NaNo Prep–Proof that Outlines Don’t Stifle Creativity

Once upon a time, there was an ingenious author (um… *cough*) who had a feisty critique partner who dared suggest a way to improve her book. Since my adjectives are exaggerations, if not downright lies, said author (read: me) realized the changes were awesome.

My critique partner recommended fleshing out an argument near the beginning of SMALL THINGS from one point and counterpoint to as many as possible. She gave a list of potential points, and I loved it. My right brain was apparently on vacation because even with her ideas, I had no idea where to start with the revision. So my left brain, poor frazzled substitute, did the only thing it could think of. I made a list. It looked like this:

Trey needs to take longer to convince Hayleigh. His arguments:

  • He thought she wanted to spend his last day with him
  • He thought she wanted to prove he wasn’t going to die
  • It’s her chance to finally do something

Hayleigh’s (even more important) arguments:

  • The shaman not changing anything
  • Not being able to prove it if he says he’ll die (or not)
  • Her parents being mad
  • Babysitting Charlotte

Checklist complete, I still didn’t feel ready to tackle the revisions. So I created a bare-bones, dialogue only version of the scene, starting from right before I knew I’d have to revise. One part of it looks like this:

H: No, because I’m still not going.

T: Why not? You said you wanted to keep me company.

H: I do. In Kenai. My parents will kill me if I just disappear for the day.

T: I highly doubt that. I’ve seen them. They’re still living in a haze trying to come to terms with Hunter not being here. Are you sure they’d notice?

H: (stubborn) Yes. They care about me and where I am. Even on Saturdays.

T: Text them in the morning, then, and say you’re with me on my last day. They’ll get it. They haven’t written you off yet. They want you to be happy.

H: You’re right. It’s Saturday. I have to babysit Charlotte at two.

T: On a Saturday?

H: You don’t get a 9-to-5 when you choose to be a doctor. I think they’ve been working overtime recently to prepare for taking time off before their trial. Why can’t we stick around and help?

Once I finished this bare-bones version, my right brain popped in, luggage in hand, a pic of the PDX carpet on its Instagram. Thankfully, it was ready to get to work. Thanks to the two exercises above, I knew where their arguments would start and how they would play off each other. So I got to (re)writing.

This is how that part turned out:

“No, because I’m still not going.”

“You said you wanted to spend the day with me.”

“I do,” she says, crossing her arms. “In Kenai. My parents will kill me if I disappear for the day.”

“I highly doubt that. I’ve seen the way they’ve been recently. They’re still living in a haze that won’t clear until they’re sure that Hunter’s gone. Seeing you probably makes it worse, since you look so much alike. Maybe a day off from you will be good for them.”

“Don’t talk about my parents that way,” she says. “They’re dealing the best they can.” She does not look me in the eye.

“They should be over it by now. That’s the point of expiration dates. I bet you they would be over it if they didn’t have Hunter’s lookalike still living with them.” I march down the stairs toward her and she backs up as I move, like she’s scared of me. Good. I want to intimidate her. I also want to get away from the house so we don’t wake up my own parents. I stop pressing forward when we reach the sidewalk.

“My parents cared about Hunter and they care about me. They care about where I am. Even on Saturdays.” She’s so assertive I’m sure she’s trying to convince herself more than me.

“Then text them in the morning. Let them know you’re with me. Remind them it’s my expiration date and get some pity out of it. Just don’t mention where in Alaska we actually are. If you’re right, they’ll get it. They will want you to be happy.”

“Look, Treyton. It’s not just them. I have to babysit Charlotte at two.”

“On a Saturday?”

“Doctors don’t exactly work a 9-to-5 schedule. You know that. And they need to work as much as they can. I think they’ll be taking a lot of time off to prepare for the trial and get Charlotte through her medical exams. Why can’t we just stick around and help? Charlotte misses you, you know. She’s stuck at the final boss in that video game you two love so much. Seems you were right: she can’t beat it without you.”

I grit my teeth and pull my camera close. Staying with Charlotte is tempting. Easy. Spending my final hours in her house, playing video games like everything is normal. Although then she’d have to witness my heart attack. I couldn’t do that to her. And I know in my gut the most useful place we can be is not cooped up in Kenai.

It’s probably pretty easy to tell that the dialogue isn’t the same. In the “script” version, I wanted to know where the argument was going, but I wasn’t worried about how they would say it. Once I knew that, I was able to turn my right brain on again and be creative. I surprised myself as I wrote that Treyton moved down the porch steps toward her, even though it made sense with his mood.

The takeaway:

Planning, even to the extent of a nearly line-by-line exchange, does not stifle your creativity. In fact, a little bit of left brain work can get your right brain home from vacation again, newly inspired.

This doesn’t only work with revisions. If you’re planning on tackling NaNoWriMo this year (I am!), October is the month for planning. Plan anything you’re stuck on. Let your left brain take a look and solve the puzzles so that when November 1st hits, your right brain is inspired and ready to get to work.

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