Today, it is my pleasure and honor to welcome BEEM WEEKS as my guest during the RRBC GOVERNING BOARD APPRECIATION MONTH. Beem is this week’s “SPOTLIGHT” Author and SO DESERVING of this honor. He serves on the RRBC Governing Board as the Reviews Co-Ordinator and works endlessly for our members.
Join us as we dive into the world of writing………
Processing The Art Of Writing – To Outline Or Not!
As a writer of fiction, I’m an outliner. It just makes sense to me. I wouldn’t write a blog article about civil unrest in some third world country without first investigating the matter. Only the foolish would write about something of which they know little or nothing at all.
That’s the same approach I take when writing fiction. Just because I have an idea for a story, that doesn’t mean I know anything about the characters, the deeper plot, or to where it may lead. The outline is your GPS or roadmap guiding the writer from start to finish.
Ideas come at me from all sorts of directions. When a keeper strikes, I’ll jot the notion onto a piece of scrap paper and tuck it away for when the appropriate time arrives. Once I begin, I’ll collect all those little scraps and assemble them into their proper order. From there, I’ll start outlining the timeline. As I flesh out the characters, they’ll grow and change in accordance with the timeline.
The next step for me is research. Who are these people I’m creating? In which era are they residing? Are they living in the United States? If so, which region? Are the POV characters male or female? Am I writing an elderly character or a young person? In my opinion, accuracy is vital to any well written story.
Jazz Baby is set in 1925. I’ve never lived in that decade. I need to know many things about the Roaring Twenties before I can accurately portray life in that time. Research teaches that prohibition was law of the land from 1920 until 1933. To write a scene in which a character strolls into the corner liquor store to buy a bottle of bourbon would taint the story. Alcohol and liquor stores were illegal in 1925 America. And they wouldn’t be driving around in their cars listening to the radio, either. Automobiles didn’t come with radios at that time.
Emily Ann, the protagonist and narrator of Jazz Baby, is Mississippi born and raised. She also comes from a lower class of people. She’s not going to speak with a posh tone. Nor will she speak as a northerner, using the common words I might use during the course of a day. There’s a lot of twang and a little dirt in her words. That region of the country has its own dialect—and there would be words unique to the 1920s.
Finally, Emily Ann is a 13-year- old girl. I am not. I’m a (nearly) fifty-year- old male. A man cannot just sit down and write a girl into existence and expect her to be believable. The point is, without research, everything we write about is just a guessing game.
Once the research is adequate—it’s never complete until the story is finished—I’ll make various notations in appropriate places along the outline. Then it’s time to write. The first draft will always get a complete rewrite. I’ll share the second draft with a couple of trusted beta readers.
By the third draft, the story should be ready for the editor—again, a trusted professional. I’ll spend a lot of time tinkering with dialogue, reworking scenes that may not flow as well as they should. By the fourth rewrite, I’ll hand it to the beta readers one more time. If all checks out, it’s back to the editor for one last combing. Once the cover art is settled, it’ll go to the publisher.
Yeah, sure, it’s a lot of work—not to mention time consuming. But it’s my work. What I write will remain long after I’m dead and gone. I’m not interested in leaving anything but my best. It’s a legacy thing. That’s something in which all writers should take a measure of pride.
Oh My Gosh! When Does It End?
Writing entertaining stories and articles takes skill and know-how. But there’s more to writing than simply constructing sentences, scenes, and characters—though these are worthy and necessary talents to possess.
Outlining helps keep the plot in place. An outline is merely a road map meant to guide the author from the beginning of the journey to its ultimate climax many chapters later. An outline allows for travelers (both writer and reader) to exit the highway and visit attractions found in that area between start and finish.
Creating characters that are compelling and alive will ensure the reader retains interest throughout the story. This is perhaps the most important aspect of telling a great story: If your characters are dull and lifeless, than so too will be your story. The only good dead characters are zombies and vampires.
Okay, so you’ve outlined your story. You’ve developed believable characters that you can actually hear inside your head. They have personality and charm; they can even make your readers laugh or cry or feel anger. You sit at your desk (or wherever it is you feel most comfortable) and you begin your story. This is actually the easy part. The scenes unfold with ease as your fertile imagination gives birth to word combinations that nobody else has considered. Time ceases its existence. Days blur into weeks, weeks run together forming months.
Before you know it, the journey is almost over.
Next on the itinerary is the ending. That perfect place to bring the characters, the plot, and the months of your hard work to its ultimate close.
But how and when and under what circumstances will this story end? The ending can make or break a story. A misplaced ending will sink even the best stories. So how do we decide on the finish line? That is something the author should always have figured out before putting the very first sentence onto the page. You should know exactly where you are going before you load the kids, the dog, and suitcases in the car and jump onto the highway. The getting there, those spaces in between start and finish, are open to changes and tinkering along the way. The ending is something that must stand out. It is the very last moments of your creation. It’s what remains with readers in their immediate memories. An ending that lingers and comes back to a reader without invitation is usually the best sort of finish.
There really is no stock answer for a proper ending. Some authors prefer to tie up all loose ends, leaving little to ponder—Jimmy and Thelma eloped and ran off to Fiji, where they grew old together and lived happily ever after. However, some authors choose to leave endings loose and open to interpretation—Jimmy and Thelma ran away together, but did they marry? Did they ever get to Fiji? Or did they decide on Hawaii, because Jimmy had gone there as a child and had always dreamed of returning?
By tying up loose ends, the author signals closure to this particular journey. By leaving ends dangling in the breeze, this invites readers to become part of the journey. We get to decide what has happened to these characters that we’ve invested time into getting acquainted. Neither way is wrong.
When do we end our story and prep it for that first rewrite? Only the author will truly know that answer. Have your characters and plot line arrived at that point you imagined before beginning?
Is Disney World in sight? Check the map; make sure your destination isn’t supposed to be the Eiffel Tower. If everything feels right, go back to the beginning and start that rewrite! Most importantly, have fun.
Beem Weeks is the 40-something- year-old indie author of several short stories, poems, essays, and the historical fiction/coming-of- age novel Jazz Baby. A divorced father of two grown children, Beem has lived in Florida and Georgia, and is currently calling Michigan home.
Among his literary influences he counts Daniel Woodrell, Barbara Kingsolver, and Stephen Geez. He’s been writing since childhood, having co-authored a play he saw performed by and for classmates and staff during his time in fifth grade. As a teenager and young adult, Beem wrote concert and record reviews for a small publication. Journalism had been his intended field from an early age, but all that changed with the publication of a short story that eventually led to his first novel, Jazz Baby. Beem enjoys indie films, loud music, and a well-told story. His latest release is a short story collection entitled Slivers of Life. He is currently hard at work on his second novel—though that’s a slow-go at times.
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Until next time………… Happy Reading & Reviewing!!