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We recently bought our dog an invisible fence. She took freedom tours of the neighborhood any time a door didn’t close properly or one of the kids went outside. Two hours later, after depositing special gifts in our neighbors’ gardens and consuming dead, stinky things, I’d manage to corral her back home. While annoying, our […]

We recently bought our dog an invisible fence. She took freedom tours of the neighborhood any time a door didn’t close properly or one of the kids went outside. Two hours later, after depositing special gifts in our neighbors’ gardens and consuming dead, stinky things, I’d manage to corral her back home. While annoying, our greatest concern was her safety. She could get hit by a car, lost, or go one-on-one with a local coyote (hypothetically, I’d love to see it. Daisy is one feisty broad). Enter the invisible electric fence. After one successful escape (I had the zapper set too low), and two yip-ful escape attempts, Daisy earned free reign of our yard. She still has plenty of chipmunks to chase, joggers to bark at, and dead things to eat. She has a clearly defined zone, and within that, she can do whatever she wishes: she can run through the bushes, bark at the squirrels, or nap in the shade (she still doesn’t get to dig or eat my plants – there have to be some rules). Everybody is happier, the days are brighter, and the chipmunks on the hill (just out of bounds) now wear sequins and perform Broadway musicals as an all-out effort to torment her.

With my novel, I’ve created my own invisible fence- an outline. Using an outline is a matter of great debate amongst writers. Those for it argue it gives an author a bread crumb trail to follow; you can wander off it a little bit, but you’ll always know where you’re going next. Terry Brooks, in his book Sometimes the Magic Works, says “Perhaps the best reason of all for outlining is that it frees you up immeasurably during the writing process to concentrate on matters other than plot.” In other words, if you plot out the who, what, and where, then you can make the why and how more interesting. Randy Ingermanson has gone so far as to develop any entirely new method of outlining. The Snowflake method, inspired by a snowflake shaped fractal, creates a rigid formula to follow while detailing your story ( http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/snowflake.php  ). He even created a computer program to help you with the process (how helpful of him).

Alternatively, many authors find anything more than a vague plan fluttering about their head constraining. Meg Cabot says, “story ideas don’t come along often, and when they do, you have to treat them with care. Outlining them too thoroughly – even TALKING about them too much over coffee with a friend – can actually ruin them, because it can make you feel as if the story is already told” (http://www.megcabot.com/2006/10/116180229978561119/ ). Stephen King may have the strongest opinion against. In his book On Writing, he says outlining is the “the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored.” Ouch!  

At the risk of being a dullard, I find myself happily in the middle. I follow a sketchy outline, sparsely covering one page in two columns. I made it years ago in a burst of inspiration leading up to NaNoWriMo (http://www.nanowrimo.org/ ). It creates a basic framework, a fence if you will, in which my characters can go to work, fall in love, take naps, and slay dragons. I wouldn’t want to outline every chapter, every motivation; that’s what keeping my dog on a lease was like. She had a very tiny area in which to explore, and there was little room for change as there are only so many places where I could attach a leash. With the invisible fence, it is a much larger area, a lot more possibilities. Since I like to let my scenes evolve organically, an outline provides the borders I need so I don’t lost (or hit by a car, or attacked by a coyote). And the best part, if my characters do manage to wander someplace better, more interesting; then I can change the plan (what, my fence analogy doesn’t work anymore – just go with it).

Perhaps my characters and plots would be more daring, more creative if I just sat and typed. But I’ve tried just sitting and typing without a plan, and I forget half of my ideas in the muddle of daily tasks resulting in a giant heap of mish-mashed goo. Like my dog, I’m just not good enough to roam free without a fence to keep me on track.

July 26 Word Count = 41,127

 

 

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