Here is a slide that I found online that is super-relevant to my topic today: THE OUTLINE. I have been in a fugue for the past 2 months in terms of creative writing and here is the reason. I HAVE NOT BEEN OUTLINING MY STORIES. It is as simple as that. I’ve been trying to do what Brandon Sanderson and the crew of the “Writing Excuses” Podcast calls, “Pantsing,” (aka “writing by the seat of your pants.”) Essentially, you have a character, setting, inciting idea and you run with it. You let your “characters” drive the narrative forward. There are many famous writers who swear by it (Alice Walker, Toni Morrison) come quickly to mind. Anytime you hear a writer say, “Oh, my character “speak through me” and I just record what they are telling me, you essentially have a “Pantser.”
I CAN’T DO THAT. It’s that simple. For me, writing is all about knowing what my characters are going to do and figuring out how the revelation at the end will affect both the character and the reader. Everything I do starts with PLOT. If I don’t know the plot, I can have the best character, setting, etc., but the story WON’T come together, no matter HOW HARD I TRY. I NEED to know where I’m going and what the emotional payoff is going to be at the end for me to write effectively. Anything else–well, that’s when my fugue starts to kick in because I don’t know what I’m trying to say/express.
I’ve even tried writing the ending first and then backtracking to the beginning and working towards the ending. Nope, doesn’t work. I tried working backwards, ending first then section before ending, then section before that, until I get to the beginning. No way, that won’t work either. Starting in the middle? No, No, and No. I HAVE to build my stories sequentially. I HAVE to start with plot. I HAVE to work from beginning to end. I HAVE to find my characters by writing. I HAVE to find the ending by figuring out through the course of writing what my characters want and will they be able to achieve it. Any other way, well, “There lie madness.”
NO OUTLINE, NO NOVEL
Outlines get a bum rap because they supposedly “inhibit spontaneity” or “are too restrictive for creativity,” but I think it is because it was something you learned to do in school for papers/essays. Having been a 6th grade Lang. Arts teacher for the past 3 years, I know first hand how much kids hate doing papers. Too much work is involved for their liking. Even in college, the paper is one of the most maligned assignments that can be given to students, even though its purpose is to help you learn the information and then present what you’ve learned in a codified manner.
There is this barrier of dislike that is associated with them from school (I’ll save my post on the current wave of anti-intellectualism and the dislike of learning for another time), but I can safely say that I HAVE LEARNED SOMETHING IMPORTANT FROM MY 3 MONTH FUGUE: THE REASON I’VE NOT WRITTEN A NOVEL IS BECAUSE I’VE YET TO ACTUALLY OUTLINE ONE FROM START TO FINISH. My percentage for taking an idea for a novel and outlining it from beginning to end is 0%. Now while I don’t actually finish EVERY short-story that I outline my percentage is closer to 85-90% on short stories. Graphic Novel outlines (start to finish): 0%. Screenplay outlines (start to finish): 0%. In every major category that I want to write (excepting short stories), I’ve not completely outlined a project from beginning to end. Simple as that. On my short stories, I outline about 95% (at least I had been up to my recent “fugue” and of those, I completed about 85-90% of the stories. I’ve only abandoned 1 story in the past 3 years of writing.)
Pretty telling statistics, I feel. So, while my fugue was pretty painful for me (& apparently some readers of the blog as I lost followers–c’est la vie), it was helpful in that I learned from this failure. If I want to make this more than a hobby, I’m going to have to force myself to struggle and outline my longer works (& not just the intro) and force myself to really concentrate on getting the plot down. Then I can go back, rewrite and dramatize the action, and then in the final draft, punch up characterization and any other problems that either beta readers or editors find in the prose. Lesson learned–hopefully, during the summer I can report back on the progress of my outlining my longer works.