Writing is nothing more than a long walk through a dark woods. Each word is a footstep that takes the writer one step closer towards their destination.
I don’t know about you but whenever I am walking through a dark woods it helps me a lot if I carry a map.
A flashlight doesn’t hurt, either.
I’m going to use the big “o” word on you. Outline. I know some of you folks feel that outlining can hinder your creativity. You will talk about being a “pantzer” instead of a “plotzer”.
“I like to drive me a big old pantzer tank,” One writer told me. “Straight through the woods and every now and then something will pop up and surprise me.”
“You mean like a landmine?” I asked. “Or a bazooka? Or another tank? That’s the only sort of thing I could think of that could surprise a pantzer tank.”
“I’d rather take my chances with landmines,” that other writer said with a cheeky grin. “Then run the risk of plotzing!”
That cheeky grin held on long enough until I pantzed him – and then nothing but cheeky remained.
Well that was a short-lived conversation, I tell you what.
Listen, even if you DON’T use an outline when you write your first draft it sure helps to jot yourself a rough sort of an outline to give you a better idea on where you are going in the second draft. I am NOT talking about one of those high school term paper pull-your-hair-out-of-your-head-over-every-single-detail outlines that your English teacher taught you how to write.
I am just talking about a rough set of notes – sort of a pre-first-draft copy – to help with your continuity and keep holding true to the story’s over-riding arc.
I recommend sitting down and free styling a first draft of your entire novel in a rough sort of short story format.
Let me give you a quick example.
a novel by Steve Vernon
Protagonist RALPH TOEJAM has a dream. He wants to be the world champion butt-kicker to help avenge the disappoint that Ralph’s Daddy felt like when he lost the butt-kicking championship of 1923 following an unexpected thresher accident and the subsequent loss of his Daddy’s left leg.
Ralph has practice the skill of butt-kicking for years. He has trained in secrecy spending his coffee break hours training in the neighbor’s dairy farm where he has worked every summer, kicking every cow butt that he came across until the neighbor fires him, due to badly bruised milk.
He wore one heavy work boot on his butt-kicking foot, to help build his calf muscles – and a Ked’s sneaker on his other foot in order to achieve a proper altitude in the all-important buttkicking plié maneuver.
“I don’t need that job anyway,” Ralph said to the neighbor. “You can find somebody else to fluff your bull.”
Of course, just to reinforce Ralph’s motivation we might want to spend a scene talking to his Daddy about how he had lost the big butt-kicking championship back in 1923. Maybe his Daddy will wake up screaming and thrashing about over his threshing accident. Maybe Ralph will wake up screaming too. Maybe the vision of a giant thresher will follow him around and old Ralph won’t be sure if that thresher is his imagination or is some sort of an actual ghost thresher.
Hey, that’s a thought. We could turn this into a paranormal tale – the story of a young ambitious butt-kicker being haunted by the spirit of the ghost thresher that took his Daddy’s left butt-kicking leg.
Yeah! That’s how we will do it. Paranormal novels are REALLY hot these days.
We’ll sell a billion copies.
So Ralph hitchhikes to the holy city of Toledo – which is where the butt-kicking championships take place.
Along the way maybe a group of wandering shoe rustlers will steal Ralph’s favorite pair of butt-kicking shoes and then Ralph will have to hunt down those butt-kicking shoe bandits.
We can write ourselves a hard-boiled shoe vengeance novel.
Shoe vengeance are REALLY super hot these days.
I bet you we’ll sell TWO BILLION e-copies!
Do you see what I am telling you?
In taking the time to sit down and write this rough draft short story version of my novel I am allowing my inner pantzer to freestyle his tank all over the place. Then, once I have gotten all of those “maybe-I-could” and “I-ought-to” out of my system I can take that rough draft short story and use it as a sort of quick sketch blueprint for my novel ahead.
So remember that the next time you sit down and decide yourself a big old butt-kicking novel.
First sit down and write yourself a rough draft short story.
Then use that as a roughed-out map for your novel.
I guarantee you that your novel will spill out a whole lot faster once you have an idea of where you are starting from and where you are trying to get to.
That’s my writing tip for this week.
Carry a map.
If you don’t get lost along the way you’ll ensure that your readers have no trouble at all following your tracks through same deep dark woods.
Hope it helps a few of you find your way.
yours in storytelling,
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