Maybe I Could Buy an Outline

woman writing

Should that be in chapter one or chapter two?

Think of how big Jupiter is. That’s how big the difference is between writing as a process of putting words on paper—you know, actual writing—and “writing” as a process of thinking and making notes and doing research, blah blah blah oy.

Obviously, you need both writing and thinking… Hmm, I say obviously, but I recall plenty of students who at least didn’t seem to understand that second part. Anyway, obviously you need both, and while the research and thinking can be interesting, actually writing is to enter into a world of creativity with words. That’s the Emily Dickinson world. I don’t think she was doing research, she was just being creative. That’s the part I like.

Perhaps in the past I’ve felt compelled to hit the page running before I was ready. Or rather,  no “perhaps” about it. I always did that. I wanted to write, I wanted to be writing, ah! ah! ah! I wanted to have words flowing. Thus I wrote mass quantities that I later threw away. Now maybe that’s just how it goes, and I’ll discover that no matter what I do, that’s how I write.

However, I’m trying, for a change, not to first write 100 pages in every possible direction except the one I’ll use. With the current book, Moonapple Pie, I’ve given a lot of thought to what I want this book to do, and how to work out a plot to achieve that. This process involves having an outline of sorts, divided into probable chapters, with details on each chapter.

For the last few weeks, the time I’ve had for writing has been spent on the outline, which began, actually, as a table. In my job as a medical editor, I spend a great deal of time working with tables, so creating a table felt natural to me. The table rows showed my major characters, and the columns represented chapters. In this comfortable symmetrical context, each character had their own set of boxes, and they seemed to like that.

For what I wanted at this point in creating the novel, the rows and columns seemed like a useful approach, as I could quickly (and on one page) look across or up and down, to get a feeling for the overall flow of the book. I could see, for instance, where one chapter had several dramatic points and another chapter was fairly quiet. As an additional benefit, I had not written 100 pages to figure that out.

From the table arose the outline, which I’ve continued to add to. Maybe because I feel every one of my previous novels woke up one day asking for, demanding, vast revision (the bastards), I’m moving cautiously. I keep looking at the flow of the plot, at the movement of dramatic tension, and I’m still not sure it’s right. Just a few days ago I found some notes in my writing book that made me think, “Ah, my God, maybe I need to reconsider what I’ve done.”

I’m also looking at subplots and how they interact with the main plotline. I’m not sure, though, that it’s possible to really know how it will go until the writing happens, as things get discovered in the writing. In addition, one can do things with style and so on to make a book interesting, even in the parts of the book where no one is jumping out of a plane dressed as Elvis and holding a torch and a pistol.

My outlined chapters are also full of notes on the characters, so that I can see some character development. Thus one person goes for morning jogs, and another is so obsessed with painting that he won’t stop to eat, and another insists on cutting his own Christmas tree on his land. Plus the attempted firebombing, but that’s a plot point.

It would be more fun to be writing, but I’m still holding back and working out ideas. Part of the process.

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Filed under Giving Birth to a Book (That's Why I'm Screaming)

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