Thursday, February 19, 2015

Which Way Did I Go?

Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pantser? Have you ever tried to do it the other way? What happened?

I graduated college with a degree in mechanical engineering. I like plans, schematics, and spreadsheets. Formulae, laws of physics, straight lines, sharp corners, curves described by elegant mathematics. I believe in ORDER.

My name is Alan, and I’m an outliner.point a to point b

If I tried to write something without an outline, I have full confidence it would devolve rapidly. I’d start writing a scene, and everything would be fine for a few  minutes, but before too long it would go flying off the rails. For instance, have you ever had an argument with someone, but ten minutes later, you’ve miraculously switched positions? Which reminds me of a book I read once, where the characters’ back stories kept shifting, making following the chain of events difficult, at best. Not as difficult as rocket science, but still hard. Did you ever wonder how these advanced 3-D rendering technologies have changed the way engineers design rockets? And rockets are way, way cool. Maybe I should write a book about people hijacking a rocket and settling on Mars. Mmmm, Mars. I do like their chocolate. And if anyone is interested, I prefer dark chocolate. I understand it’s actually healthy for you. And I’m all about the health. Hey! Squirrel!

But I digress. (If you couldn’t tell, I often write these blog posts by the seat of my pants.)

Now, where was I?

Oh, yes. Outlining. I outline, but when I say I “outline,” it’s not like how we were taught in third grade. Nothing formal whatsoever—no Roman numerals, no subsection 12-G-IV-c, no indenting. First, I map out how the story begins. Then I plot out how the story ends. I also like to pencil in some of the major turning points along the way. Then I fill in the scenes that connect these “tent poles.”

Sometimes I have a good idea what a scene should contain, but often my outline consists of little more than: “Scene 14: Joe and Sue meet in the old chemical plant. Joe tells her something shocking, and Sue runs off, slips, and falls into a vat of hydrochloric acid.”

I should make it clear that I’m not a slave to my outline. I view it as a living, almost-breathing entity. When things change (and boy, do they ever), I change right along with them (or should I say, I change my outline right along with them). In my writing workshops, I tell outliners that if things aren’t working, consider changing your outline. (Similarly, I tell pantsers they need to change their pants (ba-da-bing!).)

Sometimes I wish I had the ability to just sit down and start writing (with the reasonable expectation of producing something decent). That’s right, on some level, I envy the pantsers. So carefree. So happy-go-lucky. So…Bohemian.

But even if I did write more by-the-seat-of-my-pants, I don’t think anyone would ever confuse me with a free-wheeling, spontaneous artiste. And that’s something I’ll just have to learn to live with.

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Thursday, February 5, 2015

It is Fun to Have Fun (But You Have to Know How)

Sophie Hannah continued Poirot and Sebastian Faulks continued Bond. What character would you most like to write about, if the estate asked you?

The idea of taking over for a deceased writer is not a new one to me. When I was in sixth grade, my best friend John and I decided to write a sequel to WAR OF THE WORLDS. (I have to admit, we didn’t bother securing the rights from the HG Wells estate; we forged ahead anyway.) We finished about three pages before we took a break to play basketball. That break lasted decades. (I'm happy to say John is still one of my most valued advance readers.)

I think there would be a ton of pressure if you took over a successful/beloved series. Unless you totally nailed it, a lot of people would have issues with something or other. And if you’ve ever read a thread on any Internet forum or social media site, you know that most of those people with strong opinions are not shy about sharing them. Repeatedly. AND LOUDLY. AND DID I SAY REPEATEDLY AND LOUDLY????

I would have loved to take over one of Robert B. Parker’s series, but others beat me to it (not that I would have been asked anyway!). Ace Atkins does a great job carrying on the Spenser series, and my pal and terrific writer, Reed Farrel Coleman, has taken over the Jesse Stone series.meandthecat

There is one other character I’d love to write about and I think I’d do a pretty good job—the Cat in the Hat (see photo: I even met him!). So if there happen to be any representatives from the good doctor’s estate reading this blog, please consider the following recent Facebook post as my “audition.” (I await your call.)

Go, Go, Snow

I do not like it on the streets,
I do not like it on my feets,
I do not like it on my hair,
I do not like it anywhere,
I do not like it on the ground,
I do not like it in a mound,
I do not like snow, not one iota,
I guess I should move to Sarasota.

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)