Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I have seen the light!

A few years back on Type M, we had a wide-ranging discussion on the topic: to outline or not to outline. It’s something that writers tend to talk about when sitting around in the bar at conventions, too. Everyone has an opinion and they're generally pretty polarized to being on one side or the other. I have always been on the side of “let the story develop in its own way”, meaning that I was firmly against outlining. It may sound silly to some when you’re actually saying, “I enjoy stumbling around in the dark when I write,” but good things often happen when you write this way and I enjoy immensely the thrill of something completely unexpected happening to my stories.

At least, that was my thought on the subject until last night.

Next week is the release date of a novel I wrote for Orca Book Publishers out in British Columbia. It’s for their Rapid Reads series. Fellow Type M member, Barbara Fradkin, already has released a novel in this series. The premise is simple: write a good story for adults with literacy challenges, be they poor readers or those for whom English is a second (or third or fourth) language. Also on the back burner is the idea that a skilled reader could pick up the book and read it cover-to-cover on a one-hour flight, for instance. It required a very stripped-down, simplified construction, but the editor demanded a high standard of writing within these confines.

How does this background fit into today’s blog topic? Easy. For the initial submission to Orca, I had to write a sample chapter or two, but also submit a chapter synopsis for the rest of the story.

I can’t say that I enjoyed working on this. Frankly, it felt an awful lot like doing homework. It did prove, however, to be a godsend because I had a “floor plan” to work from. Since I was trying to do this writing assignment quickly (limited time because of other work commitments), things proceeded smoothly and quickly. I began to see the possibilities for efficiency that came with doing synopses.

Nagging at me, though, was the fact that I might not see other possibilities for my storyline because of the synopsis. That is entirely possible. Not having worked this way enough, I’m not sure what effect a plot synopsis will have on the serendipitous flashes of inspiration that can and often do transmute a story dramatically for my original vision of it.

Currently, I’m working sporadically on a full-length novel and I ran into one of those frequent forks in the road. Do I send my protagonist this way or that? Every writer runs into this, some of us frequently. In the past what I’ve done is to pick the fork that looks more promising and continue on my merry way. A few times it’s become obvious after a few more chapters that I made the wrong choice. That often meant that I’d spent a lot of valuable writing time marching down a blind alley.

Last night, I came to a fork. Do I go left or right? After thinking about possibilities all evening and again this morning, it suddenly dawned on me that a good tool to use in order to discover which path might bear the better writing fruit (to hopelessly mix metaphors) would be to do a few chapters’ worth of plot synopsifizing* for each path and then make my decision.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I think maybe a few chapters’ worth will make it clear, and once I see which way I’m going, I might well throw it out or ignore it, but at least I’ll have the security of knowing I took the best fork and I’m not out there wasting my time as I follow my plot thread.

At least that’s what I’m hoping will happen...

*This is a word I just made up. Please feel free to use it, but I would like the following credit attached to it, please: “Word Creation copyright 2011 by Richard M. Blechta”. If that seems too long, just send me a dollar each time you use it. ;)


hannah Dennison said...

How unbelievably apt your post is today, Rick. I am at the exact same place in my new book. I'm suffering an agony of indecisions as to what my protagonist must do next. So many decisions! Now I am going to do exactly what you're going to do - synopsifize a few chapters. Let's compare notes in a week or so (please).

Rick Blechta said...

Glad to be of timely help, Hannah. And as for synopsifize, I think everyone is going to be using it very soon. Clearly, it's a word that's been sorely lacking in our vocabulary.

Sylvia MccConnell said...

Yes, exactly the word that is needed. It's so much better than write a synopsis, if one can type it without making a typs. synopsifize, synopsifize - it's working.

Rick Blechta said...

Sign up now, folks! I'm offering my new word, synopsifize, free of charge for the next week. Use it as many times as you like completely FREE.

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