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Pants or Bullets
The cliché is that writers are of two types. Either they do outline structures and then work them into a story, or they write story stuff and bash it into some coherent structure. Those of the last type are called pants-ers (as in writing by the seat of your pants). I’ll let you guess what the outliners are called.
I am both a pants-er and an outliner, although I think the word outliner is misleading since I do not outline, I bullet. That is, I write a list of thoughts about character, plot, a scrap of dialogue, back-story, setting, motivation, or anything I can summarize in just one paragraph. If it takes more than a paragraph to do a bullet, I pants-it and keep writing as I would for a scene or a setting or narration, because I always like to go with the flow and never stop until I either run out of flow, or I simply must go to the bathroom… which is kind of like going with the flow …or flowing with the go.
When I run out of stuff to put in bullets, I arrange the bullets into some logical order and read them through as if I were telling the story to one of my sisters. If no more bullets present themselves, I do one of several things: If I’ve spent at least two and a half hours at the computer, I break for lunch or exercise or solitaire or something. If I haven’t spent two or three hours in the chair (as my sister the writer puts it), I scan the bullets for one that begs to be turned into a scene because the characters are starting to talk to me. (Sometimes I have to ask them first what they’d like to say.) When that happens, I flow with the scene until I can’t anymore. Then I copy that bullet and move that scene (or whatever it is) into a separate document called the manuscript. If the three hours aren’t up, I may edit the manuscript a bit, otherwise I go back to the bullet list. When I see two bullets in a row, I ask the story if there should be another bullet between them. If not, I ask the story how I can get from one particular bullet to the next by some humorous or menacing or other interesting segué. This segué might turn into at least part of a scene for one bullet or the other. If a segué doesn’t seem right but something needs to be there, I just let the gap stand and put a blank line or one of those ellipsis thingys in there.
I got that trick—that process—from a buddy of mine, Greg Sager. He has a Masters degree in theater from Kent State University, and in the days before home computers he used 3x5 note cards to develop a script before writing it: He wrote ideas and other stuff on the cards and, as the pack of cards grew, re-arranged them into whatever order seemed best. When he got a good idea that belonged inside the pack somewhere, he just put the card in the likeliest looking place. If he knew there should be a card between two other cards but he didn’t quite know what to put on it, he put something like “ToDo” as a place-holder. It was easy to develop a story this way. When the pack read enough like a story and didn’t have any blank or ToDo cards, he turned it into a script. That was decades ago. These days we use computers, but the net result is the same. I know I’m done with my first draft when all bullets can be removed from the manuscript because they’re either useless or they’ve been turned into story. Then the real work begins: Editing, although the truth is that I’ve always been editing bullets and scenes in bits and pieces after they've been pantsed onto the page.
One last point: When I get stuck, I start asking questions of the story, like: “How do I get from here to there?” or “Why does this scene seem flat?” or “Why would that character do that?” or “Should that line be given to another character?” or some such thing. Such questions are the key. I use them to get things flowing again. Sometimes I get to a place in the story where I’ve painted myself into a corner and questions just don’t come. Then I have to ask the default question, “Lord Jesus, how do I get out of this mess?”
My dad was an Electrical Engineer and began my formal education at bedtime by reading me Pogo comic books. He probably lighted my fascination with history by explaining the political satire in Walt Kelly’s work. My academic career had a matte finish but with a few bright spots. The business of getting good grades rarely interfered with learning how things worked. I studied Engineering until I decided not to follow so closely in my father's footsteps.
I graduated as a teacher with a double major of history and math, but went into business for ten years or so. Since then I've worked as a hired gun (consultant programmer) at Office Max, Sherwin Williams, etc., and recently retired from Goodyear. Now I’m a writer. The necessary education of a writer is to be a reader, which I have been doing ever since Pop read me Pogo. Some of that lifetime of reading will show in Diary of a Robot because it seemed impossible to me to write a science fiction story without packing it full of history. I decided to finish and publish that book before it became history instead of Sci-Fi. (The sequel is plotted, the first few chapters are done (for a while), and it also may turn into history if I don't get a move on since part of it takes place on Mars.)
Banana Oatmeal Doggie Cookies
Homemade, no preservatives, no additives, wheat free. We made these for Toby since he had an early allergy to beef, or at least to the preservatives in beef raw hides. We give these as a treat whenever we go out of the house but leave the dogs behind. The trainers like them too. This helps since sometimes the treat must be held in the trainer's lips and dropped down to the dog.
6 cups old fashioned oatmeal (do not use quick oats, ie. chopped up oats)
3 cups smashed ripe bananas
1/2 cup applesauce (use the kind with no preservatives)
Mix together and form into heaping teaspoon, soup spoon, or tablespoon size depending on the size of your dog or dog trainer, and place them on either a baking stone or a greased cookie sheet. Bake in a 350 degree oven until hard and golden brown. Put them on a cooling rack, and when cool, keep them in the refrigerator since these will get moldy if not refrigerated. They can be stored in the freezer, and thawed for use without getting mushy.
Bread Machine Liver Treats
We use these during training as a reward and incentive for the dog. The trainers have shown no interest in eating them, but every dog in the ring will be interested, believe me. In Ohio these need no refrigeration if used within a few weeks. We have frozen them as well, and they work just fine when thawed, not getting mushy at all.
Place ingredients in bread pan according to you bread machine's manufacturer's directions and select "Dough" cycle. When the cycle is done, remove the dough to a lightly flowered counter top using whole wheat flower (preferably). Roll out with a rolling pin until the dough is about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 1 inch strips and roll again. Cut into small bite-size pieces, depending on the bite of your dog. Place the pieces on a baking stone or lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees until they are hard and crunchy (approximately 20 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces). Store in a sealed container or zip locked bag. You can also roll the dough out on a floured surface about 1/4 inch thick and cut with your favorite doggie cookie cutter and bake until hard, about 25 to 30 minutes. Store in sealed container.