English: “The Writing Lesson” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In Holly Lisle’s writing course How To Think Sideways, the classroom is taking off to lesson 10 and I am still submerged in lesson 9, barely treading water.
Lesson 9 is Outlining Without Killing Your Story. At first I was daunted. I don’t outline. I put a character in a situation and I let it fly. But since I took this course to adopt new writing skills, I decided to ignore my fears and carry on. And you know what? It’s fun! Well, at least it was. It was fun while I came up with four interesting scenes that lit up my imagination with fierce abandon like a raging house fire. But when I did the working math and discovered that I will need about 64 scenes for my 80,000 word novel my mind shut down. Why is that?
I think it’s because I just don’t write that way. Holly Lisle likes to have her novel planned from beginning to end before she feels comfortable continuing. The one time I used her method of plotting out my scenes I wrote Friday McDaniels and The Case of The Missing Nutsack and I had a blast. But that was only a work of 8500 words and my mind had pretty much formed the entire story before I sat down to plot. The story I’m working on is more complicated than that. First of all it takes place in another dimension and I have three characters that I want to switch POVs with (something else I typically don’t do), and they all have their own agendas and I’m still figuring out how to put the pieces together when it all comes to a head. I have ideas–yes–but the ideas are nothing more than mist that I can grab on to as surely as I can grab ahold of my own shadow.
Of the few scenes I do have fully formed in my mind, one of them took me over when I woke early Sunday morning. The words started flowing from my mind like water from a spout and I raced to collect the words before they spilled onto the floor and threatened to dry up. The scene is from when my MC is visiting her brother’s sleeping form through time travel. She does this often and as it’s the same night over and over again–until this particular night. Here’s a passage of that writing:
When she opened her eyes again she started–an owl, bigger than any she had seen when in her living form, stared through the window at them from the broken light of the telephone pole adjacent. It took up the visual space between the branches of the two trees that stood side by side and she wondered how the light could support the weight of the monster. Her breathing slowed, nay quite disappeared as she looked upon the beast that appeared as if at any moment he would swoop from his perch, descend upon her and her brother and devour them both. Had he been there all those previous nights? She thought not. It would would have been impossible to miss sighting a bird of that size and of that particular disposition.
Her brother stirred and woke. He sat up and looked at her, his eyes fresh and fully awake. She looked passed her brother but the bird had gone. He smiled at seeing her and pulled himself into a sitting position. He interlocked his fingers together and rested his hands on the bedspread that covered his lap in a most grown up and gentlemanly fashion. If she hadn’t been so terribly frightened by the owl and her brother’s abrupt wakefulness, she might have laughed at his attempt at grownup-ness. Instead, her eyes flicked back to the dark street lamp and the empty space the bird had occupied.
“Don’t worry about him.” said her brother, “He’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Her wits rattled upon hearing her brother’s words and she tried to convince herself of his possession as he peered at her with recognition of not only who she was but of what she was. But when she looked into his gleaming childlike eyes she could not deny that it was, indeed, her brother despite the sudden turn of the night’s events.
This is a rough draft of course so this passage is likely to change, but rarely do I write something this coherent in the first pass. A lot of times I have a jumbled mass of words that I have to rewrite two or three times before it’s even ready for my writer’s group to look at. What’s good about this scene, though, is that it unlocked a snippet of the lesson that I had been blocking out: I needn’t outline all 64 scenes of my novel to begin writing, I merely have to outline as many as my muse will allow. I flipped back through my course material and I found the passage that said that very thing:
So how many (scenes) do you need for this to work?
How long do your legs have to be to reach the ground?
Although this reassured me, it doesn’t mean I’m quite ready for lesson 10. I do need to make out more than four or five scene cards. What’s good, though, is that I can make out only the important ones (the ones Holly Lisle calls “candy bar scenes”), revise them, and then move on. I’d say a day or two of brainstorming should do the trick.
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