Book Review Club: Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker
Scott D. Parker
National Novel Writing Month is just over the horizon and that means everyone is trying to prepare for the sprint that is NaNoWriMo. I think most who read Barrie’s blog are familiar with the concept of writing a 50,000-word novel in the 30 days of November. I’ve done it--although not solely in November--more than once. Back in August, I hit 50,000 words in 21 days so I know I can do it. However, I didn’t complete the novel until mid-September. Yes, I know six weeks to write a 92,000-word book is nothing to sneeze at, but I wanted to see if there was a way to optimize my process and get a book done in 30 days.
Enter Take Off Your Pants. I don’t know about y’all, but when I hear the word ‘outline,’ I still think of the way we were taught back in high school with Roman numerals and capital letters. That may work for a five-paragraph essay in high school, but it’s not the best way to outline a novel. So how do you do it?
I’ve found the method of Lester Dent, the old pulp writer who created Doc Savage back in 1933. There’s a famous ‘formula’ for writing a 6,000-word short story. It’s pretty good and it’s scalable. But it didn’t have the true skeleton I wanted. I love seeing how other writers create their books, and Hawker’s book shows you, step-by-step, the process she uses.
She mentions a few times certain light bulb moments went off for her as she read other books on the craft. Well, I had one reading her book. You see, up until this helpful ebook, I have attempted to create outlines for my novels and stories, but what I started doing is crafting a plot. I started with an opening scene, the hook, and went from there. Scene after scene, event after event, I put my characters through the paces.
I always ran into a road block somewhere in the middle. I rarely fretted because I’d always re-brainstorm when I got stuck in the middle. I didn’t particularly like that, but it allowed the vicissitudes of the writing to meander along the general direction of the ending.
Hawker’s methodology is different. Sure, she gets to the scene-by-scene stuff, but she starts with character. Okay, well, I did that. I got a character and he had to go through stuff. Nope. Hawker suggests starting with character and then his flaw. What the heck? Why would you start there? Well, let me tell you a little something. I'm planning my NaNoWriMo book now (the second Gordon Gardner novel)...and merely by focusing on Gardner's flaw, nearly half of the outline emerged almost fully formed. Yeah, I couldn't believe it either. Here's my light bulb moment: by focusing on the flaw and the character as the through-line of the tale, the plot pieces are all but written. Sure, there are details, but half of my novel is, arguably, already planned out.
And I've not even started writing in the individual scene beats. The overall arc is there, the map. That was my light bulp moment.
Take Off Your Pants has numerous little nuggets like this. She has a set structure she uses. She introduces the structure, explains it, and then uses one of her own books as examples. She takes you, step by step, from zero outline to a completed one. Something that helped me was actually doing my own outline while reading and highlighting the book. By the time I finished the book, I had the overall arc all but complete. And it was only the 12th of October. And, best of all, that process only took me a few hours (of reading and writing). I got very excited when I realized how straightforward this process actually is.
Now, I can't wait for November to get here!
If you're in the planning stages for NaNoWriMo or have struggled to complete a novel, trying to Take Off Your Pants. You might be surprised at how fluidly your story flows out of you and onto paper. It has for me...so far.
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