Tuesday, December 6, 2011
TUESDAY TIP Outlining for the Organic Writer #pubtip #iamwriting r u #reading? @ScrivenerApp #Scrivener #IndexCard #Storyboard
One is to plan everything out ahead of time, point by point, detail by detail, before ever writing a single word of the story. Another is to just sit down at the keyboard and feel lucky. Surprising as some of you may find it to learn, I fall into the latter category. I like to just sit down, load up the MP3 playlist and fire, blasting the words onto the screen "at will." When I do that, yes, I do feel lucky and more often than not, I get lucky because what I write is mostly usable. I don't sit down to write until I've had "the voices in my head" repeating the scene enough times it's starting to get annoying. I have to write it to "excise" it from my brain. Like cutting out a tumor (LOL). Kidding, my writing habit is not a cancer but it's nearly as random and prolific.
However...on the other side of the jump-break you can see why and how I force myself to outline, despite hating every moment of it. I'll even note there are benefits to reap for the effort, so click through now to learn why Russian Roulette is only for the movies (and best-selling thriller novels *haha*)
Organic vs. Organized
I don't like to outline and plan a story before I write it. This is a little strange, given that I'm almost compulsively-organized in the rest of my life. In fact, my most successful roles in IT Management were in the estimating, planning and scheduling of a project, then managing the execution according to plan. In offices where I've worked, everyone knows I love plans. I am organized in the extreme. I make exceedingly realistic estimates and I do not like surprises. I'm definitely not your surprise party gal. Your surprise interrupts my plans--and I always have one even if it doesn't seem like it to you. I even made a joke of myself by making that the tagline for my SciFi thrillers, the Phoenician Series (There's always a Plan!)
Yet when it comes to writing, the idea of planning a story--outlining it first--and then limiting my writing to the execution of that plan seems...cold, clinical, even counter-productive. If I'm going to go to all of the trouble to write an outline, why not just write the story? And if I'm going to bother empowering my characters, why limit them once I set them loose on the page? The ever-popular Raif character completely took over the page once I set him loose. If I'd had an outline, and stuck to it, Conditioned Response might not even exist in its soon-to-be-released form!
The problem I have is this: I don't always write all the piece-parts in chronological order. This is the case with many so-called Organic writers. Although many creative types are described as flighty or careless (literally, without a care), I can tell you, I'm not disorganized and I know that to finely-tune a plot, one must examine the Big Picture. In fact, "Big Picture vision with attention to fine details" is how I'm usually described in the business world. It's a rare combination, I've discovered because most people are either one or the other, not both.
But I'm a writer, so I'm a mass of contradictions. When I plan, estimate and execute a project in the business world, I always refer back to my schedule along the way. I double check my status on a weekly basis (or more often) and see when and where I might have gone astray--or if I'm ahead of schedule.
In writing terms, going astray from the plan means getting lost in one of those self-indulgent tangents we organic writers love to take, exploring some aspect of a character that doesn't really serve the plot but is really interesting and adds depth to that character. Getting ahead of schedule translates from business process to writing process in terms of failing to follow up on one of those foreshadowed plot points you so cleverly planted back in Chapter 2. It's probably not because you are a bad writer who doesn't resolve all of your plot points. Sometimes, it's just hard to keep everything in our tiny little brains. That's why G*d invented computers! And that's why even Organic writers can benefit from the much-loathed outline.
Being an organized person--at a compulsive level--it aggravates the living daylights out of me when I forget things or when I get "lost" on a tangent in a story. I love the tangents, but I always feel the little niggling in my gut saying "This is not supposed to be part of this story. You were supposed to be writing something else right now." It's annoying when I know I'm doing and can't help myself because the stuff coming out is just so interesting to read! I try to make little notes to myself to come back and fix the tangent departure points, but it doesn't always work. Again, what helps is outlining.
Like everything else in my life, I don't do it the way everyone else does. I am an original. I like to be a unique and special snowflake. While I might make a list with bullet points for a business process definition, I won't for a book. I don't start at the beginning and map out each event that will carry the MC through the middle and off to The End. I outline the way I write--organically, in whatever order comes into my head according to the way the characters want me to see it. Eventually, it will all add up to create the Big Picture that is going to be called a book when I get to The End.
In order to convert this Organic chaos into order, I color code things and I like to have at least three dimensions to my visual representations. I can't envision a 3-dimensional world with two dimensions of texture or description. I need to really give my book "outline" a full body. Sounds like I'm still doing a lot of work, doesn't it? The secret is, my form of outlining serves my random thought process, not my need for organization. I trust that eventually, the organization will become apparent. And it does. Always.
Art for Art's Sake vs. Selling Books
Sometimes, splattering a bunch a of dots on the canvas works best for the artistic quality of the work, but eventually, if you're to have a publishable story, you need to connect the dots with appropriately measured brush strokes. No matter which metaphor you prefer--loaded gun or paint splatter--I hope you're getting the sense that my approach to writing can appear to an outsider to be quite haphazard. It probably is. It makes perfectly logical sense to me when I create, but I suppose it is random in its own way.
To counteract this, I use what's commonly called a storyboarding process. I learned this in my 20s when I was cartooning and interested in learning to do animation. I don't necessarily describe camera angles and panning or zooming like I might have done on an animation project back in web design days. However, I will make little notes about setting and description if those are particularly vibrant in my mind at the time I'm envisioning the scene. Instead of the storyboard "card" describing the scene's action, it might just describe the scene--and at that point in the book, when I finally get to sit down and write it, I remember the vibrance and its significance to that character. A setting is only as good as its influence on a character; otherwise, it's just a Dickensian penny-per-word filler. (Gosh, I would love to get paid a penny per word!! I'd be a millionaire--no, billionaire! I've written well over a billion words in my life.)
I used to use a big whiteboard (8 ft long by 3 ft tall) but I gave that prized possession away when I moved internationally for the first time in 1999. Nowadays I used color-coded stickies (Post-It Notes) on a wall. The danger, of course, is they could fall down or worse, when I move in spring of 2012, I'll have to take them down on purpose. That should be interesting. Hopefully, by then, I'll have the book currently on my wall (the Lacey / Rainey Story) completed.
Using Post-It Notes on the wall allows me to be "organic" in my creative process, jumping all around the story, focusing in on whatever scene or moment or snatch of dialog might pop into my mind while still ending up with a fully-described story arc, one that has a beginning, middle and end. One that has a logical progression from Point A to Point B.
Using color-coded Post-It's means I can actually see the character's subplots--or whatever I choose to have represented by each color. At the moment, I have a color assigned to each of the major characters who will have plotlines in the novel. Or rather, I have each of the 6 colors available to me assigned to 6 of the plotlines in my novel. I had to combine Lacey and Rainey's stories into one (but since their lives are supposed to merge into one at the HEA, it kind of made sense, right? Plus I ran out of colors so someone had to share; seemed like the Hero and Heroine were the most likely candidates.) So when two colors converge, I know two plotlines have intersected.
I have a "timeline" from left to right, horizontally and the plotlines from major to minor vertically, descending down the wall area where the Post-It's are mounted. This means I can see when one plot point is fully-described (or overworked and needs to be less detailed) or when one plot point lacks setup or resolution. There'll be a big, gaping blank space on the wall where I need to fill in "connections" from Point A to Point B.
When I write a scene, I sometimes think to myself "I should insert a conversation back there where so and so is talking." With an outline, I can just go back and insert a note to self to do so. I don't have to write it, I just have to remember to write it later...when the mood strikes me :) This system works with any kind of outlining process. I just like my Post-It notes because they are quick and easy (and color-coded). I use white notes to indicate logistical information like equipment I have available or personnel lists--or a Note to Self as described above.
By applying timescale to events by clustering Post-It's together if the events described on them occur at the same or near same time in the story, I identify points where I have scene or POV changes.
The bottom line is, no matter how much my "creative process" requires I have the freedom to write at will, wherever and whenever in the story I want at any given time I sit down to write, when I finally reach "The End," if I've written all of the stuff I jotted down on my Post-It's and have no large gaps on my wall, then my book will have a beginning, middle and end with all the dots connected and plotlines resolved in a satisfactory manner. Otherwise, I'm not selling the book. I can write it. I can even publish it. I just won't sell it. I'm always going to write for the sheer joy of it but I'll be honest, right now, I'm in it for the money!
A book that sells is one that has all the piece-parts, has them arranged in the right order, and resolves everything in a satisfactory manner. Oh and does this process in an engaging way that entertains the reader (or at least, fulfills their expectations for the reading experience). If I were to try to sell stories the way I hear/imagine/create them? Well, there's a reason for the proliferation of the term "starving artiste" through the ages.
There's an App for That
So how's a compulsively-organized gal like me supposed to get organized while still having the freedom to write Organically? Again, I say, that's why G*d created computers. There's an app for that. I love my iPad and while 99% of the time, I do my creative work on the laptop, there is that 1% of the time the apps are just better on the mobile devices than they are on the desktop.
IndexCard which is nice but not three-dimensional enough. It allows me to color code and specify a label and timeline for each color--but then I can't interweave one color's timeline with another's. I need to see where the timelines overlap. For instance, at the same time the Hero is sneaking around the corner, I want to outline that the Villian is on the phone with a shooter saying "Kill him!" Those are two different POV scenes so they'd have to be 2 different colors but occurring at the time (or at least adjacent) times. With IndexCard, I can't mush them together and make them diverge again as the Villian goes off to dream up another plan when the Hero defeats his lame lackey. The two timelines end up totally separated, visually, or merged into one, thus defeating the purpose of the color coding in the first place. IndexCard is very close to what I want, but just misses the mark.
Another tool I've tried out is CorkboardMe (seeing a trend here, I trust?) It's super flexible but doesn't have the color-coding and timeline I want. It's really just for "notes to self" and not for planning a novel. I need something that will intelligently tie the pieces to a timeline while also allowing me, the AuthorGod, to move them around at will.
I gave up on the iPad apps and checked into desktop solutions and got a nice list of selections at eHow (of all places!) Check out the complete list here. Out of the choices listed, Scrivener is one I've been wanting to try. It's only been available for the Mac but appears from the Literature and Latte site that Scrivener for Windows has finally been released. Not sure if the Beta is debugged yet but it was Nanowrimo-tested so it shouldn't be too horrible.
I might try it out soon ($40 isn't all that bad a price) but since I'm considering moving to a Mac next year if I make enough off the release of Conditioned Response to purchase a new computer, I might hold off buying anything else for this Win7 laptop. This keyboard is already on its last bouncy leg! Scrivener does have a free trial so I might just try that out to see what it's like, "hands on." Scrivener has the outlining "in 3D" which I crave and as you can see in the screenshot array above, it even has the corkboard visualization screen I like so much. But Scrivener has much, much more!
For a series writer like myself, Scrivener's capability to link books, as in a series, is a plus. It'd make keeping track of series storylines (versus plots which open, crescendo and resolve all in one book) a lot easier. Right now, I use my white notes on the sticky-note wall method. However that sort of thing leads into the biggest disadvantage of Scrivener: the learning curve. I already know how to use Word--exceedingly well, I'm told. I don't (yet) know how to use Scrivener.
Scrivener's not merely an outlining tool--that's just one of its many functions. It's a writing environment, a replacement for MS Word. It does everything instead of just one thing. I'll have to migrate to it and as I said, I'll probably wait until I have the new computer to do that kind of time investment. Learning a new environment means at least a month of low productivity. I'd like to have at least two books out and selling before I stop being productive--on purpose.
So it's back to the apps. I don't even care if like my "wall" they won't export to MS Word because it's more for me to look at and mull over, which is the point of separating the outlining activity from the writing activity. I just want to be sure to have a digital copy of this Wall Method. Just in case ;-)
Both Storyboard Pro and Storybook are freeware (Storybook has multiple levels of "pro" versions) Storyboard Pro is available for both Mac and PC platforms (I don't see an app but haven't searched the iTunes app store or the Android marketplace yet). Storybook (free version) is OpenSource software available for both platforms.
They both look interesting but neither appears to have the versatility I need. I'm not sure I want to bother installing anything else on this laptop unless it was going to "do it all" (like Scrivener will). For now, I'll stick to my Wall Method but after I finish editing and release Conditioned Response (January, 2012 at the latest) I'm probably going to get, use and review Scrivener, so stay tuned to the Tuesday Tips for a Scrivener series (like my Twitter Series and Marketing Series).
In the meantime, I'm fine with my color-coded wall. If nothing else, having to see it everytime I walk into the room sure does remind me I need to finish that darned book already!! It's 80% done.
I can definitely say with complete certainty that I'll have more SciFi snippets to share this weekend. Not sure you'll want to read them with Shayla in her mood. She's going around and killing people and it's kind of creeping me out. I had no idea she could be this violent! Since this week is a "first" for automation at the day job, I might have to hold off on the snippets until #SampleSunday so be sure to check my Twitterstream (@webbiegrrl) for updates on the schedule or just subscribe to the blog via email and you'll get it sent to your inbox whenever it's ready. Thanks for stopping by!