I’ve yet to make any mention of it inside of this particular blog, but I’ve recently abandoned my previous writing project. Before any of you behead me, allow to clarify that this was not a decision I took because I was feeling negative about my work on a specific day. Believe when I say that I gave both my heart and soul into that piece of fiction, but as I’ve stated in the past, that WIP was a sinking boat which I was foolish enough to board in the first place.
That being said, I’m by no means hysterical due to this result. In fact, as blasphemous as it might be for me to admit, I’m excited about it. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and casting aside whatever creative pursuits I held in my mind up to that point, I decided to go back to the drawing board. You know how it is.
Starting from scratch, doing some neat brainstorming, smacking my head against the wall while trying to fine tune a new story…it sounds painful, but that’s just life.
So in my nascent endeavor to go back to my roots I saw that there was no better way to do this than start off a novel in a whole new world, with a darker tone, and (hopefully) a shorter length than the 200,000+ word monstrosities I’ve written up to this point. And while I’m in the process of world-building and trying to see what kind of characters would fit this new setting, I decided that there’d be no better time to talk about outlining on this blog.
Any of you little rascals that have stuck around here for a while might already be familiar with my thoughts on one aspect to this, but I haven’t had the chance to present you all to my enlightened, philosophical, and original opinion on this subject. Of course, with the coming year of 2017 and the lingering but swiftly fading presence of Christmas Cheer, consider this to be a belated present from a certain QuestingAuthor.
In short, my thoughts on the Outline can be summed up into one sentence: Know your ending.
You see, like far too many things in the literary world, the outline is a process which varies depending on which individual you ask. Some folk like to create a maze of notes in which the most riveting minutiae is recorded for the purposes of creating meaningless busywork before you get down to the actual writing, in essence, J.K. Rowling’s technique. Then on the other end of the spectrum you have regular Starbucks patrons, who, when not sipping on their seventh cup of iced coffee, don’t bother to write an outline in an attempt to flaunt about how it stifles their creative “genius”, these are your Stephen Kings. Then in the middle you have snarky teenagers whom desperately believe themselves to be a hybrid of both these Schools of Writing…I wonder who that could be? And you guys know what? None of that matters.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even though my true thoughts on this are buried under three tons of sarcasm, I sincerely believe that these methods are equally worthwhile for the equally diverse lot of author’s that exist in this world.
That being said, why do I believe that anyone outlining in any of these forms should be mindful of what their ending will be? Well, I’m glad you asked. Let’s explore this further.
Looking at it from a purely structural perspective, the traditional Three Act Narrative Sequence is composed of a series of events that lead into one another. Think of your story as being a constant stream of increments that will lead you into a particular goal. But we can dig into this further.
It is often very easy to mistake the climax as being the part of a story in which all the events lead up to. And in some respects, this could be convincing. Think of your novel as a balloon you want to deflate just for the spectacle. The Rising Action is in essence, just you filling it up in slow breaths. The reason you do this is because you want the balloon to grow into a specific size that is larger than its original shape, whether this side is larger by a huge or slim margin is entirely up to you. This can be seen as you pumping in tension into the story you are weaving.
The climax is the exact moment where you loosen your lip’s hold on the balloon. This is NOT when the balloon starts to deflate, this is just the precise moment that you leave the balloon to its own devices. Going back to the novel, all that tension you were pumping into the story is now going to fester until spills all over itself. Basically, this is when your tension blows up to its most dramatic extreme.
Then there’s the Falling Action, which is when your balloon zips and sputters around your room until it deflates. This is the most anticipated part of filling up a balloon, watching all that air unwind, it’s kind of like a treat for your hard work. Once again, going back to the novel, this is allowing the reader to see the fallout of all the tension that has been pumped into the story. This is the goal at the end of the reader’s journey, the point at which he wishes to see the consequences of the tension in the story unfurl to a natural conclusion.
While the moment you part your lips can seem very exciting, the reason you filled up the balloon was to see it go crazy around the room. Every action you took was with the purpose of you reaching that satisfying sensation of spectating the balloon in its erratic flight. Just like your story.
Every event you include in a story is the build-up to the ending. Why do you think we tend to tolerate books with boring beginnings, but exciting endings, yet we loathe the opposite of this? It’s because there wasn’t a waste of a reader’s investment in the tale, because at least in the former, there was a sufficient gratification for the time we spent connecting to the story, despite the bumbling start. And if you want to have an effective outline, you should have at least a semi-concrete idea of what the ending should be in order to design every event in such a way that it flows to that particular point.
But hey, maybe I’m just too obsessive about this. Do you agree with me? Or do you believe there’s something more important than the ending? If you agree with me, then what would you say is the second most important part of a story? Send me your opinions in the comments!
As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep Writing, my friends.