Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Why outlining is against nature

The kind of writer I am is at odds with the kind of writer I need to be just now.

Once upon a time I was the definition of organized, deadline conscious, motivated by details. With age (experience?), this has changed. The way I write now, is by scene. I have a scene in my mind, I write it. I know the characters, I know their lives, I know, in theory, where this scene will fit, when the bits and pieces are written in around it. But I am, it seems, incapable of putting a book together with any kind of chronology or order. And I am hopeless without deadlines.

What I need to be, now, is organized. TINE, as you’ve heard about here and there, is this project of passion. And I can write pages and pages of Jacob’s art and his diatribes and Rory’s quiet wonder and the details of Roman side streets… but how to link this all together around the details of a plot… this is where I struggle. And so I sat down two weeks ago to write a scene by scene outline. An outline I could follow and fill in. And what happened?

I was so bored. This story comes as it comes. I know the details of the lives inside out, how can I create the things that will happen. Don’t they just happen? This, you see, is my problem. I struggle with the idea of forcing the process and, to me, this is what outlining does. I write extensive character sketches and thematic driven narratives. I know what the story is about, yet I want the details to come organically. And so what often happens is 50,000 words of intense scenes based in the central conflicts and inner monologues, without the smaller details to fill in the spaces. The day-to-day details if you will. So I’ve started to go back to the roots of how I wrote, the way I teach my students to write, by watching… in the hallways of my school and on the steps out front and classrooms and coffee shops and overheard phone conversations… in all of this I hear the daily details and so I take a little bit and re-shape in and fill in the intensity.

I’m working on it.

And another thing… remember when you were a little kid and someone was coming to visit—your grandparents or your best friend from summer camp or your cousin from Chicago, and you’d hang out the window watching all the cars, waiting and dancing up and down with excitement. That’s how I feel right now because in 9 ½ hours Kira is gonna be in NEW YORK!!! And I get two whole days off of work.


jonnyskov said...

Instead of a rigid outline, try writing the scene name or brief description on index cards, then spreading them out in a satisfyingly messy fashion on the floor and rearranging them until something clicks.

Heather said...

I LOVE this satisfyingly messy business... thank you. I am trying it this weekend. (i also happen to love index cards)