Outline Distress

I can’t imagine there isn’t someone reading this who hasn’t felt the despair of sitting down and crafting out an outline, but then hitting a mental roadblock.  You’re trying to crank out the next five plot points, but it’s just not happening.  The characters are doing the same things, the plot seems stuck in place, you’re continually looking to see what the score is on the game or what Kim and Khloe are up to (EDITOR’S NOTE: Gary DOES NOT, in any way shape or form, watch “Keeping up with the Kardashians”  Gary cannot speak for Rick’s viewing tastes).

I spent yesterday doing everything except focusing on the outline.  I needed to do that to clear my head and try to find fresh direction for the characters and for the plot.  At times you can be too driven to finish your outline, perhaps because of some self-imposed deadline, and what you’re putting on the page is essentially dreck.  When you become overly obsessed with your writing, you get self-obsessed characters and overly convoluted plots. When that happens, take a day off and see if that helps get you back on track with more focus and energy.  If that doesn’t work, maybe it’s not you that’s the problem. Maybe it’s your characters and plot that are holding you back. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is let go of this world you’ve built in your head, but maybe getting them out of your head will clear up some place for new, more exciting characters and stories to tell.

I returned to our outline today, and found myself writing with a renewed sense of purpose after spending some time NOT thinking about the outline at all.  Let’s see if it helps.

When we last left our protagonist, Jinx, he was getting dressed down by Ellie for claiming he was leaving the small town he grew up in and deserting the family business.  After their argument, Ellie leaves.We need to leave the two hanging, because settling an argument easily doesn’t make for great drama.  You want that cloud hanging over them until sometime later, when they can either resolve their situation, one way or the other.  Is there an additional way to create a roadblock between them?

There are several options available.  A good one is to create a “distraction character” who may prevent him from hinder him from achieving a goal, even if it’s an unstated one.

In the case, we’ve going to introduce Cassie, a mysterious and attractive fellow student.  Jinx walks down to the dock and sits down and stares into the water, reflective. Cassie comes over, sits  next to him and tries to engage in a conversation.  Jinx has some hesitation – he didn’t expect this.  He talks about the lake and how it’s been a big part of his life, but now he looks at it, and all he sees is regret — hence, the name of the movie. Cassie offers some words of encouragement, and maybe even some words of advice.


And then there is an awkward silence, but the silence is broken by several girls running past them and jumping in the water.  Cassie jumps in with them, and gives Jinx a look as if to say: “are you going to join us?”  Jinx hesitates, and she’s off to join the girls.

An additional dilemma is now presented to Jinx:  should he pursue Cassie?  Giving the protagonist a moral conundrum tends to make for good drama — if handled correctly.

We’re now ready to close out Act I, but we need something that gets us honed in on what’s to come in Act II, and we find it in our old pal Hunter.  We land on him talking to other students about Jinxn about how it’s time to set things right for what happened a year ago.  It’s apparent that revenge is on their minds, and the die is now cast for our protagonist.

We’ll delve into Act II soon — I’m heading to the great city of Austin, Texas for a wedding, but we’ll add more of the outline shortly.  If you have comments or suggestions about how the outline is going so far, feel free to leave a comment below.  We’ll soon have a page dedicated to the outline in full so you can see how the outline looks in real time, and get an understanding of how we actively outline.

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