Posts Tagged ‘outline’

Someone is going to read this title and be very confused as to its meaning. Most likely, my parents. Or any juvenile who thinks pulling down a classmate’s pants is the height of comedy.

So, if you are wondering what the hell that title is about, it refers to two different styles of writing stories. Plotting is when writers plan out every part of the story. Everything, from beginning to middle to end, is planned and…well, plotted. Obviously, not everything is done according to a plan. A lot of stuff, like the wording in the story, is decided upon while writing. But the major elements–plot, characters, grisly character deaths involving giant monsters ripping deceitful high schoolers in half (no wait, that’s just me)–are decided upon before the story is even begun.

Pantsing is the exact opposite of that. Writers write by the seat of their pants and just make it up as they go along. There is some planning involved (for more on that, read this article by my friend/colleague Ruth Ann Nordin), mainly what sort of story arc you want to go through, what sort of characters there are, and perhaps some scenes you hope to include in the story, but for the moment it’s pretty much whatever comes out of your fingers at the moment you’re writing. The dialogue, action, and the descriptions are created spontaneously.

Plenty of writers have their own preferences. Stephen King is definitely more of a pantser: in his memoir On Writing, he compares writing stories to unearthing an artifact from some ancient civilization, revealing a little more with every dig of the shovel and brush, never knowing what you’ll uncover. JK Rowling, on the other hand, is probably a plotter. After all, she spent years putting together the seven books of the Harry Potter series, laying groundwork and hints of what is to come.  And you don’t just come up with stuff like Hallows and Horcruxes like that on the spot. No, she had those planned for ages and ages.

Personally, I’m a plotter. I usually have every scene planned out, especially with novels, where I tend to outline the story, and then do several drafts of the outline, before I get to the actual story. I’m not sure why. It might be I’m a bit of a control freak who takes being the “God of his fictional universe” a little too seriously. Or I just learned to write like that, and it’s done me well so far. Either way, it’s what I’ve done since I was a child, and it’s worked for me.

Writing by the seat of these, LOL

So why the hell am I talking about this? Because for the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m actually writing a story and pantsing it!

I mentioned in the post I wrote after I finished editing Rose that I was going to work on a couple of shorter works for a while. The first of these stories involves a bunch of people being trapped within a relatively small space, and this is going to be the meat of the story. In a confined space, tensions can get high, and the scenario of the story will probably raise those tensions a lot higher. So, I decided that it might be better to write this story by the seat of my pants, rather than plot the whole darn thing.

I figure that, rather than planning out that entire part of the story, I might instead plan only a few scenes and some plot points that I hope will come up in the story, and see what happens. I feel that will be more organic than just planning out who will lash out at whom when and what that leads to. The conflict will feel more real that way, not just to readers, but to the characters themselves, and to me too. If the conflict in a story feels fake, no one will buy it, and the story will suffer because the reader will disengage. Hopefully I can avoid it by changing things up.

I’m also kind of hoping I can experiment a little with humor in my stories. As I said in a previous post, I don’t include humor in most of my stories, and one of the reasons I think that might be is because I’m a plotter, so I keep in mind how dark my stories are from beginning to end and don’t insert humor because of how dark they are. I’m wondering if writing by the seat of my pants will give me more room to insert my style of humor, which is very situational, and make it not as forced as it might be under other circumstances.

It’s not a big reason why I’m trying pantsing with this story, but it’d be a perk if it happened.

So I’m trying to pants my way through this story, with only a few scenes planned, only eight characters fleshed out, and just a general idea of what I want to happen with this story. I have no idea what will happen, if this will be something I’ll do more often, or if the work I produce by pantsing will be any good. However, like every good writer, I have to be brave enough to keep pushing boundaries and to try new things. At least some of those new things have to work. Am I right?

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got a few more blog posts I want to put out this week before I start on this story I’ve mentioned and fall into a proverbial rabbit hole, so I’m going to be putting those out one after the other this week (and maybe next). Hopefully by the time those are done, you won’t be sick of me.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

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So earlier today, I completed the first draft of Full Circle, the sequel to Video Rage and the final book in the Reborn City series. I’m super excited to have finally reached the point where I’m ready to work on the final book in the trilogy, and I cannot wait for November to start so I can start on Full Circle.

Okay, I can wait, because October is one of my favorite months of the year. Still, very exciting.

Reborn City, the first book in the RC series

Reborn City, the first book in the RC series

So, if you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, the Reborn City series is a science-fiction trilogy I started writing back in high school. The first book, Reborn City, was published in November 2013, and the second book, Video Rage, was released in June of this year. The series follows a super-powered street gang in the titular city, and their connection with the shadowy organization that rules over it. The series contains themes of prejudice and intolerance, gang violence, drug addiction, and, most importantly, overcoming what others think of you and what you think of yourself.

I’ve been working on this trilogy since 2009, so it’ll be good to get it done. As to when it’ll be done, I’m not sure. I’ve planned thirty-three chapters in total, which is between the number in Reborn City and the number in Video Rage. Of course, the number of chapters is never a good indicator of how long it’ll be in total, or of how long it’ll take to write. It’s especially hard to gauge when this is the first time I’ll be writing a full-length novel while working a full-time job.

Anyone have a way to divide me into two people so one guy can write and the other can go to work? Anyone? Bueller?

Well, at least I’ve established a writing routine that works for me at the moment. Yeah, that thing I was doing with trying to get 250 words written every writing session? It works very well for me. When I start out, I think to myself, “Just get 250 done, and you can be done.” However, around 150 or 200 words, I’m already deep into the story , and I don’t want to stop if I can help it. And if I can make that work for just the outline of FC, I think it’ll work just as well for the actual novel.

And speaking of which, I plan to start writing Full Circle in November for National Novel Writing Month (I don’t expect to get anywhere near fifty-thousand words, but I can try to get some words in and see how far I go). In the meantime, I have a book I plan to read as soon as possible for research purposes, and I have short stories for Teenage Wasteland that I want to work on, so I’ll be doing those for a while. Have to keep myself busy, right?

Video Rage, the second book in the RC series.

Video Rage, the second book in the RC series.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If I have any updates, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, don’t expect much from me besides the review of the first episode of season six of American Horror Story (what’s the theme?! Somebody tell us!!!) until October 1st, when I have something big planned.

And if you would like to read Reborn City or Video Rage, I’ll include the links below to purchase a copy. And if you like what you read, please let me know. Positive or negative, I love feedback from readers, and I’m always happy to hear what you have to say.

Until next time.

Reborn City:Amazon, Createspace, Barnes & NobleiBooksSmashwords, and Kobo

Video Rage: Amazon, Kindle, CreatespaceBarnes & Noble, iBooks, Smashwords, and Kobo

The other day I met some folks at the local Starbucks. We’re all part of a group  of college students and young adults run by Jewish Family Services of Columbus which promotes physical, financial, mental, and social health for its members. As often happens when I’m talking with new people, the writing career came up. And you should’ve seen how these folks reacted. They were very impressed, going on about how three published books and four more at various stages of the editing/compilation process* was quite the talent, how they struggled to get five-hundred words together and make that sound good, let alone an entire novel. Basically it all boiled down to “We struggle with this, but you make it look easy.”

And the whole time I’m just sitting there thinking, This is all very flattering, I hope you buy the books, but honestly writing is damn hard!

This came up during a discussion I had with an acquaintance over Facebook last week. He was trying to write a story but was having trouble getting the words down on paper, so he thought he’d pick my brains on the subject. One of the things we discussed was how difficult it is for even the most veteran writers to get words out on paper. You look at that blank page, and you know that you need to get several thousand words–sometimes much, much more–on that paper. Then you realize that you’ll have to go back several times, editing and rewriting, changing passages, changing entire plot lines sometimes.** It’s intimidating, almost like every word is like a soldier in a war that you have to defeat personally. Not very easy.

Okay, this is possibly me being overdramatic, but you get the idea.

Yeah, to some people I make writing look pretty easy. That I’m making those sixty-thousand-plus words just appear on the page with barely any energy spent. But in reality, it’s hard work coming up with the stories, making them compelling and fun and interesting. Creating the characters, making them fully rounded and sympathetic, giving them backstories and a reason for the readers to root for them or at least stay invested in them. Then doing the research, working the final details out, and finally  putting the words down on paper, picking them and putting them in an order that sounds right when read aloud. And even after all that there are probably more words to add, just as many to lose, and maybe twice that amount is going to be reordered or replaced by something else.

Like the title of this post says, it’s a struggle to write. We writers may make it seem easy, or people look at us and assume that to us it’s easy (even when you tell them that it’s bloody difficult work), but it’s as much of a challenge for us as finding a way to sustain life on Mars is for scientists, or making it to the Olympics is for athletes.

And yet still we do it. We come up with the ideas, do the outlines, create the characters. We research, put down the final plot details, and get everything we need done before we actually write. And then, through fears and anxiety and everything else, we face down the blank page, like two boxers in a ring, and we start working. And after all the writing’s done, we do the countless hours and hours of editing, until the story is as good as it’s going to be.

Why do we do this? Maybe we like sharing the stories we create with our readers. Maybe we need to get these stories out of our heads before they drive us crazy. The point is, we engage in that struggle every time we open our notebooks or turn on our computers. And we do what we’ve trained and worked hard for. And it’s never easy. But for many of us, I think we wouldn’t have it any other way.

*More on that in another post.

**I may have to do that with Rose when I do the third draft. Oy!

I might’ve mentioned this a few times on this blog and on my Facebook and Twitter pages, but I’ve been trying something new with my writing. As you probably know, I’ve been working on a couple of shorter works, a short story and what will likely turn out to be a novelette, since I finished the second draft of my thesis/novel Rose. Unlike previous shorter works, where most or all of the story has been laid out in my head and I’m just transmitting it to the page, I’ve been actually outlining these stories on paper so I have a better idea of where I’m going and to see if doing so improves the stories overall.

I decided to try this because of two things I’ve noticed with my shorter works. For one thing, I’m always worried about the final word count. Many fiction magazines only accept stories of a certain length, and I’m always worried I won’t be able to tell a compelling story within that space, so I try to wedge it in. Usually that doesn’t turn out the results I wish.

Another reason I’m trying outlining is that when I usually write shorter works, most of the story is mapped out in my head. But when I try to get the rest on the page, I sit there wondering which direction to go, how to tell the story just right. And depending on the story, this sitting and wondering can take a while before I actually figure something out and start writing.

For both of these reasons, I’m trying to outline my shorter works. The outlines themselves are just basic summaries of the events of the story, which works for me. It’s just enough information that I can work with it to write the actual story.

And the results have been very interesting. Having a clear direction of where I’m going by writing it all down beforehand not only cuts down on the time I spend on sitting wondering where to go, but having a definite idea of where I’m going makes me less anxious over the word count. It’s kind of…decompressing, in a strange way. I can just write the story as I intend it in the outline and not worry how long or short it is.

As for the stories themselves, the results have been rather mixed. For the first story Streghe, which I finished not too long ago, the outline didn’t help as much, but that was mostly because I kept going back and rewriting or changing the direction of the story. I’d like to write another outline for the second draft though, especially since I think there will be a lot that will change between the first and second drafts. We’ll just have to see what I come up with in-between drafts though and what direction I want to go with that story.

As for the story I’m working on now, a science-fiction story currently at about sixty-seven hundred words, the outline has been very helpful so far. I have a very good idea of where I’m going with the story, and in-between sessions of writing I’m able to lay out what I’m going to put down on the page next in my head, rehearsing whole scenes before I write them down. It’s been a lot of fun working on this one.

Based on what’s happened so far, I think I’ll continue to outline my shorter works along with my longer works for now. As long as it works for me, why not use it? It just goes to show that no matter what stage of your writing career you are in, you’re never too old or too late to learn a few new tricks. And boy, am I glad I learned this one.

Do you or have you ever outlined your shorter works?

What’s been the effects of doing so on your stories?

Or at least the first draft is. There’s always a chance that my adviser will make me rewrite certain parts of it, but I hope to keep it like it is.

Anyway, late last night I went about finishing the outline, and somehow I managed to do it before it was too far past midnight. This outline gave me more problems than outlines usually do, because up until I started writing the outline I had only a few scenes planned out, so I had to come up with the rest as I was writing. Once or twice I had to actually go back and erase what I’d written before because I didn’t like which direction the story was going. Around the third attempt though I managed to get this story going in the right direction and from there it was just a matter of figuring out where I wanted to go, what would be the logical step to get there, and what sort of events could happen without stretching the limit of credulity.

In the end, I think this story will turn out very well. It’s about twenty-eight chapters, and will probably be around the normal length for one of my books, between eighty-five thousand and one-hundred thousand words. I often wrote the outline looking for plot holes and trying to find good ways to plug them up (I hope I succeeded). And I hope I create an interesting and somewhat scary story about a woman who dies but is resurrected by her stalker through magic and finds herself trapped in his house with not only him, but very malevolent supernatural forces. Thank goodness I have an adviser who will be helping me out with that part. He’s a published writer himself, so odds are he’ll have a few lessons to help me.

And while I’m waiting for my research books to arrive in the mail and for the new semester to start (three weeks from today, by the way), I think I’ll edit Video Rage. God knows it’s about time, and I have time to do it now before things get really crazy! In fact, I’ll start it today! But first I need to run an errand, then I need to vacuum the apartment, then I need to run the dishwasher, then I need to have lunch before I go to work, then I have work, and later tonight I’m supposed to be at a friend’s birthday party…life’s crazy sometimes.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I’ll keep you updated on Rose, Video Rage, and other projects as time goes on and I have news to give. Have a great day, my Followers of Fear.