Outlines Are Evil (?)

By Philippe Kurlapski (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Philippe Kurlapski (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 ], via Wikimedia Commons

It was the early 1990’s when that boundless enthusiasm infected everything, and there were no limits. I admit. I was raised at the height of writer hedonism.That is, the philosophy that says that budding writers much be nurtured by being given unlimited freedom to call anything they can scrawl on the page the perfect awesome writing that no one has ever seen before– every verb is a success! [What were they doing, raising chimpanzees to type randomly, so they might someday get Shakespeare?–ED.]

I however, was stuck on taking English classes. I avoided classes about creative writing because they did not tell you give you any direction about how to do anything but put words on a page.  I had trouble taking that advice seriously. I had to write for a reason. It had to be important.There had to be guidelines or it was just– words on a page. Sure, I had more ideas than sense, but I figured that somehow the words would just appear and things would be great. No, things did not work that way. [Begin at the beginning, proceed all the way to the end, and then stop. Doesn’t everybody know that piece of writerly advice? Sheesh. –ED.]

I admit for many years I got away with writing short to middling length stories, and all my attempts at a novel failed. Nano actually taught me the discipline to just write until it hurts, then keep writing until you have 50,000 words, but that’s just the bare beginning for making a novel.

[Says who? Apparently, writers other than yourself CAN write novels in 50,000 words. They even interviewed one on the Jenisodes episode #135! And he’s a real pro!–ED.]

You not only need to know where to go, but how to get there, and what to do until you do get there. However, I don’t like to outline until I have some solid words on the page. I will take notes, that talk about character and so on, but otherwise I just let the whims of the characters and the actions in the story dictate where I go.

[That has worked out so well–ED.]

However, I may rethink this, too, because I have this tendency to wind up in the weeds somewhere,  [Ahem.] or deciding on two different and incompatible outcomes of a given event and have trouble getting detached from them. I don’t generally see which one works better until I get an outline. I can’t figure out how something ends until I get an outline. I simply cannot hold the whole story in my head at once while I’m drinking from the fire-hose of inspiration.

I don’t remember who it was that Chesterton quoted who said they “…did not have time to make it short.” but that person and I are on the same page.

After all, when they taught me how to classically outline for a report– it came across as an elaborate way to kill every fleck of inspiration in a writer’s soul.

But when your plot goes fractal is can be a life saver. [ !!!] Indeed, it can also help you figure out how to get from a beginning to an end– and back again.

[Trying to write another Klein bottle novel in the grand tradition of Finigans’ Wake is NOT ALLOWED.–ED. ]

Also, there are no laws out there saying that you have to use the classical multi-tiered outlines of yore. I am so old that they may have abolished them by now anyway– which means that it is high time someone brought them back!  Or at least, teach Word how to list them properly.

[This is why sane writers use simple word processors where they cannot get obsessed with formatting they won’t be able to control –much– in the final product anyway. This ain’t free verse! Nor a free ‘Verse! –ED.]

Did I just see my OE use “ain’t”? I’m telling the English Commission!

[It was a figure of speech to make a point, and a reference. That’s allowed. Call it flavor text.]

You keep saying that.


Anyway, my outline tends to involve short sentences and fragments that describe various events, often with one scene per run-on sentence. Sometimes it only takes a few words to describe a given scene, which usually means I have written them already.  It tends to come out as all one paragraph until I need to look at the flow of events then I paragraph each scene.

It’s a very sloppy product, but it doesn’t have to be pretty. It seems to work well for me so far. We’ll see how I improve it over time. [Hopefully, a great deal.]

Sigh. Now you also see why I instituted this blog (perhaps unsuccessfully) to teach myself how to shut down the Obsessive Editor. It can be very amusing and funny, but ultimately… not helpful when you are trying to build things.


PS:  This is to tide you over until I get my new “stolen” recipe for gluten free cake– in a matter of minutes! [ Yaaay cake! ] Um, the recipe can be cooked in a matter of minutes– not the post!


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