Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The 50 Page Honeymoon and the Outline

I just finished the outline for Rescuing Rita. One would think that this would have been accomplished last month, before I started the story…but no. That’s not how I work. Usually, I have a general idea of where I’m going and what will happen when I first sit down to a story. The first fifty pages are a bit of a honeymoon for me. I fall in love with my characters and their world. They transform from paper dolls to people with emotions and motivations. And then I get to about page 100 and go…huh. Because the plot has become sticky and multipronged with moving parts—some more interesting than others—at this point, just to keep it all in my head—I need an outline. And now I have one. 17 more scenes equal 8 more writing days. I hope to have the first draft finished before I go to visit my family the first week of March.

I’ll have a writing reprieve for the one week I'm in Washington, before returning home and to Rita--filling all the plot-holes, adding the visual details, tightening the dialogue and ramping up the tension. By April 1st I’ll pass it along to my editor and begin a new story. Maybe by the time Rita returns from her editorial stint I’ll have another 100 pages under my belt, another complete outline.

And while I don’t feel especially celebratory that today I only wrote one page of my story— I’m grateful for the outline of the next (and final) 17 scenes. It feels good to know where I’m going, how I’m going to get there and the pay-off in the final scene.

Life is like that. In literature, we call that second act of the three act story the “wandering stage.” We all need that wandering and sampling to decide what we really want—who and what we want to pursue. Sometimes we think we need a mentor—sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t even when we think we do. Sometimes we travel in herds, sometimes in pairs and sometimes we’re alone—even when we’re with other people. But we’re all writing a life story—sometimes we’re the hero, sometimes we’re the fool, and sometimes the victim. But it’s important to remember that we are the protagonist in our life stories—we can’t schlep that responsibility onto anyone else’s shoulders. We can’t hitch ourselves up to anyone else and go along for the ride, because no matter how strong that someone is—they won’t be strong enough to carry you. You have to walk your own journey. And an outline is a good thing to have. It’s even better than that first fifty page honeymoon.

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