Archive for September, 2008

I will admit that I never used to outline at all, throwing myself into work without any thought of where I was going (or if I had a thought, I was convinced I would remember the relevant points when the time came…most of the time I didn’t and the ::ahem:: blinding flash of brilliance was lost forever) 😦

I don’t usually outline for flash pieces under two hundred words, although any longer than that and I may jot down a few lines in a notebook to keep me pointed in the right direction and keep me well away from any tangents.

Interior View

Longer pieces of work usually go through a similar start up process. I’ll have an idea (or a line or scene will come to me);I’ll stick it in my notebook and then either brainstorm a bit to flesh out what I’ve got, or leave it there until I think I need it.

Once I decide that I am going to use it, I start to flesh things out: who’s who? what do they look like (the bits I need to remember – musn’t have Hero with green eyes on page 4 and grey eyes on page 9). I’ll make a guess as to how many chapters I think I’ll have (so far, this is always wrong but doing it this way helps me with the planning). Then I start to fill in what will take place chapter by chapter, marking off who’s POV a scene will be in, and so on. If I’m on a roll, I’ll even do an outline for the last chapter – sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t.

My outlines started out on notecards but, as they tend to be quite detailed, this wasn’t feasible for long and I ended up transferring it all into a Word document.***

Now I just put things straight onto the computer, and my notes will often include dialogue or phrases that I like and want to include (although putting it into the outline doesn’t mean that it will be shiny enough to survive edits!) There will also be the odd note reminding me to look something up (e.g. a specific date something was introduced, clothing etc.)

It isn’t set in stone; chapter contents can move around, characters can change. I’ve just found, for me personally, that having some kind of plan makes it easier to continue. The starting off is usually all right – it’s the continuing beyond the first couple of pages that the outline makes possible. I usually aim for at least a paragraph per scene in the outline.

Once I’m happy with the plan, I get cracking on the actual writing and this is where the chapters begin to move around a little. This doesn’t worry me. The outline isn’t meant to be a map I stick to fervently for fear of heading off into Here Be Dragons territory, it’s more of a guideline. So if you discover your characters doing something completely different in chapter four than you’d envisaged in your outline, worry not. The outline can be altered as you go along to take new actions/ dialogue/ adventures & escapades into account.

Don’t let the outline strangle you. It’s there as a helpful tool – if it’s not helping, don’t use it. Outlines help some people all of the time; some people some of the time; and some people none of the time. If you’re in the some/none category and you prefer writing on the fly – that’s fine. 🙂 If you’re not sure whether outlining is helpful to you or not, try it on something short. If it helps the words flow from your fingers/ pen then that’s great. If, however, it leaves you blocked and grumpy then maybe outlining isn’t for you.

So. Do you outline, or not? What are your reasons either way. If you do some form of outlining, what method have you used and have there been any problems? Do you have a shining example of a great method to share with us?

Sing out!


***Some people use mind-maps/ spider diagrams and other, more visual methods to outline or plan their story.

See Jim Van Pelt’s post here for a look at the method he uses.

See also Jay Lake’s post here on his method – it also contains a link to Justine Larbalastier’s related post.

Also, take a look at the post on Editorrent on Scene Charts – this gives some advice on managing big projects.

And for those of you who love sticky-notes, Diana Peterfreund has a number of good entries on using plotboards to visualise the scene/chapter plan.


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Fans of Lord of the Rings might not automatically associate the rural landscape of The Shire with Britain’s buzzing second city, but the fact is that Tolkien grew up in Birmingham, and when he came to write his books he peppered them with local settings. In particular, The Shire was heavily based on the south-eastern suburb of Moseley, a green, leafy and prosperous area where the author spent much of his childhood, but the family moved several times and other settings have crept in too.

Some of these are better known than others. It’s fairly widely known, for instance, that Ted Sandyman’s mill in Hobbiton was based on Sarehole Mill, one of only two working watermills left in Birmingham.

sarehole mill

The mill sits near the banks of the River Cole, with its own large mill pond, and is a picturesque building dating from around two hundred years ago, although there has been a mill on the site for nearly five hundred years.

The wild tangled area of woodland and wetland beyond the mill known as Moseley Bog also features in the book since it inspired the Old Forest, the dark and terrifying stretch of woodland where the trees think and move, and all paths lead to the forest’s evil heart.

moseley bog

Tolkien regularly played in Moseley Bog as a child, and the experience clearly stayed with him for life!

Less well known features include The Ivy Bush pub, where the hobbits used to drink. There’s been a pub called The Ivy Bush on the Hagley Road in Edgbaston for many years, only a few hundred yards up the road from where the Tolkien family lived. The pub, an interesting old corner building which used to have a lovely painting of an Ivy Bush on the outside wall, is such a well-known landmark that it’s given its name to both the road junction and the surrounding area.

ivy bush

The Two Towers of the book’s second volume were almost certainly based on Perrott’s Folly and the tower of the Edgbaston Waterworks, which stare out at each other across the city’s rooftops near the shores of Edgbaston Reservoir. Although built at different times, both would have already been in existence when the family moved to nearby Stirling Road.

two towers

Perrott’s Folly (in the foreground of the picture) is thought to have inspired Minas Tirith and the waterworks Minas Morgul! The third tower, Orthanc, may well have been inspired by Birmingham University’s Edwardian Italianate clock tower, which Tolkien would likely have seen being built.

university clock tower

And the Weathertop hills? Well, hold a mirror up to Tolkien’s description of them and you have the Malvern Hills, a range of low hills only about 30 miles south of Birmingham in the county of Worcestershire. The flat-topped Amon Sul, with its ring of ramparts, is almost certainly based on the Herefordshire Beacon, which sits at one end of the range and still bears visible traces of an Ancient British hillfort.

herefordshire beacon

More widely, the story of the Scouring of The Shire is based on Tolkien’s own experiences of inter-war development. Moseley was developed in Victorian and Edwardian times and at that time was on the edge of the city, with only green fields and small villages beyond. In the 1920s, though, vast tracts of land were being built up to form the suburbs of Hall Green and Shirley and the destruction of this ancient landscape clearly left its mark on the author.

The link between Tolkien and Birmingham (and its surrounding area) isn’t as well publicised as it might be. There’s a Tolkien Trail in Moseley, which takes in the mill, the bog, and the former family home in Wake Green Road. One of Moseley’s many parks, which runs along the banks of the River Cole near the mill, has been renamed The Shire Country Park. And just lately there’s been a campaign to have a statue of an ent (designed by the author’s great-nephew Tim Tolkien) erected on Moseley village green. Even so, it’s one of Birmingham’s best kept secrets, and one which deserves to be more widely known. The city has an undeserved reputation as a sea of 1960s concrete but is actually still full of attractive hidden corners like these.

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Lost In Austen

Last night I watched Lost in Austen, which I enjoyed, although it surprised me that I did. It’s fairly obviously a clever twist on the Life on Mars idea, someone thrown into an environment that they weren’t expecting.

Basically if you didn’t see it (and there’s bound to be a repeat, or you can catch up on some online player) it’s about a girl who is obsessed with Pride and Prejudice: she reads the book almost constantly and knows it intimately, almost line for line.

It was pretty good – ITV definitely seem to be stealing the crown when it comes to historical drama – the characters from P&P were pretty close to my imagining of them. I personally liked Darcy in this a lot, he very much fit into my image of him much more than Colin Firth ever did – but then I’m not a Darcy-phile (I’ll probably have my membership of many romance blogs rescinded as I admit this) and the only incarnation I’ve ever really liked was David Rintoul in the 1980 version. (see picture, right) This Darcy is very much like him, so that’s probably why I liked him. I was never convinced by Firth, he was FAR too soppy for my money.

Anyway, I did enjoy it and for the most part the 19th century characters kept in character and fitted the language nicely. There were a couple of slips that I noticed but nothing major. I don’t have the instant “eye” for period fashions so I can’t comment on that. What I majorly objected to though was that the main character, Miss Price, was set up to be the complete P&P geek, knew the book so intimately she says that the words almost spoke themselves when she was reading, and yet when she was thrown into the P&P world she seemed to behave like a complete ignoramus. I don’t mean not knowing how to dance a quadrille, but simply making the sort of blunders that you think she’d never make. Kissing Bingley, showing her pubes to Lydia (probably corrupting Lydia completely) that sort of thing. I realise that this is deliberate and set up for comic effect, but as the writers had tried so hard to convince us that she was the expert on the book it didn’t quite gel. It might have worked better if it was someone just coming to the book for the first time and loving it a great deal.

Anyway – if you didn’t see it, try and get hold of it, because it’s fun, and something interesting on the box for a change. I’m thinking I’ll probably put a post up after each episode to discuss.

And for a finisher: Which book would you love to be Lost In? And which would you really really NOT want to be?

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Hello! Did you enjoy your summer? Mine has been fantastic especially my week holiday in Scarborough. The highlight was definitely the tudor day we went to up at Scarborough castle. We met King Henry himself and Lady Grey, we witnessed Jousting, the Fooling of the court Jester and the most amazing falconry displays ever. Here are a couple of photographic highlights from the day.

Here is Tomkin, the Court Jester. He popped up throughout the day with jokes and general fooling around. This was by far his most impressive trick -fire breathing. It was an amazing spectacular and after watching his act my cheeks ached from smiling and laughing so much.

This is a Harris Hawk and I was amazed to capture such a good photo! It was totally accidental I can assure you. The falconry that we witnessed took my breath away. We saw several different birds of prey and we found out amazing facts about the birds and the way they were used for hunting in Tudor times.  I love Birds of prey and so the falconry displays were the highlight of the day for me.

And this was one of the Jousts. The amazing thing was that they were really jousting with completely solid wooden jousts! It was totally authentic and amazingly exciting all though everything happened very quickly when it did happen.

Some of the poor riders even got hurt and the French rider got stuck in his helmet! They had to take a hammer and chisel to it to get him out of it. My daughter loved the jousting and especially loved being introduced to the horses afterwards.

We had a thoroughly excellent time and I would like to thank the English heritage for a day packed with amazing entertainment.

Oh and one last photograph of the new friend I purchased on the day with the permission of His Majesty the king. This folks is Sir Percy of Perg:

I Love Sir Percy and I was highly honoured to be allowed to take him home. Back in Tudor times you could only take Birds of Prey from the Wild if the King gave you permission to do so. I was so glad when King Henry said I could take a Peregrine Falcon home with me.

It’s not every day you get to go back in time but I thoroughly enjoyed mine.

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You may (or indeed may not) remember my first post here on the Britwriters blog. It was all about my Allotment and how I was looking forward to the bounty it would bring.

Well, it’s harvest time down at Nobbs’ (mini-)Farm and the wonderfully wet August has meant that while some of my veg has under-performed, I’ve got a bumper crop of that staple of the British diet – Spuds.

Lots and lots of lovely Spuds. I spent most of the weekend digging them up, and I’ve now got four big boxes full of the things stored away in my shed, covered up with newspaper and hopefully set to see me right for the winter.

Which, of course is good, given that the price of everything at Tesco’s has gone through the roof.

Other crops that have done well include my Courgette crop and my French Beans. My tomatoes haven’t done too well though – You need sun for good tomatoes and we haven’t had much of that this year.

Still, we’ve learnt tons this year, and Mrs. Nobbs and I will carry it through to next season – when hopefully, we’ll have an even better haul. Roll on Spring!

ps – I have to show you this photo. I think only the British could do this. On a plot a few down from ours is the best scarecrow in Britain. What do you think of him? Nice Jacket, huh?

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