Sunday, May 17, 2015

Transience and Perseverance

A dear friend of mine posted a terrific entry on his Snowflakes in a Blizzard blog. He wrote about art not being meant to last. His metaphor was a sand artist who creates glorious pictures only to have them washed away at high tide. (You can find the blog post here: Darrell's metaphor got me thinking about life in general.

Many of my friends have lost parents or uncles in the past two weeks. Those of us who have reached "a certain age" find our friends or their parents failing. Younger friends who have not reached the "certain age" lose members of their parents' generation. Life, it seems, is fleeting. That's why the Japanese use the cherry blossom as a favorite poetic metaphor for life's impermanence.

So too is it with writing. We work hard to put our best words on paper (or in the computer) only to find that better words come along. We edit. We send out meager efforts to friends who come back with comments for "improvement." So far, I've been lucky. No one has said I should seek alternate employment, but I learn every time I sit at my keyboard.

I've recently been beta-testing an online master class taught by a New York Times bestselling author, Many times over bestselling author. He writes genre fiction. He writes books we want to escape in and emerge hours later satisfied we've enjoyed a good read. I was halfway through the course when he came to two lessons on outlining. I wanted to skip them. I'm a panster. I write by the seat of my pants and let the words flow. I then hit the edit mode and go through many iterations.

This writer says he spends a month or two writing and rewriting the outline. Not the type we learned in school. Not I. A. 1. a. but a working description of what happens in every scene. EVERY scene. Who's in it. Why it's important. What the conflict is. By the time he is finished with the outline, he can sit back and let the sentences flow.

I really wanted to pooh pooh is approach, until I smacked myself on my forehead. I'm stuck in a work that I've been writing diligently for over a year. Really stuck. I now know I have no idea what the conflict is in several scenes. I'm taking a week or two to create that outline he suggested. Time line. Characters. Motive. Action. Conflict. Importance. I have a table that lays this all out. I have 50+ chapters to put into the table. I think by the time I'm done, the transient words that don't work will give way through perseverance to a cohesive story that at least I will want to read.

I stood after his lesson, took my Wonder Woman pose and said, "Yes I can." Moreover, yes I will


Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, which is now available in e-book at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Jannine Gallant said...

Interesting, Betsy. I used to do that, plan each chapter out ahead of time. Do the research needed, etc. Not anymore. But it's a great technique to keep in mind when we get stuck or feel like we're floundering in the story. Take the time to sit back and plot through the tough section, at the very least.

Leah St. James said...

I'm a pantser at heart but know I need to be a plotter. I get lost in circles when I don't plan out at least a high-level storyline. Love your Wonder Woman reference!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Go you with the Wonder Woman pose. A pantser too, I would have pooh-poohed the concept like you did. The fact you gave it a shot with success, just proves never say never. Congrats! Yes you will!

Diane Burton said...

Sorry I'm late. You go, Wonder Woman Betsy. A long time ago, I read Elmore Leonard's take on writing a synopsis (sort of similar to this post on outlining). He said if I wrote the syn first, he'd have told the story and didn't need to write it. My theory, too. Except. Except that my story will go off in all kinds of direction. Those of us pantsers need to think about that.