Posts Tagged ‘Character’

Whether to Outline or Not

March 22, 2012 4 comments


Every writer has her own process for writing. Some outline at the very beginning, some begin the outline at the mid-point, others go through the manuscript when the first draft is finished just to see if the story doubles back on itself or wanders too far afield. Still others never write an outline on paper, but rather, keep a running outline in mind.

There are different types of outlines for different writers and projects. If a student is fortunate during her school days, she’s taught how to outline a chapter in a book, for instance, as a way to study effectively. She learns about themes and topic sentences; about beginning, middles, and ends; and about writing conclusions that tie up all the loose ends.

This type of outline for story, essay, memoir, etc., can create an extensive piece of work. Detail is fantastic, if you have the time for it. Often a writer doesn’t have such a luxury as time and must develop the quick and dirty outline template for specific types of manuscript.

A template is a format, pre-staged, which allows the writer to plug in the information for use in the article or story. For instance, with travel writing there are a possible seven types of templates, each dictated by a specific type of travel article.

Once the template is ready, the writer has only to fill in the blanks provided by the template. Oddly enough, this type of template needn’t be a physical one. It could, just as easily, occupy a page in a notebook used for writing specs. The critical issue is to have specs for use in a particular type of article, such as a destination article.

Mysteries, westerns, romances, and fantasies can all use templates, albeit short ones, to get particulars in place so that the writer knows the direction intended, people involved, and final results. Any kind of genre is able to use a template; because, in fiction, there are a finite number of plots; in non-fiction, criteria follow particular channels of information presentation to be effective.

“Organic” writers—those who sit down and start writing without planning anything beforehand—often never use an outline; at least, consciously. Instead, they allow their subconscious to drive the story to its conclusion. The process can seem chaotic to the wordsmith who is meticulous in planning a story.

NaNoWriMo is a challenge for all writers, but those who work from an organic perspective do well with it. For them, revision is the time for taking the story apart, moving sections, rebuilding point connectors, and devising a smooth road for their words.

Allow preliminary scenes to build the story outline. Tagging along behind the organic writers are those who create individual scenes that stand alone while developing the story. Scenes sometimes erupt in the writer’s mind, demanding to be put down on paper. These scenes may have nothing to do with what’s gone before and have no obvious relationship with the mental plotline the writer is using.

Many of these writers create an outline with these scenes. This type of outline allows the writer to see the story in broader scope than a simple line draft. A scene outline shows the writer big chunks of action, dialogue, character development, etc. Writers who think in pictures can get great satisfaction out of this type of planning, since it encourages an intimacy with the story that is often lacking in other types of outline structure; it requires real writing, not just a listing of points.

Character outlines can help build subplots that work effectively with the overall story. Any character has depth if the writer looks for it. Taking the time to explore principle characters through this process can help find both flaws and virtues in each character. In order to be perceived as real by the reader, depth of character is necessary.

Flaws, attitudes, deep moral beliefs also help steer the character into subplots if the writer allows for it. Asking the character pertinent questions about the whys, wherefores, how’s, and all the rest of her life can find answers that take the story to interesting places with exciting results.

Outlines can be as elaborate or skimpy as the writer chooses to make them. If you talk to epic fantasy writers, you’ll probably hear about all of the different types of outlines each uses to keep their overall story straight. You’ll also hear about how many times those outlines are revised to take into account unexpected changes that come up during the story writing process.

Fluidity is the name of the game when using these devices to help the writer stay on point. Each outline will change to some degree after it’s written, just as every story changes during revisions. The importance of this listing of targets to hit with your writing, whether kept as mental notes or in a notebook the size of Kansas, shows itself when the story is finished, polished, and submitted to the editor.

Whether You’re Warmed Up or Not

March 14, 2012 1 comment


Today’s entrée is a set of exercises meant to help the writer shift perspective and get those creative muscles flexed and toned.

These small forays into new territory will, hopefully, help you gain in your battle with daily wordsmithing. Are you ready? Here goes.

Circumvent the cliché. While Little Johnny can’t read, does that mean that Little Jill has educational challenges as well? If all of your eggs are in one basket, will they all break when that basket is dropped?

We live with hackneyed and cliché phrases every day. They speak to the simplistic and real metaphors of our lives. That’s the reason they still hang around our necks like a broad-winged bird descended from a pterodactyl.

Take each of the following adages/sayings/clichés and devise three ways of saying the same thing, with the same semantics. Make each new “saying” as fresh as possible.

  1. Rolling stones gather no moss.
  2. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
  3. The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

Recast old characters in new roles. Most people can hear a line of dialogue or see one frame of a favorite movie and give you the name of the characters involved. Like favorite books, the stories that flow across a screen at the theaters make a place for themselves in our mental storage lockers, waiting for future review.

The following exercise is meant to help the writer change well-worn paths carved out by characters we know well and as an exploration of possibilities for such characters that wouldn’t otherwise be tackled.

  1. Most adults over the age of 35 will probably remember the character name “Maverick” as Tom Cruise’s character from Top Gun. The exercise is to recast this character as a “Cowboy,” complete with name. If it helps, picture TC when you’re putting together an action scene in the old/new west. Only one scene is necessary to write, but if a full story evolves from this exercise, so much the better.
  2. C. S. Lewis’s character of Lucy in “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” presents us with a sweet child of remarkable resolve and steel spine when faced with adversity. Yet her complex personality allows for uncommon loyalty, self-doubt, and approval-seeking behavior.

Recast Lucy’s character, complete with name, as an adult. Place her in a           romance where finding her soul mate and an unforeseen future is the goal           of the scene. This will be a toughy, I think.

Make your practice work for you. When you’ve completed your exercises, take a good look at them. Evaluate them as you would anything you’d written for possible publication. Do an edit if you feel the piece needs it. You have been writing, after all.

Once you feel that you’ve done all you could with these little teasers, look at each one as an editor would. Is there a spark present that could build into a good story, article, poem, essay, etc.? Could you pitch any of these ideas? Do you see anything in any of them that that you hadn’t expected; a depth or challenge that startles you?

If you can answer yet to any of the above questions, perhaps, you’ve stumbled onto a new story for expansion. Take advantage of that possibility. Practice in all forms always helps a writer.

Put the exercises away when you’ve finished with them. Don’t throw them out. They can be used at later for prompts or more practice.

Also, if you’d like to share your efforts here, please do so in a comment. I’d be interested to see what you come up with. I might even be persuaded to add my own in an additional post.

Most of all have fun with this. Yes, it’s a useful exercise, but it can be hilarious, too, if given the right treatment. See you all back here soon.