14 August, 2014

Story outlines

Because I tried to put this in the comments section of another writer's blog and discovered it was rather long and anyway, the comments refused to accept my comments because the date was far from the date the blog post had been written on - that or the internet had decided to stop working. Whatever happened, I have placed it here.

I initially started writing to find out what happened next in the story in my head. It was fine for short stories, I could finish those within a few hours or a few days. It was not so fine for long stories, because I could not physically write at a speed that would keep up with my brain's curiosity. This lasted for several years, resulting in multiple unfinished works which I still plan to get back to 'some day' (they're amusing to read, so rough and raw).

I used to be at a complete loss during school when the teachers made us do outlines, because for me that defeated the purpose of the story. Once the outline was written, there was no point in writing the story anymore. True, the details weren't there, but I knew what happened and my brain used to develop the story at the same speed it took for me to formulate the correct words with the correct spelling in the correct order (and comprehend it or reorganise it to make it comprehensible), before what happened next appeared to flow from my pen. Outlines were for intellectuals, control freaks and for people who wanted to become published writers, not hobby writers like me.

But the long stories... the long stories yearned to be put down - and quickly. So I discovered (grudgingly) that outlining was good for some stories, particularly the ones that enjoyed downloading themselves into my brain, rather than working themselves out via my pen. I used to hate typing too, because the pen was far more natural (but writing with a pen now hurts my hands and typing is not so trying on the little joints, until the pressure in the carpal tunnel starts to build up).

Then came a time of life where events and episodes and things flew at me like cars speeding on a highway. There was no time to write down whole stories and I had to (much as I hated it at the time) outline everything if I wanted to get them onto paper before the stories tried burning holes through in my brain to get out. It was around this time, pen and paper were scarcer and much too heavy to lug around with all the other stuff that had to be carried. Hence the reason I started typing some stories rather than writing them (these were the rebellious stories that refused to listen to my direction, until I learnt how to take digital control over them).

It was also during this time period that despite the outlines being down on paper, the stories refused to be 'over' or 'finished', as they used to be. Now they demanded detail, proper plots, costumes and voices that carried. They discussed their life stories in my head, whilst I lay in bed at night. They debated how they really would have reacted to that situation when I got up to go to the toilet during the night. They argued over their rights to become real when I woke up in the morning and ensured that they had clear settings by making me dream of maps, locations and the laws of their societies. During meal times, they talked about what they wanted for breakfast/lunch/dinner and what their favourite snacks were (made up or not).

Outlines turned into well annotated documents that at times required a magnifying glass to decipher. Before long, maps, illustrations and histories demanded their paper space. Suddenly, the stories were not just stories, but little worlds swimming in scrawled paper, begging to be put in order. I couldn't leave them in that chaotic state. How would they ever find themselves if I left them like that? How would anyone else see them for who they were if they remained what looked like a pile of papers stuffed into notebooks, stuffed into exercise books, stuffed into folders, stuffed into bags that were piling up at the foot of my bed? (I don't have a desk.) What if someone did not recognise their right to leap off the paper and threw them out in the trash? (I did that once to some completed stories whom I told to get lost and never to come to light of day again, and surprisingly, Mum fished them out the bin for me, thinking I'd thrown them out by accident. I was not pleased, although those stories were. I didn't take them back though. Rubbish is garbage which is a waste of space and should stay in the trash where it belongs.)

So I started writing the stories and typing them and they keep expanding (the notes and understanding of the characters, not so much the actual story). The outline changes sometimes, but so do the characters and so have I. Some of my WIPs are over 10 years old and I'm still working on them - a different one for every mood, since different WIPs require different atmospheres and sometimes more patience to sort out all those notes. I guess I'm still a hobby writer, with the aim of improving my writing for my own benefit, since I don't have the confidence to do anything more than that with my writing. (If they were medical literature or systematic reviews of clinical trials or similar, that would be a different matter. I'm quite confident with those... that is until I reach the statistics sections, which is where my creative writing gets to come out to play so that no one knows I have no idea what the math is really saying.)

One thing I will say for outlines (albeit still somewhat grudgingly), they are handy for figuring out where you are in a story after you've come back to it after several years and can't remember what it was about anymore; and for discovering that you have written the same story plot/outline with rather similar subplots, themes and characterisations, multiple times in various settings with different character names with the same personalities. I'm on the trail of hidden duplicates these days.

All duplicates shall be found.
All duplicates shall be merged
or deleted.

I realise that this post makes me sound a little older than I am, but I'm in an 'old' mood today. Likely because it's bedtime - or should I say, time to get up?

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