Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Shireen Jeejeebhoy – How to Write by The Seat of Your Pants

at 3:00 AM

How to Write by The Seat of Your Pants Outlining or Not

by Shireen Jeejeebhoy

I find writing by the seat of my pants a tad like running after an out-of-control train. You never know what disaster is about to happen or where the train will take you, yet it’s quite the adrenaline rush. The thing is: will the adrenaline rush produce a good book?

Not sure.

I prefer to outline.

A story often comes to me with an opening scene or an ending. These remain firm in my mind. They must happen. For several months, the story percolates, and I consider what research it will require. For example, my novel Time and Space needed me to bone up on theoretical physics.

Bits and pieces of the main character and scenes appeared out of the blue into my mind; every now and then, I actually had the brilliant idea of jotting these ideas down rather than relying on them to stay in my head. I began to do that on my iPad where I also sketched settings and stored photos of buildings or places where I wanted the action to happen.

Once I feel like I have done enough research to know where I’m going, once I’ve fleshed out the characters and sketched out the settings, I begin putting together an outline. There’s a screenplay method called the “Two-Minute Treatment.” Basically, on two pages, you write your story in three acts. In Act One you introduce the characters and conflict. Act Two is the mushy middle where you resolve the subplot (if you have one) while keeping the reader reading toward Act Three, when the conflict comes to a head and then is resolved (or not, if you want to drive the reader nuts).

I let the Two-Minute Treatment sit around for awhile. Then I write a brief sentence for each chapter. After that, I create index cards for each chapter in the Index Card app on my iPad with a short synopsis on one side, details on the back. Each Act gets its own card colour. This way I can look at my outline and visually see how the book will play out.

Once I begin to write my novel, I should (operative word, should) amend my outline for that chapter. Sometimes I stick to my outline. Other times, I go way off, to the point of having to rewrite the index card for that chapter or moving index cards around. Ensuring I update them as I go along makes for less work when it comes to revising. Otherwise I must do it just before I revise. A bit tedious but keeps me on track.

Despite my preference for outlining, I have written by the seat of my pants, usually as a way to let my creativity take me for a wild ride and to fuel it up for my more structured writing. I don’t think it’s any more fun or makes for better books, but it sure does make for hairier writing days.

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Genre – Christian Fantasy

Rating – PG13

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Website http://jeejeebhoy.ca/

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