Friday, June 12, 2009

The Shopping List Theory of Outlining
By Persia Walker

So last night, I did a bit more fine-tuning of the outline of a new book. This will be the first time I've ever outlined a story so thoroughly. Until now, I've taken a jump-right-in approach. But this time, I've stumbled into a different approach. I'm hoping that the time invested now will result in a more finished first draft later.

I began the outlining somewhat accidentally. Just a few notes about this and that. You know the kind. You jot it down just so you won't forget it. Then came more notes and a need to sort of organize them -- sort of. I emphasize that because I think I'm congenitally allergic to consciously organizing anything. If organizing happens -- and it does -- then I don't want to know about it. (Which makes it really strange that I like to write mysteries, since mysteries are puzzles, and puzzles have to be organized in both theory and implementation to work properly.)

Anyway, so I started jotting down stuff about the plot and about characters and rearranging them and voila! an outline started to form. And the more I jotted down, the more thoughts came to the surface, and I thought, "Wow, I didn't know I knew this much already about this character." It's as though by writing one idea down, I cleared mental space for another idea to surface.

Hmmm... makes sense.

I mean I do it with shopping lists all the time. Write down items so I won't have to worry about remembering them, and so feel freed to promptly start thinking of other things. This idea is so simple ... so brilliant that I think I'll come up with a name for it: "The Shopping List Theory of Outlining."

Wow! I'm feeling brilliant today.


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