Pre-Writing

I just discovered

http://www.novelicious.com/alternative-thursday/

and I’m working through the Novilicious Chats and the Top 5 Writing Tips. I love to see that all of the authors have different approaches to writing (Speed from beginning to The End vs. SLOW DOWN or Outline vs. General idea).

It actually makes me feel inconsistent (or perhaps evolved?). When I was in college and before, I was dependent upon outlines. This was especially true for school essays, which is most likely because students were not only encouraged, but forced to outline their essays as part of the grade.

This changed slightly between being a student – class of 2004 – and teaching – 2009-2014 (did I mean for that to look like the dates on a headstone?): Students must still provide some sort of pre-writing, but it can be anything from a diagram to freewriting.

However, my German/Great Books professor, when the incomparable Dr. Weintraut, told my that one essay was one of the best he had seen from me, it was the one I free-handed (Edna Pontillier vs. Madame Bovary, and GOD, I hated Madame Bovary). I wrote a note at the top of the page of my thesis statement, then vomitted words on the page.

Freewriting works rather well when you are familiar with your subject matter, or when the idea has been stewing in your head for a bit. You know where you are starting, and you know where you are ending, or it does not matter where you end up. However, it can also lead you to unfamiliar territory. This is especially true with well-developed characters. If Z wants to run down the stairs rather than save his classmates, he will. Then you have to decide how he is going to end up on the floor of the White Room. This would be easy to resolve, but it is not always. It leads to whole pages with X’s over them.

According to Stephen King, even if your character does run off in the opposite direction of where you want him to go, you should let him do it. Trust your characters. No one has ever said that you cannot create a cache of hypothetical situations, just to learn more about your characters or setting, and how they interact.

Once upon a time, I preferred outlines.

A.

I.

II.

III.

IV.

V.

This way, you know exactly who, what, when, where, and why before you set out. Freewriting necessitates revising, and arrows showing where bracketed sections should belong, or the almighty Plot-Contrivance Fairy. If you outline, you have a better chance of things falling together without those pesky arrows. (Heather’s wearing a robe now? When did she receive a robe? – I had to ask myself this for three months before I found the perfect way to slip it in.)

The good things about this kind of outline, specifically, is that you don’t have to finish it. You just have to start and “connect the dots,” as one of the Novelicious authors says.

I will use Perfect Words as an example. (Give me a moment to lament my first attempt at writing a novel… v_v… OK, here we go.) The outline for PW used adjectives from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129 as anchor points, since my novel rotated around the murder of women who fit these descriptors. However, I did not know how it was going to end until I finally got to the ending. I told myself… there are three ways this novel can end: He can die, she can die, or they could live happily ever after. But I wasn’t happy with any of those options. I didn’t want either He or She to end up alone. If He or She dies, the story would feel unfinished. On the other hand, they cannot possibly live happily ever after. There are too many forces – reality included – working against that. I had to freewrite the ending, and was devastated and relieved when they both died.

My Name Is Not Heather Stokes, part I, required a slightly different approach. I knew exactly what was going to happen, I didn’t know how or when, but I had a tight timeline to work with. The events all occur within one month – that was the most important detail. I actually had to make a calendar and stick Post-Its to it in order to figure everything out (I tried writing everything directly onto the calendar, but that idea BOMBED). I had never created such a tactile plan before.

Part II is proving difficult to write. My plan currently looks more like a cluster diagram, since it is not incredibly relevant what order the events take place, simply what happens and who is involved. While Part I is contained entirely in one setting with five (and dwindling) characters, Part II occurs outside of the house during the same time period, and has several flash-backs, which can also be in any order.

I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. Those clusters need to line up, so I have a clear path.

However, the way I plan is never the way I write. What kind of sense does that make?

I have my outlines, because I write in chunks. Writing is never, ever a linear process for me. I get a scene in my head, and I need to get it down on paper. Once I have my major scenes out, I line them up and connect them. I always write on paper, then type it up. I connect the scenes and make them fit as I’m typing.

Obviously, I don’t pre-write when it comes to blog posts, because they are all over the place.

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