Sweating the details

Wrestling with the PostIts still on the rewrite, it’s like the stage of getting the manuscript back from my editor and finding one small notation in the margin that throws an entire sub-plot into question. So with my own notes, three or four words will represent two long days of sweating the details.

I really, really must learn how to outline a novel. If anyone has learned how to do this (as opposed to doing it because it’s natural to them) could they please let me know how? I could turn out two or three books a year if I didn’t have to rewrite.

I wrote a bit ago about Cuba, and for those interested in the ongoing ban of things Cuban, you might look at the site of a humanitarian group, whose attempt at giving a collection of computer equipment to Cuban school kids made the administration unhappy. Right, clearly the IFCO’s stuff was meant for the Castro regime to use in bringing down the evil West.

And in the comments to the comic Novel post, FeltHat asked about about proposed legislation in Britain that would make it illegal to joke about god. I hadn’t heard about the proposal, but if it is true, it’s nothing new–for many years in Britain, sacrilege was a felony. Dorothy Sayers’ radio play about Jesus was hugely radical for the time, since it marked the first broadcast of Jesus as an object of entertainment. (Assuming that listeners found the play entertaining, which is stretching the meaning of the word.) Odd, considering the generally blase attitude Brits take about the whole religion thing. The business of dragging God into political speeches and victories in sporting events leaves them, by and large, hugely puzzled. And rightly so.

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  1. CaraSusanetta on July 29, 2005 at 2:34 pm

    Hi Laurie,
    My husband is a professional writer, though less a bestseller, and he prefers outlines. He says he outlines “in layers”, and says it probably ends up to be the same amount of work as the way you write. But, he finds it a useful tool. If you want to chat, feel free to call us. Email me and we can set something up. carasusanetta@yahoo.com

  2. Mary on July 29, 2005 at 2:55 pm

    Dear Ms. King,

    Good morning.
    Your blog is a delight to read. It is also timely. I write this not because I’ve learned how to write an outline (my apologies), but because I haven’t.
    For what this is worth (I have no idea): At 1:00 this morning I was desperately re-reading Aristotle’s “Poetics” (after all these years, I’ve found a translation I can understand!) because I have (to say the least) a problem with outlining a story. In chapter 17: “Rules for the Tragic Poet” (the translation was by T. S. Dorsch) there is a paragraph which gives a basic ‘how-to’ story outline, citing the “Iphigenia” as example.
    But then, Aristotle (and his translator) make the basic outlining process sound so darn easy.

  3. Cornelia on July 29, 2005 at 7:12 pm

    Dorothy Sayers a blasphemer?! How would they have reacted to something like Dario Fo’s “Mistero Buffo”?

  4. sinda on July 29, 2005 at 7:53 pm

    Funny you bring up Sayers…I read Locked Rooms too quickly, although I did try to pace myself. Then went back and re-read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice for the 4th?- 5th? time. Then, led by references to The Bodley, re-read Gaudy Night, then had to leap right into Busman’s Honeymoon just to see the thing through.

    Any more recommendations, anyone?

  5. Rebecca on July 30, 2005 at 8:57 pm

    Hm… I must admit it feels a little odd to give outlining tips to a bestselling author when I’ve never even been published (but four of my poems are making the rounds right now! wish me luck!), but there are a few things that have worked for me. There’s the index card method– write each event that’s going to happen in the story on an index card and keep them in chronological order. Then you can easily add more or take them out as needed. Or, what worked for me on my current work-in-progress was to make a timeline. The story took place over about four years, and I broke this down into seasons and listed what was supposed to happen in each season. You could do this day-by-day or whatever for a story with a shorter timeframe.

    Both of those are pretty basic… for more detail, you could try snowflaking (http://www.rsingermanson.com/html/the_snowflake.html). I could never take an outline as far as he does, but I’ve used the first couple steps to get an idea of where a story is going.

    Good luck! I hope you find something that works, because several books a year from you would be wonderful!

  6. Rebecca on July 30, 2005 at 8:59 pm

    bleh… URL seems to have gotten cut off…

  7. Rebecca on July 30, 2005 at 9:00 pm

    my computer officially hates me!!!! but you’ll find eventually anyway.

  8. Anonymous on August 2, 2005 at 12:42 am

    It is interesting that the British feel & think about god/God in such a different way than the Americans. Perhaps its the history–in England it is interesting to see the competition between castles and churches, which is the biggest in town, who spent the most money. Once one realizes this competition and its result, it is easy to see the meaning of separation of church and state of the founding fathers of the U.S. So many Americans do not realize this history and how important it is to keep church and state separated.

  9. Anonymous on August 2, 2005 at 12:47 am

    It is interesting to see the difference in British and Americans view of god/God, church and state. When one sees the size, money spent on churches and castles (which is the biggest), and the end result, it is easy to comprehend what the founding fathers of the U.S. had in mind with separation of church and state. Too bad and too sad that so many Americans have no interest in nor comprehension of this meaning.We are already seeing churches in the U.S. compete with government for building giant buildings and providing services primarily for exclusive use of its members. A sad state for all of us.

  10. Becca on August 2, 2005 at 8:39 pm

    Well, I’m personally a very physical person. As much as I love the computer, it’s nothing like acutally touching something. So I generally write out events or other issues on index cards, then pin them to posterboard or a bulletin board. This also makes moving things around really easy.

  11. Becca on August 2, 2005 at 8:40 pm

    Ummm….I should add, in full disclosure, that one of my efforts as described above ended up covering two 6 by 12 foot tables completely. And this was for something that ended up only being 40 pages. So maybe you shouldn’t follow my example.

  12. Anonymous on August 3, 2005 at 12:12 am

    Outlines are more a curse than a blessing, they tend to prevent you thinking of other things…I recently read an interview with Ian Rankin where he was asked if he knew what was going to happen in his books. He replied that if he knew what was going to happen he wouldn’t need to write the books…and in your case, it’s often the diversions from the plot that are the most entertaining bits – and often the most telling…If you’re producing your current novels without outlines, I’d suggest you stick with what’s obviously working…really well.

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