Outlining May Not Be The Devil?

Recently (last night) I tried my hand at outlining the novel I’m presently working on and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was helpful…go figure! I know most of you are probably thinking “Duh Moonstone, that’s pretty obvious stuff, even a newbie writer knows to outline…” (or something to that effect), while others are rolling their eyes thinking that outlining is so overrated and detracts from the creativity of the moment (which is what I always thought) but really, it was very nice to sit there and draw out the progression of the story inside my head. I’ve always been a massive note-taker, I have folder upon folder of notes for each and every novel/short-story I have plans for. I write quick fact sheets (like so and so has blue eyes, not green and the name of the town is such and such), myriad of  oddball reminders to myself (do pecans grow in England…must check into this) and small scenes so that I remember the little details that I might forget overtime, as well as the large overview of the novel. But I never sat down and said scene for scene, this is how the novel will play out; it just seemed unnecessary and I felt it would keep me from discovering the surprises along the way that I never planned on having. There were scenes and major characters in my first novel that I never knew about until the half-way point or beyond and I never would have known to plan them in when I wrote an outline! And I admit, I still have that fear that I might miss something by staying on track, but I will let you know how things are progressing on that end later. I guess this is my trial and error novel…gulp.

And what made me come to the conclusion that an outline might be useful you ask? Hmm, well it’s probably because I’ve never had a novel so large that I was worried about potential word-count. I’m a very wordy writer by nature, but the amount of material in this story is worrisome even to me! I just figured that maybe an outline would keep me on track  and that seeing what my next scene should be might keep me from dilly-dallying and adding stuff in that might not need to be there. Another thing I discovered to help with this is chapter breaks (and now some of you are probably muttering to yourself but keep in mind, everyone has their own writing style). When I write, I normally just put the whole story down, add spaces for breaks, and just go back in later and mark where my chapters should be. But now I think writing each part as a chapter might help keep the story moving in the direction I want it to. Freeform writing worked for me in the past and it was a great experience, but now it’s time to see how a little structure helps or hurts the process and outcome. I’m hoping for the best here!

Finding Your Voice: Word Choice and Tone

First let me say how sorry I am for being away so long — this is becoming a habit of sorts: binge blogging — but I’ve been under the weather for the last week and really not fit to write much of anything. But I’ve resolved to get back to the subject at hand and so I will…sooner or later. Just let me get another tissue and a cup of tea — I’m an unabashed whiner when I’m sick and I don’t care who knows it! – Alright, here we go…

Every writer has a “voice” — a style if you will — of creating sentences and stringing words together. This style can change slightly depending on what you’re writing but generally once you’ve found your voice, it becomes your distinguishing marker and it makes writing a heck of a lot easier (in a way). Finding your voice/style is not that difficult of a process, you just have to know what you’re writing, who is telling the story, and why. Remember ask “why” about everything, it’s the only way to understand what is at the core of what you are or are attempting to write. The same is true of tone; every story has a tone — a way in which it is written and read that conveys an emotion. What view of the characters and their world are you trying to get across to readers?  Are your descriptions flowery, straight-forward, menacing? Your tone should dictate your word choice as your word choice sets your tone. After a while the two will blend almost inconceivably in your mind and with the parameters set, your voice will emerge on the page. It’s not as confusing as it seems, it just takes practice!

When I was in High School I foolishly fought with my teacher on the subject of word choice, saying that no author sits there and painstakingly chooses EVERY word of their work. How overly proud and wrong I was though I didn’t know it at the time. It took about two years for me to figure out how horribly mistaken and silly I was for arguing about something I really did not know anything about yet.  Writers DO labor over every word they choose to use in the telling of their story, because every word has a connotation – a preconceived meaning, image, or notion – attached to it and that meaning can and does change the entire tone of the story. Does someone step out of a dark hall, or do they coalesce out of a dark hall? Do they chuckle, giggle, snicker, cackle? In the end someone is just stepping out of a poorly lit area and someone else is just laughing but the words used to describe these moments leave an impression, a tone that alerts the reader to be worried, happy, or frightened. A writer’s word choice and tone instinctively tell a reader how to feel about a specific character/setting/thing etc. A single word can change the meaning of an entire sentence…no pressure.

Once you’ve gotten used to and/or comfortable with all this, then come the difficult part: melding your voice with a character’s. Authors and characters don’t always agree on things; one sees something one way, the other another and therein lays confusion for everyone involved. This is where it gets personal with a writer and his or her characters, there isn’t much advice I can give on the matter other than this: remember, as a writer you are writing SOMEONE ELSE’S story, but again, YOU are writing it. If a character had strong feeling about something, there is always a reason, but as the writer you may be viewing the story as a whole, and are seeing something that your character does not. It’s a tricky, fine line to walk, but one that makes the bond between author and character that much stronger.

Don’t be afraid to play around with your writing; try different styles and unusual words (in moderation of course) and see what works and doesn’t work for you and whatever story you’re trying to tell. One character and story might demand flowery descriptions and an open, friendly tone, while another needs a tighter, more practical  approach. It’s all part of being a writer, take the differences in stride and know that once you’ve found your style, your voice, you can adapt  it to the proper tone — with the correct word choice – needed and create the story that’s waiting to be told!