Sue the Screenwriter || Outliners and Outlawers, Please Start Your Engines!

Posted in Blogs, Literary

BY SUZANNE KELMAN
July 6, 2016

Oh, the good old summertime. The bees are buzzing, the birds are chirping and the cotton is high. Apparently—I definitely have a stack of washing, that’s for sure.

But it is also the ideal time for planning for the fall writing challenge “NaNoWriMo” (more about that later). This is because sitting in a deck chair and dreaming is a fabulous time to let your imagination run wild, like a group of von Trapp children wearing the bedroom curtains.

woman-sitting-1232880_960_720As you sit there dreaming, you’ll probably fit loosely into one of two camps as a writer. You identify either as an Outliner or an Outlawer. And whichever you are, now is a great time for planning.

Outliners like to prepare; they like to be ready. They have journals and graphs, extended character bios, stimulating scents and special writing music. And Outlawers–well, they don’t. Outlawers let ideas stew, sometimes for months—and the summer is a fabulous time to get out the stew pot.

“Outlawers” is a made-up name, in case you thought for a second I was smarter than you are; it’s a name I have for all of us “out of the boxers.” Oh, that sounds naughty—but I guess you catch my drift, or my draught if you’re out of your underwear.

I am a hand-on-heart, confessed Outlawer or, as some people call us, pantsers. There is only one way I can write the first words of a new project, and that is by running with my hands in the air, screaming, towards the amusement park of my imagination. I arrive at my keyboard on day one with a hundred different half-blown cobbled-together ideas, scenes and sketchy characters all brimming inside me like a stovetop full of pressure cookers ready to blow.

ferris wheelThen, once I start writing, there is no real rhyme or reason to my first draft. My process goes something like this: Okay, first the Rollercoaster…no, no, the Carousel, then the Ferris Wheel…then I have to tackle those high swings and, OMG, is that the Haunted House?

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think my way is better. I actually have Outliner envy; how I wish I had all my scenes neatly typed up on a clipboard and knew everyone’s name, eye color and weight before I start. How much easier would my job be?

I did try to plot once; it was for a screenplay. It was beautiful, a fabulous shiny new storyline all ready to go, all 110 pages written out on little index cards. But the ink was barely dry on the words “Fade in” before the protagonist turned to me and told me to shut up and listen… and that was that. I have been chasing characters around ever since, writing everything they say like a frenzied reporter in a black and white film noir. I have very little to do with it. I just get out of the way and let them lead. I have more characters called ‘Jane Doe” in my first draft then a New York City morgue.

Alas, this is the creative brain I was given and, like a yarn factory broken into by a gang of mischievous cats, you know it’s all in there—you just have to unravel the whole thing.

Usually, what dictates the first tentative lines of my latest masterpiece is what shouts the loudest in the vaudevillian theater of my imagination. I can often start right in the middle of a story—some odd, unimportant scene that has been haunting me for weeks. It comes to me complete with a gang of derelict characters that I haven’t even met yet who have been following me around like a bad smell, hollering “me, me, pick me, write me!”

Now, I know some of you are nodding and smiling, and some of you have no idea what the heck I’m talking about, as you’d no sooner arrive at a first draft unprepared than at church naked.

UnknownWhich is why NaNoWriMo and I are a perfect fit—like cheese and biscuits, coffee and cream, chocolate and anything. And for all you outlawers (and especially you outliners), the Summer is a great time to start stewing and plotting.

Na-no-what-mo? (you may be saying…) Well, there may be one last writer who hasn’t heard of National Novel Writing Month. And for that one person who’s just left the convent after ten years of seclusion, here’s a breakdown of what it is.

Every year on Nov. 1, crazed, wild-eyed, coffee-drinking writers bolt out of the gate like black Friday shoppers and race as fast as their pens can carry them to 50,000 words by the end of November. The idea is no editing, just writing; no over-thinking, just writing; no “bum leaving seat,” just writing.

Having run the Nano gauntlet three previous times, I’ve gotten used to the highs and lows of the month-long process, and having lots of ideas to draw from is an excellent way to get through the dreaded mid-November NaNo blues.

So, for all you “Outlawers” and maybe a few of you sneaky “Outliners” who are intrigued by running naked, just this once, pull up a deck chair and start dreaming up the next great American novel.

Suzanne Kelman is the author of “The Rejected Writers’ Book Club” and an award-winning screenwriter and playwright. Her accolades include The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences – Nicholl Fellowship Finalist, Best Comedy Feature Script -L.A. International Film Festival and Gold Award Winner – California Film Awards.

(Suzanne Kelman’s photo, at top, was taken by Kim Tinuviel)

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