Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Outline: Organized Intentions

I have a real treat in store for you today!  Aretha C. Smith will be guest hosting today.  Her novel, Hearts of Time, is due to be published on April 17th by Rebel Ink Press and she's written a great article about outlining that's made me rethink the whole pantser thing... 

The power that comes with writing—especially writing fiction—is one of the reasons I'm so passionate about the craft itself. Creating characters and the worlds they exist in, and then infusing their lives with drama and conflict is something I derive great pleasure from. Years ago, when writing was merely something I did in my free time, even though I knew it was something I was meant to do, I didn’t take it seriously. I would sit down to write a story and simply write off the top of my head, without the slightest thought of using an outline. In hindsight, I am convinced this is the reason I kept spinning my wheels, starting stories and quickly losing interest in them. Although I had read plenty of reference books on writing fiction and the importance of writing from an outline, I was either too lazy or too stubborn to heed the advice. I thought writing outlines took up too much time and I wanted to get avoid wasting time and just get down to the story. Little did I know the disservice I was doing myself as a fledgling writer. But after spinning my wheels due to too many occurrences of writer’s block, the cold, hard reality that using an outline was a necessary element of writing fiction, finally hit me.

With that lessoned learned, when I sat down to write my upcoming release, Hearts of Time a few years ago, the first thing I did was to create an outline. I am aware that we are all different individuals and that some writers may have the ability to eschew using an outline and still be able to write incredibly well-thought out stories with strong plots that sizzle up the bestsellers lists. Unfortunately, I am not one of them. And as I set about getting my outline mapped out, I realized that it was not nearly as tedious a process as I’d imagined. I may or may not be the exception to the rule, but the outline I'd long spurned, proved to be the biggest catalyst for helping me get down to the business of writing my stories. Suddenly the process of story writing seemed far less intimidating. There was something about mapping out the plotlines in advance that proved almost more powerful than the process of creating the story itself. Knowing exactly where I planned to go with the story gave me a far better handle on the integrity of the characters themselves. The outline had suddenly become the most powerful tool I had as a writer. Knowing what would happen in chapter twelve when I hadn't even yet finished writing chapter three yet, was a major confidence booster.

Mind you, not to be misunderstood. As much as I sing the praises of outlines, they’re not necessarily always the “be all to end all”. Many times a character takes over a story, rendering portions of the outline useless. This leaves the earth shattering incident I’d planned for chapter twelve no longer feasible; the character now has other plans in mind, or has developed throughout the past nine chapters in such a way that the action I'd gleefully planned to have them do is now out of character. And let me just say that as a writer, I love when that happens. Even though it upsets the flow of my outline, the unplanned growth of a character is one of those intuitive aspects of writing fiction that leaves me clapping my hands in delight at having the privilege to be a part of such a process.

Still, the difference between having an outline and not having an outline is as different as night and day. I dreadfully recall those days when I wrote on the fly, some sort of writing Houdini, thinking I could perform the incredible feat of writing a story that flowed seamlessly from my mind to my fingers, thus spilling onto the keyboard and onto my computer screen as part of some miraculous act of writing magic. Quite honestly it was my overgrown ego more than anything that let me think this way. I’ve been greatly humbled since then, and my storytelling skills have become better for it.

The value of outlines cannot be overlooked; using them has changed my whole outlook as a writer. I actually finish stories now. Gone is the backlog of partially written stories languishing in limbo tucked hidden away in a forgotten computer file somewhere. And those that do languish do so out of deliberation; those stories are outlined and will soon be revisited. I'm a more organized writer now. I think I’d even go so far as to say writer's block has all but become a thing of the past since outlines became part of my writing reality.

Keep an eye out for my upcoming April 17th release, Hearts of Time, published by Rebel Ink Press!

1 comment:

  1. Aretha, I'm definitely convinced to give the outlining another try. The idea of banishing writer's block is extremely attractive!