Monday, November 11, 2013

NECESSARY OUTLINE: Water Bugs in the Water Dish

(NOTE: Thanks to the bounteous sitter,/Who sat not at all on his seat,/Down with the beer that’s bitter,/Up with the wine that’s sweet,/And Oh that some generous “critter,”/Would give us more ducks to eat!/Carving with elbow nudges,/Lobsters we throw behind,/Vinegar nobody grudges,/Lower boys drink it blind,/Sober as so many judges,/We’ll give you a bit of our mind.)

Say you live in a small windblown town whose only bit of neon is a café sign saying “EATS,” and the eats are uniformly terrible. You want a big city’s big lights, mountains (you’ll settle for steep hills), traffic, gentlemen’s clubs, bookstores, movie theaters, and an arugula salad. One morning you decide to leave, pack a bag with essentials like clean socks, and start walking. The city you seek is in the west and that is direction of your first step. Will you get there? Most likely weekend trekkers will find your bones several years later, picked clean by varmints and critters. So much for relocation.
What you did wrong was ignore the need for a map to get you from there to here along the most direct or scenic route. Building a house without blueprints is impossible. Even assembling a table from IKEA needs plans, no matter how Swedish or incomprehensible. The same goes for telling a story: you need an outline to get where you want to go.

An outline shows all the characters, settings, plot arcs, subplots, and action of a story in point form. The initial spark of a short story or novel will only get the writer through a small amount of pages before being bogged down in what happened before and what should happen next. With an outline in hand, the writer knows where to go, and unlike the nasty math teacher demanding you show your work, the outline is private. No one except you will see that it is written in green crayon on brown Kraft paper.

Writers from Henry Miller to Elizabeth Gilbert have sworn by the outline as a vital adjunct to the writing process. For those who are burdened with a day job, the outline is a faithful companion when a manuscript is picked up after being put aside for any length of time. The human brain is unable to accurately recollect so much information, and having an outline makes sure you continue going in the right direction. As an added treat, the outline is useful when composing a synopsis for editors and agents.

Writing is discovery so the outline is elastic, able to stretch and contract at will. A character changing gender or motivation will affect the whole story. With an outline, you can follow the repercussions and make adjustments where needed. The outline is never stolid. It’s your story and you can do what you want. The outline is there for you to write better and tell a compelling story that dampens the eye and softens the hardened heart.

Readers around the world have experienced increased blood circulation, hair follicle growth, greater muscle coordination, and clearer skin by reading The Dog Walked Down the Street: An Outspoken Guide for Writers Who Want to Publish (Cypress House, $13.95). This sparkling gem is full of the neatest writing advice and publishing wisdom available without a prescription. For the sake of your health, get down to your local independent bookstore today and buy multiple copies before the Food and Drug Administration bans this cure-all. Click over to to find the store nearest you.

NEXT: Tail Wagging for the Neophyte

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Blogger Mary C. Moore said...

Great advice notes!

5:21 PM  

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