I’m generally a nice person who respects rules and doesn’t mind their enforcement because I understand the point of rules. However, I’ve recently come across personal opinions paraded as rules and that’s not among the things I easily abide. So, it’s time for some chastising.
Very, I hear, is a forbidden word. Very does not have its own meaning, I hear, said by a teacher, apparently. Well, let me tell you two things I’ve learned the hard way, after reading millions of words I did not want to read and analysing quite a few of them: first, every word exists for a reason and very is no exception, and second, all words have meanings.
Very, to use this so convenient example, is most commonly a modifier, a meaning enhancer, if you will. Tall is not the same as very tall. Loud is not the same as very loud. But, the purists would say, very has no place in good narrative because there is always a better word to substitute the very+adjective combo. Absolutely, I would agree, but there is such a thing as appropriate word use and inappropriate word use.
If your narrative is deliberately simplistic, if the point of view is that of a child, for example, would s/he use complex words or very+adjective? I’d venture a guess s/he would say “The woman was very tall” rather than “The woman towered over me.” It’s the same with dialogue: very is a perfectly acceptable word in dialogue because we do use it very often when we speak.
So, it’s all about using words appropriately rather than avoiding certain words because someone was stupid enough tho label them forbidden. No word is forbidden and every word has its place as long as it’s the right place. I should know, I’ve been proofreading my book for four days now and I’ve seen so many words in the wrong places I want to cry a little.
And how about plotting? The second pearl of wisdom I happened to hear the other day was that, and I quote, outlining is for corpses not for creative writing. This from a creative writing professor. Witty, right? But also presumptuous, pompous, and, to keep the alliteration going, pretentious and patronising.
This opinion strongly reminded me of Wordsworth’s view that “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.” That’s the same Wordsworth who had his sister go around the place and make notes of her emotions and impressions. Yep, a spontaneous overflow like no other.
I’ve tried writing without outlining. Going with the flow. Enjoying the liberating wind of inspiration in the sails of my imagination. And ending up horrified with the crap I’ve created because I had no outline to act as a runway I can see while on the wings of creating so I don’t lose direction.
Going with the flow usually leads to a lot of revisions and rewriting, and then more revisions until you get it right. Unless you have exceptional memory, don’t stray from the main story and don’t get lost in secondary plot arcs. I am sure such people exist. They are simply not the norm because there is no norm.
Some people have developed whole plotting techniques. This does take the poetry out of story writing but who cares about the poetry if the story gets written better and more quickly? We don’t have endless time, you know. Time is precious. We should respect and use it wisely. So I’d get any help I can with plotting. I won’t say I will stick to the rules of these techniques, but I will use whatever I can from them to make my life easier. It has worked twice and it will work again.
So, no, outlining is not just for corpses. Artists sketch their ideas before they start painting. I know this from an artist. So why should writers be any different? For the sake of originality? For the feeling that their writing flows easily and naturally “like a leaf falling of a tree?” Well, guess what, Byron made drafts, too. Outlining is for corpses and for creative writing for a similar reason: to reveal a shape. The difference is, in forensics the shape revealed by the outline is, alas, no longer alive, while in writing, the shape is yet to come alive. Okay, that sounded Frankensteinian, I admit, but it’s the truth. Now go forth and outline!