Wednesday, January 16, 2013

ROW80 Update 4


Day 7 (Sunday) - A moderately solid day of outlining on Devil in a Blue Bustle.

Day 8 (Monday) - Outlining/Writing (depending on where the outline is)

Day 9 (Tuesday) - Writing Day!


Day 7 (Sunday) - Early part of the day spent on socializing, but late afternoon I got down to it... and scenes for The Man Who Stepped Up popped out (I posted a snippet on Tuesday).  I did not fight it because right now, I just want to keep progressing.

Day 8 (Monday) - Some very good outlining, but most of the day was eaten by a large Kerfuffle Monster, that threatens the rest of the week.

Day 9 (Tuesday) - 2100 not really new words.  The Kerfuffle Monster stole time, but not nearly as much as it could have.  I decided to work my way back into the story by starting it anew, with the old version for reference.  This means that most of the writing really was just cadging from the old, but it helps with recapturing the voice, and also with "reconciling" the old version of the story with the new.

Outline as First Draft

Okay, first of all, let me say, this isn't meant to be an instruction manual on how to outline. (Or whether to outline.) This is about a learning experience which has so far had an outcome I did not expect. 

We always think of outlining as being a left-brained activity: as being logical and structure oriented. 

Furthermore, most of the time, we really don't have the time or the luxury to go after our outlining the way we do the rest of our writing. Some people might put in excessive effort for world-building, but not outlines. None of us, not even the strictest of plotters really need that much outlining.  You can only prep so much.

So the prejudice I had, and I think most people have, is that outlining isn't writing.  It might be a part of the process, but it's really a tool.  So give it the time it needs, but get it over with and on with the writing.  Ditch the outline if inspiration takes hold, and only go back to it when the story gives you trouble.

The second essay in Rachel Aaron's book about revving up your writing productivity gave me a new perspective on that. (I'll be honest, I glossed over a lot of that section, because a lot of it is old hat to me, but it was good stuff.  Gloss what doesn't speak to you, zero in on what does.)

She doesn't actually say this, but what she really was recommending is treating an outline as if it were a first draft.  Deal with subtleties, and voice and timing and all those creative and emotional questions you usually leave for the draft in the outlining process.  Go far beyond what we usually think of as "outline" and get into the deep creative issues.

It sounds like a bad idea, doesn't it?  It sounds like it would burn your creative steps before you get to the story at all.  And I suppose for some people that would be so.  (Especially those who hate to read their own work after they've written it -- who write through a draft and dno't like to look at it again.)

But that's not how it seems to be happening to me.

Sure, there was a moment when I felt a little "over-prep" vibe and wanted to move on to writing, and I did a little.  But then went I needed to work something else out, I went back to outlining just for that.

And then something happened.  I don't know why I did it, but I went beyond the "little something" that needed working out.  I started going at the outline like I was writing the story itself -- that is, I zoned out and went deeper into it than I would even think to do.  It was like a brainstorming session, but also an exploratory writing session.  And the deeper I pushed, the more natural and creative the process seemed to be.

It became exactly like writing a first exploratory draft.  Only faster and better.  I get to dig into all the problems and experiences that make writing fun, but I can get it down as fast as it comes to me -- including the irrational alternatives that crop up.  I don't lose anything while pausing to make a word choice, or trying to remember a small detail. I'm summarizing, so I don't lose the thread. I can always keep up.

And, as Rachel Aaron points out, when a question comes up, I can pull back and rearrange it quickly to see how one choice will work over another.

It's not even like writing... it's like thinking. It's like daydreaming only you have tangible results.  You know that thing where you want a usb cable to plug into your brain and dump the story in your head into the computer?  It's as close to that as I've ever come.

Now let me step back and define "it" again: What I'm doing is completely indulging in the outline as if I were writing the actual story.  It's the rough draft.

I'm not far along enough to know for sure this is actually working.  I just know that I've discovered something that feels like it's working and is extremely satisfying.

Scrivener as Outliner

A part of what makes this work is using Scrivener as an outliner.  No, I don't use it, or like it, as a word processor, and I actually hate its built-in outlining and note taking functions.  However, I just use the word processing part of the program as an outliner, and that works great.

Scrivener breaks down your work into scenes or chapters.  You can use those scenes, though, as if they are 3x5 cards of unlimited capacity.  You can write pages and pages of notes on a scene, if you want.  So, for instance, if I have one idea for how the scene will go, and change my mind, I just put the current version at the top, and leave the old version below for reference. No muss, right where I can always find it but out of the way when I don't.

I do this with text documents anyway.  I usually work by having a folder full of notes.  But it's hard to organize and work with.

What Scrivener has that makes this work as an outliner is "The Binder" -- which is a sidebar which lists all the "scenes" (as well as folders and other things if you choose to use them).  And you can drag and drop them all around: change the order quickly.  If you have an idea for one scene while writing another, you don't have to scroll and hunt for the place to put the note. You just click and jump back and forth quickly between scenes.  And you can make a new scene very quickly too.

You can assign these "scenes" to be things other than scenes, character sketches, and notes on secret motivations that don't appear in the scene but affect the scene.  For instance, because this is a mystery, and the prevailing theory of the crime changes with major events, I created a "scene" (or "card" as I like to think of them) for what the prevailing theory is.  I can then put that scene right in the story flow, in the spot where the characters come to that conclusion.  It's there where I need it, but it's by itself, so it doesn't get in the way of the story flow.

Scrivener's actual notetaking and outlining and "character sketch" features are not flexible enough to be useful.  They're also inadequate, and I'm told some of them have a tendency to just vanish on you.  IMHO, using the main text window and the binder for outlining is a grand way to  make Scrivener work in whatever way you do.

See you in the funny papers.


David Michael said...

I also tend to think of my outlines as "short, rough first drafts". It's a full version of the story, just not *done* yet. =)

I use one, long document to compose the outline. Each chapter gets its own "paragraph", one after the other. I move chapters around, or strike them as work continues. I don't like breaking the outline into separate documents (or entries in The Journal, which is what I use). The separation is too jarring. I can't *see* it as a whole when it's split up that way. Off the top of the screen or off the bottom, I can scroll up and down and keep the sense of flow. The whole 3x5 card thing always sounded good to me, but never worked for me.


The Daring Novelist said...

That's exactly like I have worked: the problem is, though, that I do not work chronologically. And once the outline document gets to be too long, it's even more jarring to have to scroll and LOOK for things.

That's part of what made me start writing in separate documents in the first place.

And 3x5 cards seem great except they are small and fixed and you never have room and have to constantly redo them.

Using Scrivener for this has given me the benefits of ALL those things. It's all in one document, I can rearrange with simple drag and drop of titles, and don't have to copy and paste or even judge where a section of notes starts and ends. And there is none of the limitations of 3x5 cards -- becuase I don't use their "note taking" area, I use the main text area.

I might do a post with pictures which covers my method more specifically.

Lee McAulay said...

Another Scrivener fan here!
In the Binder section, you can add what Scrivener calls a Collection. When I'm following more than one story thread, I add a Collection for each POV. Then I can check and read all the scenes which feature that POV or character's storyline to see whether I've missed anything, or repeated myself, without the other storylines interfering. You can move the scenes around in the Collection without affecting your Binder order, to try out different structures.
The other thing to mention is the Scrivenings view. This combines all the scenes into a sectioned word-processing document you can scroll up and down, like David said. I don't use it - I prefer the folder view.
Another useful tool I use is a flow chart which shows the characters in line with key events and timelines so I can keep track of everybody, and make sure they all turn up for the big events at the right time. I can't use Scrivener for that, though!
Maybe I just write too-fiddly stories, heheheh.

The Daring Novelist said...

I will check out the collections.

The scrivenings view and flowcharts really haven't excited me. I don't find the metadata stuff particularly useful. (It would be fabbo in a screenplay, for keeping production data, though.)

I do use the labels so I can add colors to items in the Binder - which is most of the metadata I need.

Ruth said...

I like the idea of using the outline as the first draft. This is how I tend to write, anyway. It allows your to just dump out all of your thoughts about a scene, idea, setting etc. and then go on without feeling the need to turn it into something readable. Plus, once you've done a whole outline this way, you can edit it for consistency before starting the actual writing process. Seems like it would cut down on the need to rewrite.

I'm going to look into this Scrivener stuff. Sounds interesting.

The Daring Novelist said...

Well, some people absolutely love Scrivener. And I don't use it like it's supposed to be used. But I think it behooves anyone to download the demo and check it out.