Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What is point?

Outlining. What is point?

Okay, one line in and I'm already torn: do you recognise the Down the Line reference or don't you? I'm going to with yes, you do, because otherwise you're now thinking my grammar is shot to pieces and this would be a bad thought to give you when I'm about to talking Writing, with a capital W.

Or at least Outlining, with an O.

Previously on this subject: I don't outline. I know where I'm going with a story or I don't. Usually I'm aiming at a point, very often I end up somewhere else. But it works and the worst thing that has happened so far is that I've had to decide to delete 40,000 words. But they were also rubbish words, so I'm no martyr to my cause.

One reason for doing things this way is that my outlines rob the story of any interest for me. And one excuse for not doing outlines is that I am fast enough that even under pressure I've got time to revise things.

But, truth be told, the primary reason is that I know many, many people who first do an outline and then draw up a chart: scenes 7, 12 and 55 are easy ones, I'll do those today; 19, 1 and 13 are toughies. Then they tick off each one as done. Sure as anything, each of those scenes will be fine but they'll also be discrete and separate. I've never known any outline-kind of person to suddenly find the exit moment of a scene and allow themselves to go off early or bring in an entirely new scene. Or allow the characters to do anything except what they'd slavishly worked out before.

Consequently, each scene is complete in and of itself, it has a beginning, middle and end. Only, that means every scene starts, middles along a bit and ends. Put down one scene and pick up the next. Start. Stop. No flow, no energy carrying from scene to scene so no, in my opinion, compulsion. I see this in a lot of UK TV drama: stories are just a sequence of events, none especially more important than the other, at least not to the viewer, and time just passes along nicely enough.

I don't think stories should be full of crashes and incident, bangs and wallops, but you've only got people for a short time so there needs to be a driving force through it. It can be soft seduction, it can be peril, but it has to be alive. And as much as I believe writing is both a craft and an art, I think a too-mechanical approach to it does rob you of impetus and it can kill the story.

So I've been doing this outline, right?

It's for my Folly. I swear I may even name the script Folly. I mean it in the building sense; the way you have rich geezers paying people to build elaborate and pointless towers on their land. I pass one on the drive to London: totally worthless, but nicely made. That seems to be what I'm doing here. But I'm trying to do it quickly so I can get this story out of my head, like a writing exorcise, and get on to the now famous ten page debacle.

So I thought I'd outline.

But there's also the fact that one thing I am actually good at is building sequences. It comes from my radio training, I think, the ability to fashion a small sequence of scenes or clips that play against each other, that bounce you through, that together tell you more than the individual pieces do. And that just keep your interest. And the thing that is so annoying about this Folly idea, the thing that means I've got to get it out, is that I've seen it all as one gigantic sequence. I knew instantly what the entire shape of the tale was and there were myriad (okay, 30) scenes I immediately knew I'd have to do. It's one of those ideas, you'd think of the same 30 moments too.

So I thought I'd outline. Get them all down before I forget any.

I've now done this. I took advice from outliner types, I wrote it all down.

And here's the thing. The notes I made originally of these 30 scene ideas: no matter how I play with this outline or re-imagine the entire story, each one goes straight into precisely the same spot I first thought of them.

My outline is nothing but a nice list of the same points with a few tabs in.

Have I wasted my time outlining? Will I end up with the same kind of dead flat story I fear - and do so without gaining anything at all?

You'll never know: I'll never show you the final piece. I mean, it's a Folly.

But I'll confess if I think the end result works or not.


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