Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Outling is the Hardest Part

With apologies to Tom Petty (and the Heartbreakers) I find the outling to be the hardest part of the writing process.

Why is this I ask myself? (I talk to myself a lot. I figure it's not a bad thing as long as I don't answer myself that often.) After much mental effort I have concluded this is time I give myself heart palpitations because this is where I worry, "I will never be able to tell this story...."

The first part of the process is done. I now know this story I want to tell. I know where the story (The Sapphire Sirens) will start. I know what the middle should be. I know how I think I want it to end. The tricky part is the piecing or linking all these all together in a coherent manner that actually makes sense and is fun to read. This is the part that takes the work. (Plus hopefully also takes about 80K - 100K words.)

How do I do this process? I set a date when I want the outline to be done and mark on my calendar. (In this case, Oct 15, 08. Which also happens to be when Hispanic Heritage Month Ends. Which seems weird to me, since it's the middle of a month. Maybe I need a new calendar.)

Then I sit down in my chair, fire up Word and get writing and by writing I mean outlining. (After I curse out Word for auto numbering my outline when I don't want it to. I know Bill Gates is richer than I am and way smart but I wish his programs wouldn 't make such assumptions.) After the rant, I start with step 1 and keep churning away from there until I get to step X. The first run through the outline will be fairly general. For example this is from the initial outline of my novel coming this December, The Flaxen Femme Fatale:

1) Zach is sleeping in bed, he is awoken by a beautiful woman he doesn't know. He jumps out of bed and grabs his gun (yes he keeps a gun under his pillow). He demands to know who the woman is. The woman laughs and tells him he has nothing to fear. As long as...

2) The woman disappears. HARV comes on line. Zach tells HARV what happened. HARV thinks Zach is crazo. (Yes I use slang from the book.)

3) The stories continues...

This example was just given so you could see the depth or lack of depth (depending on your perspective) of the outline without giving away much of what happens.

How long do I work on the outline each day?

There is no set answer to that question. The rough answer is, I try to force myself to spend at least 2 hours a day on this outline. SS is not my only project I have going on. I have my Working Daze comic to write, I have other books, comics and movies in the hopper. Plus I have a life to lead.

Yesterday my schedule was wake up (I find my days start best if I wake up first) at 8am. I spent an hour of the outline writing new stuff. I then got my working daze cartoons written and out to the artist. Next I hit the tennis court for an hour. After that it took me a while to recover from the tennis. (Yes, I am not as young as I once was.) Then I did chores like shopping (wife is the one with the real job) and walking the dog and stuff. While watching the Mets double headed I doodled out ideas for other projects. Then I edited a paper for my buddy Elena for her college project. (I find I can edit other people's material easier than I can my own.) Finally, I ended the day by putting another hour or two into the outline. Only this time instead of writing new material I went back over the old material and tweaked and smoothed it. I find the better I understand the first third of the book the better the last two thirds will flow.

So as you can see the outling process is not a continue one. As if I was I would drive myself crazy. Remember that worry I talked about at the beginning? It's in the background nagging at me constantly throughout the process. The worry that I won't be able to finish the outline. That I will quite frankly fail and not only have to give back my advance but also more importantly disappoint my readers. SS is my tenth book so this is the tenth time I gone through this process and worry. By breaking up the outling by interspersing other parts of my life I not only help refresh my mind but it also somehow helps me realize that, yes I will finish this book.

More on outlining next....

Note: Did you catch Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on SNL? Wow, excellent job. The more I see her the more impressed I am. (With Fey.)

I also want to put in a plug for another e-buddy Steve Steiner and his current Zuda entry Middle-Aged Monster. It's silly fun that we could all use more of.

1 comment:

Steve Steiner said...

It's really cool to see the process of a pro, John. I especailly like the summary of your day. Too bad we don't live closer or I'd let you school me at tennis! I just picked it up not too long ago to get some exercise.

And thanks a ton for the plug! It's very appreciated!