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Jehan whittles; or On Outlining

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by skip.knox, Jan 6, 2018.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    My MC, Talysse, is a young female. Hunted by a ruthless wizard (not a ruth to his name), she has been fortunate in the friends she has made in the flight from her pursuer. One of these is an elf chevalier named Jehan.

    I have a scene in which Talysse tries to persuade the elf to teach her how to defend herself. I outlined this; which is to say I made a few notes that somewhere along the way I wanted her to learn how to use a quarterstaff. Tonight I wrote the initial dialog for this. Talysse says teach me to fight, Jehan says don't be ridiculous. They talk.

    As often happens in this phase of my writing, the room is largely white; that is, I don't have a clear sense of the setting, of what the characters are doing, etc. The focus is on the argument. And again as often happens, I on the fly give the characters something to do. They pace, they fiddle with clothing, or whatever.

    Out of the blue, and for no reason I can fathom, I had Jehan whittling. This is a great conversation tool, right up there with having a drink or smoking a cigarette. The narrator can go to it for a pause or a bit of dramatic tension. Without it making it into the scene, I realized it wasn't just any stick he was whittling, it was his quarterstaff, a utilitarian weapon he's recently purchased. This whittling turns it into his personal possession. Elves carve tribal symbols or family crests ... I dunno. Something meaningful. This gave me the opening for the dialog. Talysse comes upon Jehan working on the quarterstaff and decides to make her demand for training.

    The point to all this is: I couldn't outline this in a hundred years. I don't care if it was one of those outlines tens of thousands of words long. I don't care if it's pre-writing or free writing or what-have-you writing. The only way these details make it into the story is by being in the moment. Go ahead, call it the muse or inspiration, if that suits you. I won't complain. Nor would I have thought of this when writing my pre-novel character description list.

    Which made me wonder: what am I trying to capture when I outline? Plot points, assuredly, but plot points invariably feel somewhere between hollow and contrived without I know my characters. And I don't know my characters until I've run them through their paces, any more than one knows a horse without riding him, and in varying conditions.

    I will still outline. But I'm thinking I'll outline just as much as I feel like outlining and not worry about it. I can plan the meal, but I still have to cook it, and much can happen, deep in the spice rack.
     
    Chessie2, goldhawk and Thoras like this.
  2. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    This is similar to how I work. I know what plot elements need to be advanced in my outline, but It's 50-50 if I know what they're doing aside from that until I start writing.

    I have a sketch of who my characters are and what they want but nothing is solid. I usually discover my characters as I write them, their history, their quirks, and sometimes, their deep reasons for being the way they are.
     
  3. goldhawk

    goldhawk Troubadour

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    Plot points, scenes, dialogues, anything noteworthy. Outlines are to give an overall picture of the story. They do not provide fine details.

    And they are not set in stone. Too often, inexperienced writers think that outlines cannot be change once written. They doggedly stick to the outline until they quit in frustration. Nobody gets their outlines 100% correct. Be willing to change it if necessary. Be willing to throw it out if necessary.
     
    Thoras likes this.
  4. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    How to get from A to B?

    Stuff like what you mention with the whittling happens to me too, and I do pretty detailed outlines. What I'm pondering here is how much the whittling of the staff affects the actual plot. It will for sure add depth to the characters and their relationship, and it can be something to tie back to in later scenes, but it may not have any massive impact on the events of the story. It will probably still end in roughly the same way.
     
  5. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    This is it for me. A to b. It is a highly detailed a to b, but whittling comes later. Plotting is the recipe for me, the basics like “turn on the oven to 350 degrees. Separate the eggs in a large bowl...” the necessary stuff to get from beginning to end. Whittling is when I feel like I could add extra cinnamon, or it needs more salt to balance the sweetness. Or maybe I want to use apples instead of peaches. That stuff comes as I’m mixing and stirring and taste testing along the way. It doesn’t change the fact that it is still a pie. It just has a different flavour.
     
    skip.knox likes this.
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I know the personalizing of the staff is not a plot point, and in theory that might be a "cut this" editorial remark that would not be without justification, but a couple of considerations mitigate against that. For one, I would need to find some other way to have Talysse broach the subject. There are plenty of other ways; this is one. For another, this feels right to me. Jehan has had a rough time of it and he's beginning to get is feet under him. He recently recovered his inherited armor, for example. So personalizing the quarterstaff is another way to show this without making a big point of it. Finally, it's world building. Maybe all elves do this. Or maybe just elf chevaliers. Or maybe family and tribal markings are a hallmark of elf culture. On this last point, I guess it could still be cut, and I could use the references elsewhere.

    To the OP, though, it has made me think more about what exactly I want from an outline. Which will, in turn, help me decide how to make it and when to stop making it.
     
  7. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    You're good up until this point, because you're talking about yourself. It's entirely within the realm of possibility that, even given a thousand year, you could not.

    And here you go off the rails. Because you seem to be under the mistaken impression that a writer cannot be "in the moment" while writing an outline. The "muse" does not visit when one is planning. And inspiration only strikes while working on an actual draft. This is all patently false. Inspiration can strike at any moment and one may learn to be "in the moment" at any point during the process.
     
    Michael K. Eidson and pmmg like this.
  8. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    It's possible, but by your description I wouldn't say that it is. It's a situation that adds depth to the characters involved and to the world as a whole. There's also a potentially interesting tension between the two as he's sitting there working on his weapon that he obviously knows how to use while declining (right?) to teach Talysse how to use it. :)
     
  9. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    How do you get from A to B? An understanding of character goal/motivation, plot, and audience will help. Aside from a few minor details like characters, setting, and tropes, I go into my stories cold. Outlining has never worked for me. It makes me feel constricted. I like room to play and explore. My stories are way more creative and true to my heart this way. I don't even really use plot point anymore. I just tell the story I want to tell and even though sometimes I get stuck, I always come out of it with a good idea to the next level of the story.
     
  10. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    I'm pretty sure that's not what he's saying though.
     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >Because you seem to be under the mistaken impression that a writer cannot be "in the moment" while writing an outline.

    Pour moi, pour moi. ymmv.
    I was being anecdotal, not prescriptive. I try, though I do not always succeed, to speak to how I write, not to how others ought to write.
     
    Michael K. Eidson and pmmg like this.
  12. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Plot isn't the only reason to keep something. If it builds character or expands the world, it's stands on solid footing against getting cut. But if it in addition is a plot item, it makes even better, but that's not necessary IMHO.
     
  13. Danavin

    Danavin Acolyte

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    I've never been good at outlining. When I started writing my story I knew where my protagonist started and where I wanted him to end up. Because of some advice I read at some point I established a few sign posts along the way to keep my story going in the right direction, thereby theoretically preventing it from wandering to the point of getting lost. As I started each chapter I usually jotted down a basic "outline" of what I wanted to happen in that chapter. In fact, I just did that in the chapter I'm currently working on. But that's the extent of my outlining. If I sit down and try to outline an entire story from beginning to end I quickly become frustrated and abandon the idea. In large part I let the story lead me where it wants to, keeping the sign posts within sight, with the ultimate goal of hopefully ending where I envisioned the story ending.
     
  14. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    ::cough:: waypoint writing ::cough::

    heh heh.
     
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    DanavinDanavin, that's outlining. Or waypoint writing. Or muddling through. You get to call it whatever you wish. Me, I call it thinking on paper, because I appear to need to write things out in some form or other before I can think about it in any organized way. Too many years as an academic, I suppose. That "thinking on paper" might also be called a first draft, though it's really too fragmentary, imo.

    The point is, people get too hung up on these words, mainly because when the word is invoked, the listener has their own idea of what that implies, and they already have an opinion about that. So what might look like an objective conversation in fact has all sorts of psychological reverberations going on. It's why discussions about outlining--and about writing generally--can go so quickly and unexpectedly sideways. We don't all mean the same thing though we use the same words.

    So, you do outlining just fine. Or you waypoint write. Or you muddle through. All just fine.
     
    Michael K. Eidson and Danavin like this.
  16. Ruru

    Ruru Minstrel

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    I've just recently outlined my main story, once I was 'book one' down and realized how big my plot line had got while left to its own devices. I then almost immediately went and changed it. Some of the changes were simple re-orderings of events. Others were subtle but fundamental alterations that changed the way I needed to write towards them. But I have the outline, beginning to end.

    And each time I sit down to write a segment, my characters get involved and change things to suit themselves. One of my two MCs just became a bouncer for a tavern. All I needed her to do for the plots sake was find out about a slaving ring, and this was how she picked to do it. It works, it suits her, and so I roll with it.

    I have found that for me, this is the most useful aspect of outlining. It creates the gate I then try to herd my characters through. Sometimes we get to the pasture beyond via several different paddocks, and sometimes I change tact and direction entirely, but it creates some basic goal posts for me to site at.
     

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