but it was out there, on paper. I let it sit for a week, not thinking about it, talking about it, not even looking at it. And, after that week was up, I sat down and reread it, and I was surprisingly satisfied. The only thing it was missing was a clear ending, which is my kryptonite. Two areas of writing that I have the most trouble with are the very first sentence of the book, and the F*$&ing ending. But anyway. I had my outline, I was sitting in front of my computer, and I started writing.
Lonely Moon took me four months to write…and it was not at all a struggle. In fact, I loved writing it. It was fun, fast, and the characters were amazing to work with. So, I hate to say it, but I changed my mind on outlines after I wrote that book. I was convinced that the creative process sometimes needs boundaries, but these boundaries needn’t be set it stone, but should be more like a putty, with substance, but malleable substance, ever changing but still somewhat confining.
I might have even gone a little outline crazy…to date, I’ve got my next five books outlined and ready to go. The outlines may change a bit from the first time I wrote them to when the book is being written, but the important thing, to me, is that I’ve got them down, and the only thing I need to do is write, well, an promote, but that's another topic all together, one I loathe.
Everyday, I learn something new about the craft, and that’s something else I’ve more or less agreed to, was resigning certain beliefs or opinions I had of myself and what I do. It changes, it always changes. If nothing else can be learned, then it stays the same. Stagnancy is deadly.
But enough about this daft, Yankee. I know some authors will be reading this, and I'd like to know their thoughts and opinions on the matter! Comment with what you think about outlines. I wish, when I first started writing, I would have seen a post like this, or even a more open discussion about it.

-Andrew S.-