I started, and then I had to stop

02 March 2011

Oh, I did a foolish thing.

My rule, my firm, tested, and helpful rule of not starting the actual fun bit, the writing, until I have an outline that works.

I know the outline is done and I’m ready to begin when I can ramble on and on to friends, family, pets, strangers in the pub about the plot. When it just flows forth and I know all the twists and turns. And I also need to be able to read the thing without asking myself any questions.

There will, of course, always be questions that remain unanswered – sometimes there are questions where the only answer I have is gist-like. Most questions will require firm and solid answers.

So, at the weekend, there I am, sitting in bed, heating pad cranked to burn, parakeet at my side, and I looked at my outline (all 30 pages of it, which should have set off alarm bells) and thought to myself, ‘Self, now is the time. You are ready. Begin.’ And I did. I skipped out on doing anything in the way of a description of setting, just went right to the dialogue. Which made me wonder: why don’t I include writing out dialogue as part of my outlining process? I love writing it, my work is usually very dialogue-heavy. But I feel that, in order to get the outline done (which I really hate and is a constant struggle) that I have to deprive myself the pleasure of dialogue.

I started doing the dialogue and man, I had the two kids, Winnie and Harvey, yammering away and it was funny (at least in spots. That also should’ve been a heads-up to me. If the banter is only funny half the time, I’m not ready to be writing it). So, yeah, I’ve got the characters chattering away and I think maybe I’ve been too hard on myself in the past. Maybe I don’t need as much of an outline as I thought I did. In fact, maybe I don’t need an outline at all.

When I start thinking crazy things like that, I know it’s time to go back to the outline. You know when you sit down to eat dinner, and all you can think about is the cake you’ll get if you finish your veggies? For me, to start writing before the outline is done and tested and good is like eating only cake for dinner. Bad idea.

I got about 20 pages in and then got stuck and all these big questions started popping up. Why would Robin stay with Heather who is plainly awful? Will the reader want to read a novel that features a woman who is so horrible?

Anyhow… what I did in the end is to go back to pen and notebook and work on my outline. It’s not nearly as fun (it’s not fun at all, it’s the hardest part for me) but there are fun bits to it, making up terribly things to happen to a woman who just totally deserves it… well, that’s great fun.

Off to finish ruining Heather’s life!