Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Hybrid Approach to Outlining

Where do you get your ideas for your novels?  Do you outline your novels before you begin writing?  Do you have an ending in mind?  How do you maintain continuity as you write?  These are questions frequently asked of authors, and from what I’ve read, their answers vary.
For me, I start with a ‘premise’ for a novel.  It’s usually high level, more of a concept than a story.  As an example, in Better Late Than Ever, I was inspired by a bachelor friend who’d recently retired to a warm-weather, planned community.  I thought I’d add a 'fountain of youth' aspect to his retirement experiences and set the story a few years into the future to enable yet-to-be-discovered medical advancements to come into play.  That was it.  That’s all I had when I began.  I had similar detail when I began writing my other novels. 
My next step is to write the first chapter, or maybe a couple chapters, to introduce the characters and establish the setting for the story.  Getting 10 to 20 pages in print also gets the creative juices flowing. After this, I will start to build an outline of where the story will travel next.  My outline, which is really a collection of bullet points (or story developments) grouped into chapters, might be five or six chapters in length, or it might even stretch to the end of the book, but at this point, the outline is very malleable and in dire need of content.
As I write and flush out content, I continue to maintain the outline with each chapter getting better-defined bullet points.  Over time, the outline becomes a reference for keeping track of where characters, plot developments, and details are introduced and for maintaining continuity as I move forward. The outline is also useful in quickly reviewing each chapter and rating them for interest, suspense, or drama, and then going back and ‘beefing up’ the story where it’s needed.
My outline stays ahead of the novel, but evolves with it. By the time I’m finished, the outline has developed into a detailed summary of each chapter, with ten or more points each.   It’s a hybrid approach to writing, somewhere between those who outline their entire novel first and those who just sit down and write.  One approach focuses on structure and continuity, and the other optimizes free-flowing, creative thought.  I like to think my approach blends both, but in the end, it’s best to use whatever works best for you.

Don’t like my approach?  Here’s a look at the routines of famous authors.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tech Expenses - Are Yours Out of Control?

I just looked at my cable TV and cellular phone bills.  Have I gone mad?   Have we ALL gone mad?  Whatever happened to having a home phone hanging from the wall with a 20-foot spiraling cord and being satisfied with three network channels?   Do I (we) really need all these apps, cable channels, turbo internets, and streaming? I’m still not sure what streaming is, only that it requires another box and monthly fees.
It’s just my wife and me at home, but we each have a smart phone.  We also have two homes with internet and cable TV at each.  Before you get the wrong idea, it’s not like we retired and bought a second home in the Hamptons.  We each brought a modest home into a mid-life marriage, both with a mortgage that we spent a lifetime paying.  Mine is in the mountains where it’s cooler, hers in the city where there’s civilization, so we kept them least for now. 
Anyway, if not for what we pay for cellular phones, cable TV, and internet services, we might actually be able to afford a home in the Hamptons.  The total amount of these bills is rapidly approaching our largest monthly expense.  I’d provide the actual number, but it’s embarrassing.
The crazy thing is our fees would be much higher if I didn’t engage my cable providers in a regular dialogue.   You see, they will continue to increase your fees unless you occasionally call and question the undecipherable list of offerings on your monthly invoice.   They claim that “packaged offerings,” or promos, expire, which causes your bill to periodically spiral upward.  One of our monthly cable bills recently rose 80%, excessive even by cable company standards, so I called.  After an eternity on the phone analyzing each line item on the invoice, the customer services agent (a misnomer) magically found more packaged offerings.  Our bill still increased 20%, which is probably what the cable company had planned anyway, so I’m not sure who won.  It’s such a game.  I wonder what the customers who don’t call are paying. 
I’ve thought about getting rid of all of it.  You know, going out for dinner and actually talking with my wife without each of us thumbing our way through our smart phone apps as we wait for our food.   I’d like to try going back to a “dumb” cell phone, one that only makes calls (okay, also texts) and a digital TV antenna to access local broadcast channels.  I’ve checked.  In our area, there are over 20 channels broadcast over the airwaves.  That’s right, floating for free, right outside my window are digital HD channels.  Do I really need more than 20?  Have I (we) become so “wired” to social media and cable TV that suggesting I would give it all up sounds like I should be committed?  I think not.
As a first step, I decided to give up cable TV and just get internet (a service I need more than want) from my cable provider. I bought a digital TV antenna for $30 and found the picture quality as good as cable and the channels were acceptable.  I figured getting rid of cable TV should cut my cable bill at least by half.   Wrong!   It turns out it would only reduce my bill by 30%.  You see, “bundles” are not really bundles; they are “handcuffs.”  Since my cable provider is my only source for internet, I am captive.  I can’t escape, unless I want to take up residence at a nearby coffee house with free Wi-Fi.
It’s my view that I (we) will get to the point where we’ve had enough. I’m old enough to remember having just one house phone and watching a TV with only three network channels.  I survived.  I’m sure I would survive with a “dumb” cell phone and a digital TV antenna with 20 local channels.  Our homes are filled with books that we haven’t read, or haven’t read in years, and there’s a library down the street.
Maybe it’s time we all go back to the future.