Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Following an outline

There are scenes in my WIP I can't wait to get to. And there are those I fear will bore the reader. That's before I get to them. That's before they are cemented in the outline. When you have a frame, it's the glue that holds the story together. You don't go off on a rant. It focuses your train of though and keeps it on the tracks.

That stained glass picture above of George Washington at the signing of the Declaration of Independence would be a pile of pretty glass that didn't make anything recognizable. Put it in a frame, put some glue around the pretty pieces and it becomes a picture. Something recognizable. Some pictures are prettier than others, but they all have structure. An outline gives you structure. You don't run too log because you have a finite number of chapters you're trying to fit the thing into. You don't ramble too much on one subject because you know you have to move the story along to get to the point you're making in the next chapter. They force you to condense. They force you to cut what's irrelevant. They prop up the pretty glass so that it's displayed in the best light.

I wasn't a believer in outlines until this chapter. It's like a light bulb went off. I went into it wondering what would be interesting about the chapter, and then I saw the outline. To me, who wants to wallow in the chapters with the fireworks and hold them up screaming, "Look at this! Isn't this cool?!" Those chapters aren't important because they aren't the climax. They're not the fireworks. But to the reader, who isn't as intimate with the characters as I am, who doesn't know how they'll react when the shit hits the fan, who doesn't know them as well as I do, they are the frame. And the reader will know it. He'll know that it's not the big scene. But hopefully he'll want to know what happened that lead to the big scene.

I've skipped chapters in books before. Skipped over them and went to a scene that interested me. Then I went back. I go impatient as a reader. But the good writers got me to go back and read those interstitial chapters. And the made the story better.

Yeah, I'll outline from now on.


  1. Wow, that was a sea change, Fred!! You know how much I want to read this, right!!!
    I can't outline, I can't think more than a few minutes ahead - hell, deciding what we eat for dinner is based on what happens when I open the fridge.

  2. Crap. Now I'm self-conscious.

    You must have some internal outlining mechanism, because your scenes flow from one to the next so naturally.

  3. That's a serious constraint, an outline. And, sob, I suspect it'd make writing a synopsis a breeze. Keep me posted, on how it goes. It'd be quite a challenge; reigning in the chaos of characters taking whatever direction they please. Would it be like following a recipe? Manage a few steps, pan on the stove, heat on, stuff added like a bartender pours because god forbid I have a measuring cup anywhere, and MC wouldn’t turn lobster red, but give a headache with screaming rants until I threw the pan out the window and veered off course? Shrug. Yep, let me know. I’ll try most anything at least once.