Monday, April 2, 2012

The dreaded outline

I am not what you would call a particularly organized person.  I tend to just sort of let things happen, let them pile up.  I don't really plan things all that well, and I'm sometimes very poor at budgeting my time.

Of course, this is a problem for a person who wants to tell stories.  Disorganized stories can be a huge turnoff for a reader.  But my writing style is very "get started and see what happens."  The number of times I've started a project only to decide halfway through to veer off in another direction because I had what I thought was a better idea is astonishing.  It also means that there is a graveyard of unfinished stories, screenplays and half-baked ideas littered like slaughtered corpses throughout my hard drive.

For writing short stories, this is actually rather an easy problem to overcome.  They're typically short enough that I can just write and see where it goes and generally be pleased with the outcome.  I had some struggle with "The Box," but overall the writing of it went smoothly.  Of the stories in "Show Me the End of the World" only "DreamTime" and "Man's Best FrienD" went through any serious revisions.

But writing a novel is an entirely different animal.  I've even written screenplays without any real outline... they just sort of come out of me the way they do, and I rarely feel the need to go back and change them.  I've been slowly revising one that's been gestating since college, but even that has remained largely the same in terms of its structure.  Each time I read it, I see where I could make a funnier joke or that I need to add an earlier reference to pay off something that happens later, but for the most part the skeleton of the thing hasn't changed in the years since I originally sat down to write it while working crappy desk shifts in good ol' Larned Hall.

For this novel, I attempted to come up with an outline.  The problem is that when I sat down and started writing the novel I almost immediately started deviating from the outline!  I've struggled with this problem for all the time I've been a writer; rigid boundaries simply don't agree with me.  Outlines for school papers were a pain in the ass, and when teachers forced me to do second and third drafts as part of the assignment, I often simply passed in the first draft again and they'd get upset.  Even at work, I hate being constantly boxed in by design concepts older than I am, and I'm constantly battling with people over this.

I guess what I'm going to try for the novel outline is to simply write a simpler one.  I was trying to sketch it all out down to the individual scenes, but that isn't working for me.  I think I'll just put one or two sentences down for the goal of each chapter and hope that I can stick to that.

But maybe I'll get halfway through and decide, no, that's not how I roll.

Current Soundtrack
"Total Recall" by Jerry Goldsmith