February's Inspirational Quote

"One Hour at a Time"
~ Laurie Wallmark.

Dear Laurie,
You might not recall saying this and perhaps I won't remember the specifics but you are our inspiration for the rest of February and maybe even March.

You and I were on the phone and talking about how hard it is to write a novel and as usual I was whining and feeling sorry for my long-a$$ journey. And you told me about how you were working and how busy you were so you wrote your novel one hour at a time. Astounded I said, "You wrote your novel one hour at a time?" And you said, "Yup." And I thought, "Wow... ... ..."

Often times we think we need - or I think I need - huge chunks of time set aside so I can write. Do you do that too? What if we gave ourselves one hour of each day? If it turns into two, well then fine, but if not, at least you still had your One Hour at a Time. So that is the motto of the month, thanks to ours truly, Laurie Wallmark.

We love you, Laurie!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Not an Outliner, but Must Succumb...

So, (I start a lot of sentences this way... must break the habit) I have mentioned many times before that I am not an outliner. I blame it on Mrs. Oken - my 9th grade English teacher...

I had a habit (yes, I have many) of letting my English teachers read my poetry and short stories as a way of getting on their good sides. Hey, I struggled for my grades. I needed to use anything I could to get an advantage. Anyway, Mrs Oken, after reading a compilation of poems and stories, asked me to stay after class one day. She wanted to know what my outlining process was and I said... "Oh, I don't outline." And she said, "What? You must! Real writers outline and if you want to be a real writer, you must outline too." Well, I grabbed my papers and puffed out my chest and said, "I just write," and left.

Obviously, this had some affect on me, if here I am still writing about it some er... harrumph... well, a few short years later... And so, I have carried on in my stubborn (but adorable) way of 'just writing.' I hang my head low and must admit defeat... Yes, Mrs. Oken, real writers outline... *sniff, wiping tears*

Truthfully, real writers do a myriad of things. And every writer's process is completely and utterly unique. I have written many times, about owning your process and being proud of it. And I still hold that I am. However, I must admit, the "just writing" process can only take you so far when you are writing a novel, especially if you wish your novel to be one of many in a series. You NEED to outline.

And not that you need to adhere to this outline like the gospel, or that your characters don't have the right to change your outline... but you need a plan, a road map, if you will, something to drive you forward, something so that when you are in the dark, murky depths of novel writing, you can say, AHA! Wait a moment, don't I have that nightlight somewhere! Ah, yes! Here it is, my outline! (I picture saying that in the superhero stance and for some reason I am wearing a cape - I don't know why...)

So, I have begun a pre-outlining process. I actually began it over the summer. Here's what I did...
  1. I read from the beginning to my current latest page (pg 85 - which is as far as I got w/o an outline, trying to remember everything in my brain, instead of in an outline...). I took copious notes. I included every time a new character was introduced and on what page. I wrote down sentences that sounded like foreshadowing, or that I definitely wrote as foreshadowing on purpose. I wrote down any objects used by my MC that could have significance and be used later. I wrote down holes in my plot, questions that seemed unanswered, and things that led to questions in general. Finally, I wrote down things I must add/delete/change for subsequent drafts and things I must research.
  2. Then I pretended I was each major character and jotted down all the questions I could think of off the top of my head for that character to answer.
  3. This week I have been answering all these unanswered questions. Anytime I came to a plot hole, I began by asking more questions... what could T do to stop LB from succeeding? What would happen if T did this... what would happen if T did that... And I wrote it out until I felt it was a satisfying answer to this plot hole or question.

I am just about finished with this ever-growing brainstorming session. Next, I will begin to outline. I will be outlining chapter by chapter, summarizing the ones I've written already and truly outlining the ones I've yet to write. I will want to capture certain aspects, such as... what characters are in the scene, does the scene move the story forward, is there an emotion rise and fall to the scene, does it raise the stakes, does it present more obstacles for my MC or solutions to previous obstacles, has anything been foreshadowed, any objects used or hinted on, etc.

I have read about some choices for outlining on many of your blogs . Now I want to know, what forms work particularly well for you? I've heard of a friend who buys those large desk calendars, you know - the ones teachers use... and he uses each month as a sequence of scenes (this is based on screenplay writing though) There are 12 sequences of scenes in a movie. Each sequence is made up of a number of scenes. I think this could relate though, somewhat to novel writing too. I am a visual learner, so I like the idea of having the whole story laid out before me visually like this... So, let's share... what outlining techniques have worked for you time and time again. Or... what outlining techniques have not worked for you...


LEEZY said...

Great post Sheri, and I am so happy that you are moving forward on your novel — seems like a great plan.

My outlining:

Well, for most Picture Books, I too just write, but then go back and ask questions with a very basic sort of formula to follow.

I list my page numbers (spreads) on the left of a sheet of paper, then I write beside the page numbers, where I think a certain aspect of my story should happen.

Kinda like this:

Story opener
Set up conflict
tries to solve problem but fails #1
tension build up
tries to solve problem but fails #2
increased tension
tries to solve problem but fails #3
big disaster effect

I do sketch out my characters and think about what their hobbies, looks, likes and dislikes might be even if this stuff doesn't make it in to the actual picture book. I think it helps give the MC a strong sense of character and will show through his/her dialogue, not just illustrations.

Laurie said...

I use your regular old I.A.i.a type of outline, BUT, I'll use different colors for different subplots and/or characters to make sure all have appropriate story arcs.

Sheri said...

That's interesting Leeza. As I was writing this post I was thinking to myself - how lucky PB writers are that they don't have to outline. I never considered that something 2 - 6 pages long would require an outline. But I can see now how it would be equally as beneficial to PB’ers as novelists. I like your outline method and think this can work for a novel's broad stroke as well. Thanks for the tip!

Laurie, I like the different color idea. I used to do something similar for screenplay writing. Character arcs are very vital. And I believe all characters need to have one. Maybe not everyone's is as large as the MC, but they all need to have some growth and change. Ultimately, as the MC changes, everyone else changes as a result.

Diana Patton said...

I've been playing with characters (fictional!)in my garden for the last 3 summers--they get into simple situations, but mostly what I wrote down was conversation. In other words, I had plenty of "back story" but no cohesive plot. So--how could I get a plot--something to tie all these "adventures" and conversations together? I took mini-post-its in different colors, jotted down the "gist" of the conversations, and then sorted them out into subjects--from there I got chapter headings and then I put the post-its on a blank piece of paper with each chapter heading and wrote under this what would be the main "adventure" in that chapter. Finally I had some sort of cohesive plot for all the conversations of my characters. Post-its help!
Diana Patton

LEEZY said...

I really like your method Diana. I use stickies when I rough out a dummy for my illustrations, but I never thought about doing it for the text.

I assume this is a chapter book you are working on?

That could be a helluva lot of stickies for a novel!

Great stuff and well done on the first - page session in Princeton Wednesday night Diana, I hear it was an encouraging success for you!

Sheri said...

Diana, cool method and very visual too! WIll this be a chapter book or a PB?