I’ve been plugging away at the novel like a good little girl. But I’ve been thinking a lot about methodology as well.
Seems as though there are writers from two different schools of approach: the Organic and the Outliners.
To me, Organic writers are the ones that sit down with a little tiny pearl seed of special, throw it down on the paper, add water (or coffee), and follow its tendrils of story to the end as more of a delighted first reader than as a creator. It sounds absolutely magical.
Now, I have been fortunate enough to be blessed with these kinds of stories. I love it when it happens. It’s almost like getting caught in a dust devil unexpectedly. It takes your breath away. When you look up from your keyboard, it’s like getting dropped off in front of your house after an unexpected adventure with friends. You’re a little disoriented and a lot happy.
I must confess, however, that I’ve always had a sort of stereotype about folks who write from outline…even though I am one of them. I can see myself with thick, black government-issued eyeglasses, carefully constructing my story structure out of building blocks; characters, metaphors, situations, themes, et cetera. Once I’ve got the darn thing erected, then I push my glasses up my nose with my index finger and begin to fill in the skeleton with word-flesh, moving from the first section, to the second section, and so on. Very methodical, very scientific.
I’m not sure where this idea of mine came from. Perhaps it’s from those organic experiences where I felt whisked away, my hair whipping in the wind. Perhaps it’s simply from the stereotype that many people have regarding the writer as the artist.
I was having some problems with the beginning of the book. When I say, “some problems,” I mean, the beginning wasn’t happening. Even when I decided to force it — which felt like forcing a piece of delicate electronic equipment only to hear the plastic gears crack — the beginning lay like two-day-old dead trout wrapped in even older newspaper. No bueno.
So I decided to return to the basics, which means pen and paper. Old school. Ink and fiber.
This is what I discovered: Organic definitely exists in Outlining.
I sat down and made a list of what I knew about the story and what seemed to be tripping me up. The trip-up list is what helped me. I listed four story-specific items, questions that I needed to answer.
It was the first one that helped the most. “What is the conflict that your protagonist is facing right now at the beginning of this story?”
My problem was my protagonist, who is on vacation with her husband, doesn’t have any conflict right away. The “inciting incident” wasn’t scheduled until later on in the afternoon. Boring. They just seemed too perfect, too happy. The beginning scene was boring to write.
But after I dug around, I got her husband to piss her off right off the bat, which opened up my eyes to a lot of her insecurities. And then I found myself looking at an open can of serious character development worms, which I spent many happy hours chasing down and rounding up.
The great thing about it was, once I solved that initial issue and started setting down sequential scenes I wanted to see included, things started falling from outer space right into place on the page. I found myself going, “Perfect! That’s exactly what happens. Because if she doesn’t know about this, then this will happen this way and that will just screw everything up for her…poor girl!”
In other words, ideas began to flutter in from the ether, fitting into the story in ways I had not previously planned or imagined yet. That’s when I discovered the process between the Organic writer and the Outlining writer is not so different. It’s just where in the order of things we practice our, um, organic-ness.
It was a good trip for me to take, a good reminder that it’s really not important how we writers approach our craft. We just need to remember that a trip is a trip, and we should simply enjoy it while it lasts instead of scrutinizing it to see if it’s like anything another writer experiences.
At least, that’s what I decided when I got dropped off in front of the house, disoriented and happy. <g>