Everyone Needs an Outline, Part I
By Nichole Giles
There I was, typing away at my brilliant children’s mystery story. It had mystery, it had suspense, it had kid protagonists and a priceless pair of shoes. After checking my word count, I started to sweat. Uh oh, getting close to the limit. My fingers danced across the keys, I was almost to the end, I wrote and wrote like mad and then—
AAAAHHHHH! I had lost the threads of the story. So, I did what most of us would do. I shut down and took a break. When I came back to my computer, I checked my email, surfed the web a bit, and looked at a few other documents before opening that story again. Then, I typed a sentence or two, and it hit me again. Spaghetti.
I did this for over a week, that particular story nagging at the back of my mind constantly, like an itch you just can’t quite scratch. But every time I tried to finish it, the threads of the story turned to noodles, and slipped through my fingers.
Meanwhile, I received in the mail a writing book I’ve been waiting for, and started reading. This particular book is called, “Writing for Story,” by Jon Franklin. It is meant for nonfiction writers who want to write dramatic nonfiction stories, but as I discovered, the methods and structure Jon Franklin teaches are also useful in writing fiction.
It is from him that I have borrowed the term “spaghettiing.” And he claims to have borrowed it from a team of 1970’s meteorologists.
It goes something like this: In trying to teach computers to do long-range weather forecasts, the meteorologists “programmed the ‘gas laws’ into a computer, fed in current data, and then told the computer to print out tomorrow’s weather map. It did so, and the map, while not perfect was pretty good…but when it tried to push its predictions further into the future, tiny errors in the input began to accumulate, the computer seemed to get sort of…confused…and something weird began to happen.
“Slowly the high and low pressure systems, which normally look like fat blobs on the weather map, began to narrow and curl around on themselves, faster and faster, multiplying insanely, until the next week’s weather map looked like a plate of spaghetti.” The meteorologists gave the phenomenon a name: “spaghettiing.”
The point Franklin makes in explaining the above passage is that “writing also involves the processing and integration of large masses of individually trivial bits of data. If you begin writing a story, and don’t know exactly where you’re going, any little mistake you make, or any small omissions you miss, take on added significance as you proceed. Eventually, you start losing the threads, and spaghettiing becomes inevitable.”
Now, according to Jon Franklin, the solution to spaghettiing is a simple outline. The outline he suggests is what he calls a three-word outline, and it is essentially the backbone of your story.
I tested his theory with my most recent fiction story, and was pleased with the simplicity of the idea and the ease with which my story came together. But that’s another blog.
The bottom line is, I threw my original story away, made an outline for another story, and wrote the rough draft all in one day. It’s amazing what you can do when you take control of your noodle.
To be continued…