Sunday, March 25, 2012

Week 11 - Outlining

11 Mar - 17 Mar: Pegging it Out

Whether to develop an outline or not seems to come down to personal preference.  In his Memoir on the Craft, Stephen King admits to being an instinctual writer, that is, he starts with a situation (i.e. applies the 'what if?' question) and goes from there, concentrating on how his characters react to each situation that arises.

R. L. Stine (author of the Goosebumps children's books), starts with a title and writes from whatever inspiration this alone provides.

I've read about other writers that meticulously outline for ten pages or more, and know exactly how their story will end, before sitting down to write the first draft.

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott suggests breaking down story components into smaller, manageable chunks if the notion of sitting-down-and-writing-a-novel is too daunting (hence, the title of her book).

Roy Peter Clark enforces this idea in 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.  He suggests that breaking a written piece into headings and subheadings (such as parts and chapters), and incorporating the inevitable white space that results from such an approach, makes text more inviting.  One could argue that this concept is just as useful in the drafting stage.

Personally, I like to develop a fairly tight outline, especially for longer pieces.  I think this has something to do with my years of technical writing, and my preference, as a reader, for structure within a story.  Loose ends and abstract endings tend to annoy me a little (especially when I write them).  Or perhaps I like to outline because my memory fails me on a regular basis?

Regardless of how my brain might choose to function on any given day, it is important to remember that an outline is just that, an outline, and not a restriction to creativity.

(For more detail on outlining methods, check the Writer's Digest article on outlining.)

Exercise 21.  For writing instinctually, take a novel (any novel), open it to page 22, look at the second sentence of the second paragraph (or thereabouts), paraphrase it, change names (if applicable) and use it as the opening sentence of a short story. 

Exercise 22.  Develop headings for the three to six major parts of a novel, non-fiction piece or play.  Now develop sub-headings or chapter titles within these parts, and jot down key plot points under each chapter heading so that the story flows from one part to the next.  (Hey, it worked for Shakespeare, didn't it?)

Week 12 (already?) finally gets us to Page 1, and will look at 'how to begin.'  That is, what makes an engaging opening to a story.

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