Thinking About Outlines

I used to be a discovery writer.

When I first started writing 10+ years ago, I was definitely a discovery writer. I have notebooks and notebooks of discovery written stories in a tote in my bedroom. For quite a while, these stories had no structure. These were my characters having adventures, being kidnapped, being tortured (by me– in all seriousness, pretty much all of my characters should’ve died with what I put them through), falling in love, having kids, dying, coming back from the dead, having arguments with family members who tried to kill them…

I’m not sure when I started to integrate some structure. It was instinctive, I think, because I don’t remember ever thinking “oh, something really bad needs to happen almost at the end, where it seems like there is no hope for the main character”. But as I think about this and my past stories, at some point, they did gain low points. They gained inciting incidents. They must have gained character choice at some point, though also subconsciously.

There are very few of those old stories I would go back to. I can think of one, off the top of my head, that I would like to rewrite someday. It was basically four kids find out that two of the village elders are plotting to take over the world and none of the adults believe that, so the kids take it upon themselves to stop the elders. It was a quest. I loved it. I wouldn’t mind revamping it.

These days, I’m having trouble writing. I’m not sure what it is, but I haven’t been able to write a novel since October, when I finished Magic Teacups. It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve started and scrapped several novels. Which I’d like to think is not a problem. Starting and scrapping has always been part of my process. If I’m not interested enough to write more than the number 1 at the top of the page, I shouldn’t write the story. (I have notebook pages that are completely blank except the number 1 at the top of the page.)

But lately, I’m a bit discouraged. There has been a lot of starting and scrapping.

But why? What happened? What do I need to actually get going with a story?

I’m trying to figure that out. Connect the dots between all these scrapped stories and figure out what is missing.

I need certain bits of story.

  1. I need more than just a plot bunny. I need to have more than “Oh that’s a cool idea!”. Because I have more plot bunnies than I do fleshed out stories. Not just novels, either. Short stories 100% apply here, too.
  2. I need to know what happens in between the Choice and the Midpoint. This is a part I keep finding myself struggling with. This is usually when the characters are just beginning their quest and things are just moving right along, but nothing horribly serious has happened yet, all the while working toward the Midpoint when things really do get serious and play time is over. I think too many times, I accidentally imagine a five-minute movie montage when I need to be imagining about 5-10 chapters for a book. I mean, lets face it, watching the Fellowship trek through snowy mountains on screen, doing nothing but trekking, is much more interesting on screen than it is on page. So, how do I fix this? I have goals (plots and subplots) for them to be working toward that can be broken down into steps. If our goal is to get to someplace, then we need chapters of them getting ready to go and then going through several places to get to the final destination.
  3. I need to know how the book starts. This used to not be such a problem. I need to be okay with false starts again.
  4. I need to be okay with discovery writing. I’ve lost my taste for discovery writing. I don’t like outlining every bit of a story, but I need to either go to that extreme and stick with it or I need to make myself not panic when I don’t know what’s going on. I think I may have locked myself into a perfectionist and comparison cycle, thinking this has to be perfect and all the while noting how much faster everyone is writing and how awesome their stories sound and thinking I need to be fast and perfect at the same time… this way lies madness. Don’t come any closer.
  5. I need to have emotional beats I’m looking forward to and can write toward. This is more than just the Choice, the Midpoint, the Low Point, though it certainly does include those things. These are my cookie scenes. The ones I spend the whole time I’m writing looking forward to. I think this is the most important thing. One of my favorite parts of storytelling is being excited about the things my characters are doing and the things I do to them. I love conflict. I love kissing scenes. I love injuring my characters. I love playful bickering between characters. I love emotions. I want my characters to be happy, sad, angry, in love, etc, etc, etc. The newest episode of Writing Excuses (12.22– Hybrid Outlining and Discovery Writing) helped me realize that I need these beats. (And this is a really good episode on outlining, so you should definitely listen to it.)

I don’t think I can use any one of these things as a complete fix-everything. A lot of this is finding my imagination and my willingness to chase it again. What is not that is learning how to plan effectively. Most of this is allowing myself to take time. Time to discover. Time to write. Time to figure out characters and plot.

Any thoughts, reader-peeps?

Kate out.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Thinking About Outlines

  1. “…all the while noting how much faster everyone is writing and how awesome their stories sound and thinking I need to be fast and perfect at the same time…”

    THIS. THIS THIS THIS. Also, THIS.

    Which is to say, I’m going through the same thing. I really like #5–I’ve kind of forgotten about the scenes I’m most looking forward to writing, or maybe there aren’t enough of them and I need to sit down and think about all the silly plot-relevant hijinks that could go on.

    I wish I had suggestions, but until I think of some… Hugs! We’ll figure it out eventually!

  2. Unfortunately I don’t have a magic fix for you, sorry! But I do understand your struggle; I agree wholeheartedly with not being able to write a story if I don’t have more than a plot bunny. It can take months for my mind to flesh out a plot bunny into a fully-fledged story, and even then I might not be able to write it for ages. Perhaps you could try one of those writing challenges where you have to write non-stop for a certain amount of time, and aren’t allowed to backspace anything? That might be able to help with perfectionist tendencies in writing! 🙂

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