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.
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?