Saturday, April 11, 2009

Oh, So Many Things to Discuss!

Judging by the comments, Debby seems to have touched a nerve when she asked about writers’ outlining habits.  I was told once by a mystery author (who also happens to be a lawyer - a significant detail, I think), that before she begins writing, she outlines each and every one of her novels to the tune of at least one hundred pages, and never deviates therefrom.  One Very Big Name of my acquaintance never outlines at all, or even has much in mind when she begins her mammoth novels.  She writes dozens of seemingly unrelated episodes, then arranges them in some sort of order and cobbles them together with new scenes and segues.  This technique may sound pretty slapdash, but it seems to work for this woman, since she could buy and sell us all.

I have done both.  Each book seems to be a whole new order of creation for me, and demands its own unique method of coming into being.  I’ve been known to outline before I begin when I think that would help me clarify the direction of the plot in my own mind.  I have also simply started writing, usually at the beginning, but I’ve started in the middle and the end, as well.  More than once I’ve begun a novel on the fly, and then gone back and created an outline because I’ve gotten myself into a muddle and can’t quite figure the way out.

I, too, have the same editor as Vicki, Debby, and Charles.  When we were first published with Poisoned Pen Press, returning authors were not required to submit the synopsis and first 100 pages.  On the rare occasion, I understand, a returning author would submit an unacceptable MS close to the deadline, leaving little time for a major fix and messing up the press’ publishing schedule.  Thus the adoption of the long editing lead time.

The synopsis/outline that I submit isn’t all that complex.  I simply tell the story in a short, narrative form, and that seems to be fine.  As for having the first 100 pages approved, that requirement has on more than one occasion saved me some major rewriting.

I must comment on Charles’ assertion that learning effective ad writing is a great way to sharpen one’s writing skills.  He is spot-on.  I have also read that learning to write poetry will improve narrative skills like nothing else.  A poet is continually striving to distill something as huge as a universal truth into a single image.  This is a skill that is invaluable in good story-telling.

My beloved husband Don belonged to something of a gang of four aspiring poets/writers when he was in college.  Forty-five years later, all four of them have been published, and one of them, Louis Jenkins, became an actual professional poet.  He was a protege of Robert Bly, has published a number of poetry collections, and has read his poems on Garrison Keilor’s Prairie Home Companion several times.  The fact that he is a friend from Don’s youth aside, Jenkins is one of my very favorite poets, and the reason is that he writes prose poems that are perfect gems of concept, story, and image.  They are also observant, wistful, and often hilarious.  I’d love to reproduce one here, but I haven’t asked his permission, so I will only quote the first sentence of a poem called Walking Through A Wall.

“Unlike flying or astral projection, walking through walls is a totally earth-related craft, but a lot more interesting than pot making or driftwood lamps...”

You can read the rest, and several other delights, at   (Don’t neglect to read Football)

And finally, one last word about weather and the wellspring of my birth, Oklahoma.  The picture at the top was taken on March 28 by my sister-in-law Donna in her front yard in Tulsa.  Today my Oklahoma relatives and friends are trying not to burn to death.  One thing about weather in the Great Plains - you won't be bored. I received an e-mail just today from my friend Kevin, who lives in a small town in Northeastern OK, saying that he had just heard on the news that there were wildfires to the northwest and southwest of him, and tornadoes to the northeast. He thought it was a little "like waiting for a quorum for the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse."


Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

I didn't know Don was a writer, too. A poet, no less. I do think my feeble attempts at poetry years ago was terrific discipline. It is probably the most refined writing. Let's see if I can stir up some arguments here, lol.

Donis Casey said...

If I may brag, Don has had some 25-30 poems published in literary mags over the past 5 years, not to mention 3 or 4 short stories. Truth is, the desire to write is one of the things that brought us together when we were in grad school, lo, many years ago.