What do famous authors say about outlining? I had the privilege of attending a famous writers conference some years back. Over the course of the long weekend several famous authors gave presentations about some aspect of writing.
I recall Tony Hillerman, the late author of a Navajo Tribal Police series, discussing his method of writing. He talked about how he started a novel. It usually began with the idea of a situation happening to one of his protagonists, Joe Leaphorn or Jim Chee. From there he began to write. No outline. Just sitting down and creating the story. And, each time he had a publishable novel that, I’m sure, delighted his editor.
But, what he didn’t say was just as important. He didn’t talk about his years of journalistic experience, his many hours of reading other writers in his genre, his time spent in the area of the United States and his contact with people in that area that is featured in his novels, and his millions of words written over the years.
At the other end of the spectrum was an encounter I had at the same conference. During a break I stepped out onto a large patio area and there stood one of my idols, Robin Cook, author of Coma and many other medical thrillers. I’m usually a pretty shy person but this was the chance of a lifetime. So, summoning up all the courage I could and recalling that we had something in common (we are both physicians), I introduced myself and stuck up a conversation. It was a delightful five minutes. Later, during an autograph session, he had placed his outline for one of his recent novels on the table beside him. I looked through it. Running some two hundred double spaced type written pages, It was as detailed as the novel itself.
I don’t recall much else about the conference, but I do recall Dr. Cook’s departing words to me. It was short and to the point: “Bob, outline.”
I’ve taken his words to heart and extensively outline before I begin writing. I think it provides numerous advantages. I take a look at these advantages in my next blog.
The basic three act structure is not the only way to outline. Aside from the basic three act structure, I’ve found three other very helpful methods of writing an outline. Each is articulated in three different books on writing:
Introduction of HOPE ALLERD. She guides an intern as he intubates a dying patient, saving his life. Hope is cool, confident, and
On rounds the residents and fellows are all in awe of DR FRANICS PERIL, all except Hope. When other residents and fellows
are stumped by Peril’s Socratic questions, Hope answers them with ease. There is also a sexual tension between she and
Peril obvious to all except Hope. Also on rounds is LESLIE "LURCH" BRIGHTWELL, Peril’s constant companion and lab
He’s tall and very scary looking. One resident seems particularly put out by Hope's showing off (this is Marcia).
Police find the body and begin their investigation into the murder.
Hope and Peril discuss her starting work in his research lab. He sees a “bright future” for her as an assistant professor in the
University upon completion of her fellowship
You’re not confined to one way of outlining. I recommend looking into different ways of constructing that novel outline to see which suits you best then start writing.
Next time I’ll discuss how two famous writers approach outlining.
In writing your novel, where do you begin? Developing characters, theme, and that killer opening are important. After all, no story will go very far without well-rounded, believable characters. A well though out theme gives your work a certain depth and gravitas. And, who doesn’t want to hook their readers within the first few pages?
But, what about an outline? Wouldn’t it be a logical start? Who drives along an unknown route without a roadmap or GPS system? Doing so only invites winding up on a dead-end street in a dicey neighborhood at midnight.
Your GPS for writing is your outline. It takes you from point A to point B in your novel while avoiding a costly detour. The last thing you want to do is spend months creating a group of scenes only to realize they don’t really work.
So, what’s an outline? It can be as simple as a brief summary of your planned novel. Using the three act structure helps. Act I introduces the characters and conflict. Act II ramps up the tension like a run up a steep mountain trail. Act III ups the tension ever more. Think of a rocket ship shooting out of the atmosphere. Then, at the highest point, about half way through the third act, you’ve reached the climax. The problem is resolved. The hero overcomes (or not) and the villain gets his comeuppance (or maybe wins). The tension drops like a ride down a theme park water slide, and the next thing you know, you’re typing “THE END”. It’s as simple at that.
But, to get the most out of your outline you might want to learn more details about the three act structure. This involves terms like pinch point, mid point, and turning point. Also you can Google examples of the three act structure of famous movies and novels. This will give you an idea of how to start. The outline doesn’t have to be elaborate or an all-inclusive ticking off of everything that happens in your novel. But, it should contain the key points, the things that: reveal character, place your hero in increasing jeopardy, and show how the story progresses.
In my next blog I’ll review a few other ways to outline.
Science does well in some areas. Newtonian mechanics explains the macro world quite well and has done so for the past 400 years. No one disputes that F=ma held true in Newton’s time and holds true today. But, as science has looked deeper into the microscopic world we see a bizarre array of findings. In the discipline of quantum mechanics things get suddenly weird. Electrons magically pop in and out of existence in random fashion. Two entangled photons can instantly communicate across light years of distance, violating the speed of light; the speed limit of the universe (and no one gets a speeding ticket). And cats in boxes are miraculously simultaneously dead and alive.
The building blocks of atomic nuclei have gone from protons and neutrons, to quarks. Then, finally to strings and membranes or branes. Well, not finally as, I’m sure, there’s a new model just on the horizon.
At the other end of the scale, the universe was created with a big bang, moving from a singularity (an infinitesimally small point) via inflation. That’s an expansion moving faster than the speed of light. What’s with these lead-footed physicists?
But, to make things worse, the Big Bang is being disputed. One recent school of thought posits that the universe is nothing more than a 3-dimension brane of a 4-dimension black hole. I’m not about to explain this. Another idea floating around is that two enormous branes carrying parallel universes collided creating a big bang and that this happens over and over.
I’m not being anti-science here. In fact, I like science, especially physics. I find all of this totally fascinating. But, when a discipline that changes faster than a chameleon inside a kaleidoscope tries to refute another that’s been consistent for two thousand years I find the effort a bit off-putting. What I’m talking about is the effort of some physicists to refute Christianity based on their field of study. Science probes the physical universe using a method of hypothesis and experimentation. Ideas are adopted and discarded over time as more information is obtained.
All this is takes place, of course, on an unchanging foundation. In physics, as mentioned earlier, Newtonian mechanics is unchanged. In chemistry, with the exception of a few additions of new elements, the periodic table is stable. And, in human biology, Grey’s Anatomy, with the exception of a few tweaks, is pretty much unaffected since its first printing in 1858.
These foundational truths don’t dispute Christianity. If anything, they reinforce the basic idea of the beauty and unifying nature of creation and, by extension, shouts the existence of the Creator.
When you base your dispute with Christianity on the changeable and hotly contested cutting edge part of your science it really doesn’t work well. For one thing, the basis of your argument against Christianity is ephemeral. What you contend as your definite proof today may be a discarded theory tomorrow. The foundations of Christianity are firm unchanging vistas, whereas the modern footings of science are a high wire strung between two skyscrapers in a gale force wind. Which would you want to cross?
Science should be celebrated as a discipline that improves our physical well-being. It is essential and should move forward with all speed and with due educational and financial support.
On the other hand, Christianity is essential for our spiritual well being. Lives are changed for the better. Suffering is alleviated. Lost people are saved and sins are forgiven through Christ’s mediation.
Perhaps that old saying applies here: “East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet.” At any rate, they are not mutually exclusive disciplines. And maybe Rodney King had the right idea: “Why can’t we all just get along?”