Why I use Outlines

Outlines for fictions writing are not for everyone. The population of writers is often divided into two great camps; the pantsers who write without an outline, powering through their daily prose by force to spontaneous creativity and plotters who plan and detail the map of the work before setting out to explore the lands of their imagination.

Neither approach is superior to the other. Every writer has to find the tools and the techniques that work for them. Hell from project to project your approach may change. On some books by outlines are fairly spare, barely more than dozen pages for a full novel and yet for the current work in progress I have nearly 30 pages of outline and I have yet to reach the middle of the story.

Aside from a natural inclination and effects of being trained as an plotter, why do I use outlines? What are the tangible benefits they produce for me?

First of foremost it keep me from getting lost in the weeds of the plot. With a good outline I can survey where I am in the writing and look forward to when I need to be. If I feel stuck and confused, re-reading the outline will often show me where I took a wrong turn and enable me to resume the right course.

But even before I get to the writing stage the outline is a helpful tool. As I step through the story, the outline forces me to take the vague concepts and character and look at them through the hard prism of scenes. What do I need to make the story move forward? What have I not considered?

For example as I outline a sequence in the WIP where characters board another ship i found myself thinking about the security forces and what would be needed. hat prompted the questions did the ship carry any Marine? If not then who provides the physical security for the mission?

Learning about those questions in the outlining stage and therefore answering them long before I get to writing those scenes saves me time and allows for proper establishment. Now it’s possible to answer to questions as you write, pantsers do it all the time. But for me when I answer those questions in the outline it also means that I get to see the consequences of the answers I selected before they become trouble. The wrong answer could imperil the resolution of the plot and I for one hate the idea of rewriting half a book or more because I went with the wrong answer.

As I have said this tool is not for everyone and if you know that, more power to you, but if you have not yet found your method, at least explore the outline.


Awards – Not Really Caring

Mind you I am happy when my friends win award, and should I ever be so lucky to be even nominated for an award I will be thrilled, but aside from those cases, awards don’t matter that much to me.

There will always be awards given to films, stories, songs, and other projects that didn’t work for me. There will always be projects that I think are heads and shoulders better than their competition that lose. (Yes I am looking at Titanic and L.A. Confidential.)

However even when projects I love lose that doesn’t mean a lot. After all the book, story, song, and movie remain unchanged. The reason I loved or admired them remains unchanged and I do not need the validation of others to make me feel good about my tastes.

So congratulations to everyone who has won an award, to those nominated, but also to those who create, fight, and keep on going without the acclaim. We are all artists and we are all in the arena.


You Were Never on the Team

Anyone with a passing knowledge of the current social/political wars is likely aware of one Milo Yiannopoulos. To many, including myself, he comes off as nothing more than a cyber-bully. An immature brat wallowing in the false glow is celebrity because he treats his fellow human beings terribly. He was a major star in the right because he so gloriously offended the left. Never mind that the offense was justified. Never mind that he his outrageous attacks and bullying hurt people, he was their star, their attack dog.

What he never was was a member of their team, he was never part of their circle. He was a tool, he was weaponized abuse. This was very profitable for Yiannopoulos, he got speaking gigs, and massive book deals. People followed him and mistook him for someone of substance, but that was all illusion. Perhaps Yiannopoulos knew his position as tool, perhaps he thought he had been accepted. I don’t know what goes on in his mind and frankly I don’t care.

In my opinion he is a loathsome human being and his downfall was utterly predictable. The powerful interests enjoyed his act, it infuriated all the right people and it allowed them, through hi, to put out the most hateful ideas and attacks while standing behind the skirts of ‘it’s all free speech and if you can’t take it you must be some sort of special snowflake.’

Of course a shock jock has to go for bigger and bigger shocks, yesterday’s are as stale as last week’s bread, and the quest for bigger badder shocks means eventually you cross a line and Yiannopoulos did just that. Suddenly the right found that he was offending people that they didn’t want to offend. Suddenly it was no longer a game and as though he were a broken sword they tossed him aside.

I shed no tears for his lost money, his lost fame, his lost meaning, it was all illusion. Outrage is not debate.


Pet Peeves

This is not an exhaustive list but just a couple of things I see in movies and television that irk me.

I once read a science-fiction novel where the author took the time to describe the conjoined circles view through a pair of binoculars. I very nearly threw that book across the room right there.

This is a sign that the author only knows what he sees in Hollywood movies. The point of binoculars is that they allow you binocular vision just as you have with your own eyes. You know the two eyes you have in the front of your head. When you peer through them you do not see two circles that overlap like a bad Venn diagram. You see one circle and the view has depth.

Recently I watched the Netflix period/historical drama The Crown. It’s damn good and should be watched if for no other reason than the great performances, but when they presented the correct view through a pair of binoculars I nearly shouted in triumph. It is a little thing, a tiny detail, but details are important. If you get something so basic wrong how can I trust you as a film make or story teller to get the important details right? I would love to find out which movie started this damned trope so I can curse it.

Another optical pet peeve is the view through a sniper scope. You all know the picture. A person, usually a bad guy, is holding a scoped rifle. He pulls it to his shoulder, and peers through the scope. The shot changes to a POB through the scope showing crosshairs fixed firmly on the target, if it is a bad guy you can count on the crosshairs settling right onto the target’s head. Those crosshairs are rock steady.


Take out your cell phone and set up the camera. Focus on something distant and then zoom all the way to the subject while holding the camera/cell phone steady. Do you see how much the image moves? Up, down, side to side, it really hard to hold it steady and you certainly can’t replicate the tripod perfect shot presented as a hand held scoped rifle.

If you are making movies, or writing stories please pay attention to such things. Don’t assume that Hollywood has taught you anything factual because really you can’t trust the movies.


S.M.E.s and Cultural Conservative Hysteria

At my day job we have people whom we refer to as S.M.E.s for Subject Matter Experts. When you have a tricky question about an arcane rule or regulation these people are generally the ones with the answer you need. (Never would I have I thought that playing StarFleet Battles would be good job training, but it make this particular day job so much easier to learn.)

Writers often consult SMEs for their works. Need to know how a morgue handles dead bodies for your zombie story, go ask them? Need some legal double speak to dazzle the characters, consult with a lawyer. The same for sciences, the military, and uncountable other areas. No one can be an expert in all things that’s why writers dedicate their books to those who helped illuminate the way while taking the blame for the errors.

All this should sound pretty dull, but the whole thing explodes the moment you venture in cultural issues.

Recently conservative columnist Rod Dreher posted an article on-line decrying the use of sensitivity readers. In reality sensitivity readers are simply SME for under-represented groups. If I am writing a story about an physicist not only should I consult with a physicist about the science but a person of the Islamic faith to make sure I get both parts rght. This goes for all sorts of people because in reality we humans come in a blinding and beautiful array of styles, colors, and cultures.

Mr. Dreher seems to think that this is surrendering creative control. That this is ‘pc’ run amok. That is utter bull.

I know a number of writers. They cover a vast swath of political and cultural attitudes and I can’t think of a single one that would surrender control of their manuscript. Yes we seek input and opinion, particularly when we are writing outside of our direct experience, but we also hold the final cut. No beta reader, SME, or sensitivity reader controls the words on the page.

In my opinion Mr. Dreher has always been one of the more hysterical voices when it comes to religious and sexual issues. It seems he holds an idealized and utterly realistic vision of what American and humanity has been in the past and longs for a return to that comfortable, for him and his people, fantasy

Well, I am not here to make people comfortable …


Sunday Night Movie: The Caine Mutiny

Last night’s movie served a dual purpose, it functioned both as entertainment and as research. Entertainment because The Caine Mutiny has always been one of my favorite films. I dare say that I watch my Blu-ray of it more often than I do ether Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon. Research because my current work in progress is on one level about a dysfunctional wardroom and how that undermines the ship’s commanding officer. Now the specifics are very different in my WIP than in the classic movie. My WIP is not about a duplicitous officer and hopefully my captain is more relatable and heroic than the poor broken Queeg.

The Caine Mutiny is one of those rare film that I find difficult to watch only a portion. Many movie I can start and stop, or back in the days of channel surfing, watch a brief bit in the middle before moving on, but that has never been the case with this movie. When I had a lasrdisc player it was one of my first purchases, and when I moved to DVDs I acquired a copy in that format as well. For several years I’ve had my Blu-ray version and the film has never looked better. (Though I have yet to see a properly projected version in an actual theater.)

Based on the fantastic novel, The Caine Mutiny is the story of the officers if the DMS Caine. (Destroyer Mine Sweeper) It is World War II and Willis Seward Keith an immature offspring of a rich family has become a newly commissioned ensign in the U.S. Navy. Assigned to the Caine, a duty station he views as a bitter disappointment, Willie discovers that the junkyard navy falls far below his expectations. Too young and too inexperienced to understand the nature of the Caine, Willie rejoices when the captain is replaced with hard-nosed, by-the-book, Captain Phillip Francis Queeg.

A change of command turns out to be the spark that lights a fire culminating in the ship nearly sinking and Willie along with another officer finding himself standing before a court-martial on charges of mutiny.

Truly one of the best films to come out of classic Hollywood, The Caine Mutiny not only is faithful for the original work, but where is seriously diverges from the text of the book serves the different medium without undercutting the themes and point of the source material.

If you have not seen this film, waste no time in finding a copy, it will be well worth your effort.


A Strange Sight

So today my sweetie-wife and I were taking out usual Balboa Park walk when we came across oan interesting scene. Picture this;

A man with a brilliant green mustache dressed in a white suit and matching Panama hat clutching an over sized ruby running through the tress as he is chased a man in sun glasses and cat-suited women wearing domino masks and wielding katanas.

It was a film production. Looked like a student project. We stopped, watched for a few moments and exchanged a few words.

Man, I miss my own amateur film production days.



Demons of Doubt

I think all writers wrestled with doubt, about themselves, their work, and their talent. Doubts like these plague me as fiercely as they do most authors. On one hand it sees silly and kind of strange. After all I have very rarely been bothered by rejections. I’d submit stories and novels only to get some form rejections and 99% percent of the time I’d simply turn the piece around and send it to a new market.

Despite this seemingly invulnerability to an aspect of the business that wounds so many other writers doubts still dogged by footsteps. Even as my writing improved the not silent inner voice would occasionally raise the charge that everything I produced was at best second rate, lacking style, imagination, or voice. Hell in the last few weeks that voice has tried to suggest that at any moment I’d going to get an email from my agency announcing that they are no longer m agency, having moved one to a more talent writer. That’s not happening, it is the irrational doubt that suggests that nothing from reality supports it.

So how do you handle that voice?

As far as I can tell there is only one way to deal with the doubt, write anyway. If you don’t write the doubt will be there still and strengthened by your inactivity. If you write the doubt will remain, but every time you put words in a row, every time you complete a piece, every time you submit you resist the voice, you defy the doubt, you win one more battle.

Note, winning is not publication. Winning is not payment. Those are things outside of your control and if you rely upon those as your victory conditions you are empowering the Demon of Doubt. Keep your goals and your victories within your controls. Write. Write often, those are your victories.


Our National Wound

Trump has lost two senior advisers, one who had been placed National Security Advisor, due to improper ties and communication with Russia, a country that many in our intelligence community believes worked to not only disrupt our presidential election but whose preferred outcome was the election of an untested narcissist.

I do find it ironic that many of those who have repeated allegations as fact that Edward Kennedy sought Soviet help in stopping Reagan’s election are suddenly so silent and insistent upon airtight evidence in the Trump allegations. It always depends on whose ox is getting gored.

I have also heard people on the liberal side calling for some sort of special election; in effect a presidential do over. People, that is not going to happen. To the best of my knowledge there is no provision whatsoever in our constitution for a special presidential election. If you truly want to remove all of the Russian tainted personnel from the executive branch there is only one way to get that done before 2020. I am not saying it is something that can be achieved, too many people have tied themselves to the wheel of the Sailing ship Trump and they are hoping that the storm doesn’t sink them.

Step One: VP Pence steps down. No so far nothing his tied him directly to any of the Russian issues but he’s Trump’s pick ad that alone is a taint.

Step Two: The truly impossible step – Trump names someone as the new VP that is a Republican who is acceptable to the Democrats in the Congress. No Tea Party, Freedom Caucus, is going to make it but it would have to be someone most conservative would call a ‘RINO.’ It has to be that way because the fact of the matter is that the GOP controls Congress and no one is going to be approved except a Republican.

Step Three: The new VP leads the Cabinet in removing Trump as president under the 25th amendment and both houses of Congress approve.

Step Three: The newly minted President fires everyone hired by the last one and we reboot the Administration.

All of this is within the constitution but it is not going to happen. Trump would not play ball, Pence may not, and with the current enmity in congress even the possibility of a foreign power holding influence over the white house will not spur the left and right to work together.

No, we are stuck with Trump until Pence and the Cabinet remove him or he is impeached but both options require the GOP to possess a spine.


It’s Not a Dumpster Fire It’s a Meltdown

Recently on twitter I called the Trump administration a dumpster-fire, but now, as the title of this post suggest, I am revising it upward to a core melt-down. The control rods are stuck, the reactor temp is rising quickly, and no one know how to operate the scram systems.

The level of leaking, backstabbing, lying, and defenestration currently exhibited by the White House is the sort of thing you would expect a few years into an administration that has been fighting a long running scandal. It has been less than a month since Trump took office and the future looks long and bleak.

It does not help that the GOP, having sold their souls for thirty electoral votes, now find themselves chained to a drowning man who insists that they are in fact on dry land. Plugging their fingers into their ears and screaming ‘I can’t hear you!’ they studiously ignore the growing scandal that is their president. I think the best hope for the GOP is if they could find a quick way to remove 45 from office, but that is not going to happen. Impeachment takes time and a spine, something congressional Republicans have in short supply. Invoking the 25th amendment could have him out in less than a month but that requires VP Pence to lead the charge and convince more than half of the Cabinet to back him up and Trump’s Cabinet appears to have been picked for loyalty to him and not the nation has a whole. No, it looks like the GOP and the nation are stuck with Trump on one side and the ‘Freedom’ Caucus on the other. If this maintains throughout 2017 and into the next year the mid-term election could be interesting.