OP? Me?

Ocean Pacific

Paula’s Post #54 – In yesterday’s post, Confessions of a NOP, Silk revisited the age-old debate regarding the merits of being an ‘OP’ (Outline Person) or ‘NOP’ (No Outline Person).

With a cute little kitty photo splashed across the masthead, she confessed:

“…I’m looking forward to outlining my next book the way a cat looks forward to a visit with the vet..”

Further on in her post, in what can only be described as a pathetic attempt to whip up some enthusiasm for the 5writers task at hand, (to wit: creating a fully envisioned, detailed outline of our next novels-to-be on or before February 5th, 2014) she surveyed the attitudes of her fellow 5writers, commenting:

“Paula became a convert last year, whipping out her first action-packed YA novel in, like, two weeks thanks to her well-planned outline. Okay, maybe not two weeks, but fast. And no one has more story concepts than Paula, so the faster she can write, the better.”

Yeah. right. Maybe not two weeks.

And where did that novel end up? So far, on the proverbial cutting room floor, fun to write, but in the end, uninspiring. At least uninspiring enough for this 5writer that I have no present interest in tackling drafts two, three and four in an effort to get it agented and published.

But, as usual, I digress.

The topic at hand is ‘OP’ vs. ‘NOP’, so let’s set the record straight on a few details. For the record, until relatively recently, ‘OP’ meant only one thing to this wanna be surfer: Ocean Pacific, the manufacturer of beachwear inspired by the California dreamin’ surfing culture. 

Flash forward 20 or 30 years – oh, hell, maybe more like 40 – and I admit that it has been a long, long time since I’ve been able to fit into a pair of OP boardshorts, but that doesn’t mean I’m any more likely to immediately think ‘Outline Person’ when I hear the letters ‘O’ and ‘P’ strung together in that particular order.

I do not, and perhaps never will consider myself an ‘Outline Person’. I might even go so far as to say I have an irresistible urge to  shout to the heavens: ‘I am not now, nor have I ever been, an ‘Outline Person’.

But I admit it. The sad truth is that I’m having a lot of trouble getting my writing back on track.

Silk’s right, no one has more creative story ideas than I do. The visual I like best for this is a theatre electric popcorn machine on overdrive, story ideas exploding in my brain like popcorn kernels flying from the bowl.


But where do these ideas invariably end up?

That’s right. What better metaphor to mix then to say the vast majority of these brilliant and not so brilliant ideas seem to end up on the proverbial cutting room floor.

So, to paraphrase Casablanca’s Rick Blaine, it doesn’t take much to see that story ideas alone don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

And all this means I have to take a good long look at how I managed to spew out a novel in, if not two weeks, something like three months. It means I have to take a good long look at doing some writing math.



Another thing I’m not good at, but somewhere in my fuzzy brain I’m struggling with the concept of ‘ratios’. During our epic, 5 month writing challenge, this translated into spending about 1 month outlining and 3 or 4 months of writing.

But what if I tinkered with that ratio?

Not a lot.. just a bit? What if I managed to force my idea spewing A.D.D. ravaged brain to sit still long enough to craft the fully envisioned, fully fleshed out outline our 5writers challenge demands?

What if the ratio I ultimately craft looks more like 2:8 instead of 1.4? Or even 3:12?

Math ChalkboardI’m still tinkering the math. WIth my skill set, it may take a while, so be patient. But deep down inside, – much as I hate to admit it, I think I’m almost ready to don the cloak of OP.

Let’s face it, – I’m never gonna fit into those teeny tiny ‘juniors’ size 11 OP boardshorts again.

7 thoughts on “OP? Me?

  1. I suggest becoming a PNO or a POP, the first ‘P’ standing for “partly.” Haven’t you had those 2 am wake-ups (or you can’t go to sleep) because characters are talking, having witty dialogue, the plot is zinging forward, it’s going to be the best story you’ve written. You get up the next morning and in your shower, more dialogue, more ideas. Later you see your friends for an adult beverage (or ‘other’) and the ideas pile onto ideas. They’re great, you can’t wait to get to your computer.

    At last, if you’re a NO you sit down to write. At first it flows, and then, maybe after a first scene or chapter, or maybe after a third, the source is turned off.

    A few different options arise: 1) that’s it, move on, 2) force the muse–build a beginning, she will return after x number of pages of drivel, 3) start working on a synopsis–ahem, outline.

    For the OP, I worry that too much attention to the O will make it more difficult to imbue the characters with vitality, spontaneity, with necessary changes of direction from the carefully outlined story and original conception of characterization.

    I can’t imagine making a commitment to write a short story much less a novel before I’ve hung out with the characters in their plot world. But after a bit of dosey-do, even if the flow is there, I suggest backing off. If you’re an OP, prior to whistling your way into the grand plan, stave they hand.

    As a POP, write the first 3 chapters as it comes to you. Then stop. Write a one-paragraph synopsis of the story as imagined. Or write a one- or two-pager. Or make scene cards that can be moved or deleted as you write. Then go back to writing with pants on fire. After reaching the skeletal half draft, halfway through, write a new, more filled out synopsis. Synopsis being a friendlier word than the eat-you-alive “outline.” Then write a longer, fuller synopsis of the whole story after you finish draft #1. That’ll help you correct mistakes of logic, see holes where more scenes are needed, and determine if you really have more than a 2-D cardboard protagonist. You can take time to determine fatal flaw, back story wound, and psychological quest, before entering the happiest part of the process: Revision.

    But then I’m an RP.

    • Thanks for weighing in on this Elizabeth! Like Paula, I’ll take it to heart. I suspect there are as many POP styles as there are writers, and in my view you’re right to suggest finding a hybrid pathway that works – even if it may involve some backtracking, side trips, rest stops at the side of the trail, and the occasional going-round-in-circles. I’m not sure that I’m capable of envisioning the entire route of a story from beginning to end before I start writing it … before I walk a few miles in my characters’ shoes. We’ll see.

  2. Thanks for that very helpful advice Elizabeth. In some future posts, I’d actually like to explore what we mean by ‘outlining’ because I suspect that most of us are, as you so aptly describe us ‘POP’ people. For our 5writers challenge, while outlining, when I felt like I was on a role, I wrote whole scenes with dialogue and detailed description of setting. Later, when actually writing the manuscript, this was easy to ‘cut and paste’ into the manuscript to be tinkered with to my hearts delight. Problems of course arose more from those ‘bare bones’ mechanical portions of my outline, where, like stick figures, my characters did little more than shuffle on or off the stage.

    But whether NOP, POP or OP, it so helps to just have a place to store all those disjointed ideas, dialogue, bits of scenes, etc. For my part, I find your suggested methodology, above, so useful I think I’m going to copy and past it into my StoryMill or Scrivener ‘Outline’ as a guidepost.

    Thanks for your help and thank you for following our blog!

  3. Board shorts, huh? Tennis rackets are so much more forgiving as we ‘mature’. A few pounds here or there won’t even make a dent. Great post and fantastic comment from Elizabeth. You and Silk sure started a fascinating discussion.

  4. I think Elizabeth nailed it (but then that’s why she’s who she is! I still value her advice on synopses and cover letters – best book on the topic I’ve ever read! And Elizabeth, if you’re reading this, a belated thank you – your tutoring on those topics managed to get my first novel (now in the trunk) requested, and helped sell my first two published books.) However, back to the comment – the thing I pick up on her advice is that it gives you the freedom to let the story and the characters go where they need to go, so things develop, thicken and take on a life of their own. And it might be a good idea for sections of the outlines to also remember the way Africa was described before David Livingstone landed on those shores: Unexplored territory.

  5. After tearing something in my left hip some years ago, even tennis is out of the equation for me. 😉 These days, I’m all for hybrids. I drive one. And to bring this back to writing, my WIP rebuilds are hybrids. I’ve been trying to get the main story points in order before diving into the “fun” parts of writing. I really hope that lets me avoid “the saggy middle” and instead keep the story on track—all while letting the characters have some creative fun in getting from Point A to Point B.

    It’s been said the ideas are easy, but the writing is hard. And I think that’s one of the few universal truths about writing. But I think if we stick with it, we find the approach that works for us—one that may drive us crazy from time to time but not at the cost of our sanity! 🙂

  6. Thanks all. It would be great to know what all of us mean by the 4-letter-word OUTLINE. Although I’m an advocate for it, especially POP hybrid, I have a confession: When I wrote Manuscript Makeover, I didn’t have time to outline–had missed 2 deadlines. Did the “open a vein” process, a very very scary way to write on deadline.

    Several of my editing clients, novelists, have told me that after about novel #4, they do minimal outlining. Maybe experience is a big factor. One of them began as a NO person then converted to OP, then became a MOP (M=minimal) after 4 novels.

    Yes, writing is HARD, HARD, HARD.


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