Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Outline VS No Outline

I’ve read that Charles Dickens never knew what would happen as he wrote. Have you ever seen how big his books are? And everything connects with each other. I think that’s amazing and it proves you don’t need to outline every single thought that contributes to the plot. However, I also believe that it depends on the writer, because there are writers who have the story in their heads from beginning to end and make it work too.

I’m definitely a wing-it-person myself, I try to outline as much as I can, but it doesn’t seem to work for me. It’s like the story is already there, all I need to do is write. So that’s what I do. I just write. It starts with a basic idea, then the characters (sometimes the other way around) and then the words just flow onto the paper. Alright, it’s not always that easy, but for a first draft I just tell myself to keep going, writing for the sake of writing. Then I can always edit later on. Plus, by forcing yourself to write you usually come up with great ideas. At least, that’s the case with me. Of course I do take a little break sometimes to assess different plot turns and see which will work best, but once I know which direction I want to head in I’m good to go. And when I find that I have no idea which way to go, that’s where I just write the first thing that comes to mind and usually that sparks great ideas later on. Pressure can be a good thing, I’ve learned. If you’re stuck it’s also a good idea to write the ending, or a future scene so that you know what you’re writing towards.

The pros of outlining are that you know exactly what to write and why you’re writing it. If you do it well, then you basically already have the roadmap of your story and all you have to do is follow it to the end. Then comes the editing and you can see how well you’ve done. The advantage of this is that you’ve already decided where you’re going and figured out what works and what doesn’t. You’re focused and have a clear vision of your final destination. Now all you have to do is drive there, which goes much faster if you know where you’re going.
The cons of outlining are that there is no room for creativity, you’ve already thought about which scene goes where and after hard work you’ve come up with the perfect full circle, but what if you discover something along the way? Oh, what is that? Another character just popped up? No, that can’t happen because it’s not planned. But it can happen, because in the imagination anything can happen. Writing is a creative endeavour and no matter how perfectly planned the story is, you still never know until you actually write. You might also get tunnel vision and at some point lose track of the big picture because you’re so focussed on what your outline told you to write that it might take you a while to notice that it’s not working. I’ve heard stories of writers that had an outline and started writing, but then realised something wasn’t working and they weren’t sure what. It could be something in the plot that looked good on paper but just isn’t right, or it could be the lack of soul. Sometimes, because you don’t have a clear goal, you go places that you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. Something that doesn’t necessarily contribute to what you had in mind, but does in fact benefit the soul of the story in some way.

The pros of no outline are therefore that you have more freedom. You’ve packed your bags and are ready for the road trip of a lifetime. You know roughly in which direction you go, but anything is still possible. Predicting what lies ahead can’t always be done and sometimes you need to react on something along the way, something that’s unpredictable. Let’s just stick to the driving metaphor and say that there’s a road block, then you need to find a way around it at that moment and who knows where that might lead to? And that can be a good thing. You have room for creativity and you find that your original idea may lead you to a completely new and better idea.
The cons of no outline are that you can get lost along the way. Without a clear destination you might end up driving in circles. If you don’t at least know what you’re trying to say and what you’re writing for, it’s hard to determine what should be written in the first place. A book needs some structure in order to make sense, so it’s good to have some things planned, even if it’s just one scene at the end and one in the middle.

What works for me is the middle ground. Somewhere between plotting like a villain and winging it like a politician that was just caught cheating. However, it is up to the writer. Everybody has their own system and what works for me, won’t work for them and vice versa. So which are you? Plotter? Winger? Or plonger? 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend: Review

Books are like people, you see the cover, you read the first page and instantly you know whether or not you’ll like the book. That’s what I had with Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (I liked it, that is) and it has now become one of my favourite books.

Stories that provoke the imagination are always a plus in my book. Pun intended. And I also like characters with problems that aren’t easily solved. In this case that is Max, the eight-year-old boy with a form of autism. This is also the reason why he has had an imaginary friend longer than most kids, because he still needs him. Budo, the imaginary friend, is mostly afraid of disappearing and the theme of the book, in my eyes, is therefore existence. Everybody (or at least most people) are afraid of dying/disappearing and in this case that theme is handled in a very original and interesting way.

The characters have as much depth as a giant volcano, those are deep right? Even the minor characters are portrayed realistically and well. The story flows nicely and everything that happens contributes to the story, AKA no boring parts. I felt like this book was a fun, intriguing, suspenseful and creative adventure involving an imaginary friend as he tries to save his friend from an interesting antagonist. It is also really cool to encounter the different types of imaginary friends and even though, surprisingly, I never had any imaginary friends as a kid, I want one now. And yes, even grown-ups can have imaginary friends, the author said so. So please excuse me, my talking (and snarky) unicorn wants to play with me now. I am Morgan and I approve this message…I mean, book! J

PS: Follow the author on Twitter: @MatthewDicks

Creative Writing for Kids Part Two

Who knew that teaching five ten-year-old boys about writing would be this challenging? Don’t get me wrong, also fun, but mostly challenging. I suppose the main problem here was that when I asked them about why they chose Creative Writing as their talent workshop, they said it was because it was the only thing left. Ouch. I think my heart felt that. They also had the attention span of a sponge. I maintained order quite well, especially for a beginner, but I’m thinking that next time I might go Lady Gaga on them and wear a purple hat, a yellow outfit, feathers in my hair and a neon sign around my neck to keep their attention directed towards me. 

I gave them little pieces of information followed by a small assignment, like talking about plot, or characters and then making them invent a plot and a character with certain traits. They did do those assignments, though it was difficult for them to come up with things and a few of the characters were therefore Frodo and Spongebob. But hey, the thought counts and at least their creative juices were somewhat flowing, or trickling in this case.

I also mentioned setting and how to describe places, but then one of them said; ‘why not watch a film?’ Ouch, another one for my heart to take. I suppose my fear for the lack of love for books was accurate. Apparently the pages of books have been replaced by the scenes of films. Still, they said they enjoyed my little class and I gave them the homework assignment of writing the beginning of their story. They seemed quite excited about that, but then again any sort of willingness to write seemed like a giant positive step. I don’t give up easily, though and I’m determined to make them passionate about stories by the time I’m done with them. Which will only be after two more classes.
I'm looking forward to next week. It helps that I feel like I got to know a lot about them already and know that they’re good kids, even the troublemakers have something adorable about them. If only people stayed that way when they grow up. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Creative Writing for Kids

While I’m nearly reaching the end of my first novel (I’m really super close this time!) I was invited by my old primary school to volunteer at a talent workshop where they needed a writer. Luckily they immediately thought of me. (I have connections.)  And so I get to boss around a bunch of kids while I teach them about writing stories. Two of my favourite things! Not being bossy and writing, but teaching and writing. *cough*

Since their age-range will be somewhere between nine and thirteen I can’t throw all my balls of wisdom at their small and growing heads, I have to keep it simple, which coincidentally is one of my mottos: when in doubt, KIS. Though some people might take it the wrong way if you say it out loud. Anyway, I’ll start with introductions and ask them what kind of stories they like, sincerely hoping that they won’t mention stories that have been turned into films and/or computer games and that they are actually as addicted to real-life books as I am. I mean, when I was their age I’d always go to the library during the summer holiday and get a stack of books (no exaggeration, there must have been like 13 and mostly R.L Stine’s Fear Street stories) and I’d finish them within about two weeks. I’d smell them and touch them a great deal before diving into their worlds and splash around. If they don’t feel this passionate about books coming in, they will after I’m done with them.

Other than the essential information I’ll give them, such as that all books have a beginning, middle and end, have a theme, a conflict and resolution, etc. I’ll also let them do writing exercises. It’s more fun than actually sitting there and watch them write, right? So my plan is to put different nouns of animate objects in one pile, put different locations in another and then put inanimate objects in yet another, letting them pick from each pile and coming up with a plot involving those three things which they can then work on at the end of the class and at home. I’ll also let them do a few brainstorming sessions where they can come up with their own characters, locations and objectives. I’m very curious to see what their enthusiastic muses will come up with. Let’s hope it will involve some dragons and pirates with flying ships. I’ll keep you posted on my wild adventure with these creative kids. I might be teaching future famous writers!