This Is A Boring Headline

Contentment

The experts can excoriate me for not preparing a more exciting headline. The shamans, gurus, ninjas and voodoo docs of the blogosphere can slap me around for letting potential readers run away because I didn’t ask if you are guilty of sloppy writing or if you are undisciplined.

Yeah, those were among the prospective winners that I considered using but I couldn’t do it because they sucked the life out of me and any sort of sucking that doesn’t bring a smile doesn’t deserve a place at my table.

But this post is about writing. It is about storytelling. It is about how to take readers from point A to point Z without boring them.

Style, Substance and Discipline

Some of you know that I am working on several different stories that I want to publish.

That is just a sample, a snapshot of some of the pieces of the puzzles that I am working on now. You can read them or not read them, I didn’t link to them this time for promotional purposes but because they serve a couple of roles here.

They are examples of stories that remain unfinished because they weren’t written with an outline. Each of those started with an idea and I just sort of tapped at the keyboard and let my fingers tap away until other responsibilities pulled me from the keyboard or the internal editor said “you suck, walk away from the keyboard.”

Each story has some style and substance to them. There is meat there. There are issues, challenges, possibilities and opportunities that readers can relate to and that is enough to make them worth continuing.

What is lacking is discipline.

Undisciplined Writing

I am biased because those words are my babies and like most writers I want you to love them. Why wouldn’t I. Why shouldn’t I, especially if one day I want to be an award winning novelist.

There is a case to be made for being undisciplined. Some might argue that it makes it easier for the characters to tell the story. It is not hard for me to sell that. I can sell it to you just as easily as I can sell it to myself.

But I can also talk about how an outline does not prevent your characters from telling the story and how it helps to enable a deeper and more layered approach to the stories. People are not one dimensional.

A good character is someone who shows that. Look at Walter White in Breaking Bad. He is a sort of antihero.

A father and schoolteacher who learns he has a terminal illness and is terrified because before his diagnosis he is just barely keeping his head above water. Now he has to figure out how to pay for his medical needs and provide for his family after he is gone.

So he uses his advanced degree and knowledge of science to become a very successful drug dealer.

That is not the best description of the show, but it is quite good and quite compelling.

What Makes Great Writing

Great writing is subjective. What I look for is something that does more than tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. I don’t want a baloney sandwich on stale bread. I want something that has a bit more, some sort of kick.

It doesn’t necessarily mean it has to have pickles, lettuce, tomato and spicy mustard. It just needs something that gives it a bit of distinction.

What I want as a writer is to take my stories and give them that kick so that you can’t stop reading.

One of the tricks that works best for me is to take bits and pieces of my life and integrate that into the tales I tell. Fragments of fiction is what I call it because the people are an amalgamation of people I once knew.

It provides a certain amount of realism and authenticity that seems to resonate with others.

Waiting For The Click

FWIW, there are one or two stories that I intentionally haven’t finished because I am waiting for the click. There are some things that have to happen and I am confident that when that click comes I’ll put the pen on paper again.

But when it comes to the rest I think it is probably time to start working with an outline of some sort.

What about you? Do you use an outline for your writing?

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Comments

  1. Zzzzzz…..

    I have read a few books lately and the author has said they almost didn’t finish writing the book; they got half-way into it and struggled to wrap it up and lost interest. Fortunately, they had support and people read what they did have and gave them the thumbs up to find a way to finish it.

    Free style, outline, I don’t know. I think when the inspiration/creativity comes, get it down on paper. Having said that, I have probably 10 drafts that are currently languishing because I can’t pick my original thread back up. Hmmm….

    • Hi Bill,

      Make hay while the sun shines because if you don’t you sometimes lose the opportunity. That is sort of how I approach this. When I feel inspired I try to write as much as possible, it makes a significant impact and difference for me.

  2. I don’t know if an outline will help you tell a better story. Or help you know when the story should stop. Some stories are big like that. And it’s good to know where the chapter ends and the next begins. Or the novel for that matter. All of which confuse me.

    Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, wrote a fantastic little book, The Art of the Novel. Therein he defines the novel’s role in literature and human endeavor – the novel asks and answers the big questions. And, if I understood him, a great novel struggles with the most important questions of the epoch, era or generation.

    That’s quite a gauntlet that Kundera has slapped down on the table. But I have to admit that if was there no gauntlet – I might entirely forget the endeavor as a foolish vanity.

    • Hi Stan,

      That is one hell of a gauntlet that Kundera threw down, but sometimes the bigger ones are best. It is more inspiring that way, or so I think.

      I suppose to some extent is a test of our skills and wills, this book writing thing.

  3. This post is fabulous. Not only for not ignoring the “grab with the headline” rule, and THE MOST ADORABLE pic ever, or the reference to Breaking Bad (one of the best shows EVER!), but for the content that DOES sell itself! I am notorious for never using an outline. I despise them. Which is odd for someone who lives by rules and lists and everything being in order. But when it comes to writing, I like to just let it flow. I feel too choked, too constrained, too confined by an outline. As an English lit major from many, many years ago, I have to admit that they definitely work. I know we’ll be reading lots of great novels from you in the future, Jack, whether you choose to use an outline or not.

    • Hi Nancy,

      Thank you, that is very kind. You touched upon a big part of why I don’t like outlines–they choke off my creativity.

      Ok, that is not really true but it feels that way and there is joy in just writing and that is part of what I love about blogging.

      I am a recent “convert” to Breaking Bad. I just finished season two but it really works for me because of the layers.

      It is simple and complex and I love that.

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