Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Don't write about the weather. Ever."

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Elmore Leonard is going to roll over in his grave at this, but I just can't resist commenting on the weather this morning.  The sun is brilliant, there's a dusting of snow, and the roads are slick with ice.  Nothing special there, I know, but by this afternoon we'll have picked up 30 degrees and gone from below normal to above normal.  A dramatic change like that, with the climax providing such a wonderfully warm feeling and foreshadowing the season to come is like the best of stories.

I'm pondering the writing process this morning – specifically the outline.  As longtime readers know, I'm a huge fan of The Blackboard online community.  Recently I’ve noticed a huge difference in the way that writers work.  Some won't write the first word until they've detailed the entire story.  Others won't do more than sketch a rough map of the plot that their characters will follow.

I never used to outline.  If a story took more than a few thousand words I either didn't finish it because I didn't know where it was going or didn't finish it because it was a rambling mess.  I wrote a few months ago about how much I thought outlining was a good idea now, and how using index cards was, in point of fact, one of the best ideas out there.

Now that I've been writing seriously every day for a year, I'm not so sure that outlining is the cat's meow.  This is to say that I think you must write longer stories (screenplays and novels) with a plan, but you don’t necessarily want to be burdened with every detail.  I can see how that really does stifle creativity.  For this most recent story I didn't plot it out with index cards.  I wrote the treatment and then used that as an outline for the first draft.

I worry that for many writers the in-depth outline is a crutch to keep from starting.  For others it's the desire to minimize rewrites by making the first draft better.  There's also the folks who do it because they think they must.

So what is the outline really?  For me it's the original plan of how to get from A to B including snippets of dialogue and characterization.  It isn't I.A.1.a or 40 index cards divided into 4 sections.

I've just started using a new program that I refer to as "my creative secretary" -- spotting holes, dangling characters, and where the story arcs fall flat.  (I'll review it once I've finished a project with it -- I hate the summary judgments by people who test the features but not the application.)

It should help me write a tighter, more exciting, and entertaining tale.  But it still has to be me writing it, structure alone is boring.

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