Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Great Outline Debate

I am constantly struggling to find the answer to the question of whether to outline versus not outline your story. I found Deirdre Savoy's blog entry on Blogging in Black today both timely and thought-provoking. As an analytical person, I want to outline my stories and plan out my plot and only deviate from the "plan" when necessary. However, new ideas and character input often get me off track and frustrate me. (Sigh!) Stop The Insanity On which side of the issue do you fall as a writer?

Here is what Dee had to say:

One of the most asked questions of professional writers by aspiring writers is “Do you use an outline and if you do what kind?” I hate that question. You see, I’m a pantser. I figure out as much as I need to know about my plot and characters, sit in the chair and have at it. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in chapter 23 because I don’t know. My story and my people evolve as I write about them. I find plotting should be spelled p-l-o-d-d-i-n-g, because by the time I do it, I have lost all interest in writing the book.
Should you or shouldn’t you have an outline? The answer is really up to you. Do you need one? My answer is no, but here are a few pros and cons of each way to help you make up your mind.

Pros: provides immediate structure and focusless chance of going off on tangents or painting yourself in a corner
Cons: more up-front workcan lock you in if you’re afraid to deviate from plan

No Outline:
Pros: just jump right ineasier to let the story develop as you write
Cons: can feel like “flying without a net”can lead to the sort of writer’s block when you don’t know what happens next

But, in truth, neither method is better or worse than the other. It depends on what works for you, not any other writer. Try it one way and if it doesn’t work try something else. Try different degrees of outlining—say having a rough idea of what goes on in each chapter as opposed to a scene by scene description. How you work should reflect your needs as a writer. Also, don’t be surprised if those needs change over time. You may start out as either a pantser or a plotter then gravitate the other way. My advice? Go with the flow and let the words flow.

Again, on which side of the issue do you fall as a writer?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Your Dash

At my daughter's dance class tonight, the director and I had an impromptu chat session with 10 girls ranging from age 11 to 16. The director had stopped the girls mid-dance because she h
ad been troubled recently by the spirit of apathy (for the younger girls) and "boy-crazy drama" (for the older girls) within the group, which is a Christian liturgical dance ensemble. The director spoke to them about valuing themselves and walking the Earth as an example of God's grace, of not succuming to the pressures to have sex, to be popular, to cuss, to dance suggestively, and to be distracted by their life goals. As I sat there listening to them individually speak of the "drama" in their lives - some of them giggly and ditzy and others teary and troubled - I was moved to jump into the conversation and offer my own words on wisdom about staying focused on your goals and not let distractions waylay your dreams. Suddenly I was inspired to tell them about a poem I'd read about how the day of one's birth and one's death are pre-ordained by God and how what we do with our life in between those dates is oh, so important in determining how we will be remembered by those we leave behind. The poem is below:

by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came her date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all

For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth…
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars…the house…the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard…
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real,
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile…
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy’s being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?

Copyright 1996,1998 Visit the author's website:

You should have seen the looks on the girls' faces. "That's deep," was the concensus around the studio. I advised them to live each day, treasure each moment, choose the words they speak, evaluate their friends and boyfriends, and pursue their dreams with their "dash" in mind. No matter how old we are when we die, it's the "dash" that will define us. Hopefully the dancers will absorb my words. But if I have touched one girl, including my daughter, I'm happy.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Happy Mothers Day

I just want to take this moment to wish Happy Mothers Day to:

My writing buddies:

Denise, Zaynah, Chelle, Bella, Evelyn, LaConnie, LaGuana, Dee, Tracey, Tash, Erin, Jennifer, Judi, Maggie, Donna, Lynne, and JL.

My friends:

Rhonda, Maria, Crystal, Damita, Renee, Gloria, Maxine, Jane, Freda, and Carolyn.

And my family:

My mother, Davonya, Chontell, Aunt Rosa, Aunt Alice, Kimberly and Yasmin Jefferson, Shaniqua, and Annie Jones.

AND of course, to myself. Under difficult circumstances and health trials I am doing an amazing job of raising my daughter. Recent months, she and I have butted heads over everything under the sun but we're still a team. No matter what!

For anyone I've forgotten, blame my head, not my heart.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

What I've Been Doing this Week!

Can you believe it's already Thursday, the first week of May? Gosh, time is zooming!

This week I have picked up some critique work but mostly I've been restructuring the plot of my story. Last week I received some daunting insight from a friend on why she thinks I've lost momentum in my story. Overall, we agree that I've put too much information about my characters' background and motivation in the beginning chapters and left very little to sprinkle at crucial points throughout the story. Pacing is so important, apparently. New writers, I've heard and read, tend to make the mistake of putting everything and the kitchen sink in the first few chapters and overexplaining character motivations, settings and stage direction in the first act of the story. I'm now working on the skill of slowing down and understanding that as the writer, I know the characters, settings, actions and reactions but must show the readers these things instead of telling them. And telling takes time, patience and skill.

As you edit your work, do you find that you've put too much out there in the beginning?