Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to Write an Outline, Greg Style.

I participated in nanowrimo for quite a few years, and always the same thing happened: I'd start strong, writing well for the first day. Then, maybe I'd do okay on the second day. By the third day, if I wrote at all, my word count was way, way down. I don't recall making it more than 5 days.

That was true until last year. Last year I determined I would do this thing, and do it hard.

But how?

My friend, that is where the miracle of outlining came in.

A night or two before November began, I sat down with my previous years' attempt. It had no title, other than Tower. It was a dismal affair. Four pages. No story. Just a scene and a character with no shape whatsoever. As I read the scene, though, I enjoyed the world it conjured for me.

I started to write little summaries of what would happen next. Here's an example:

"She needs to pick up her bounty. From who? local drug lord? local boss? sherriff? She picks up bounty and hears about strange group of men. She investigates. Why? Because her current bounty is dead so drug lord won't re-hire her and she needs a new job. She hears this new group is hiring. She meets main character 2 - love interest."

This goes on and on. Can you sense the spur-of-the-moment-ness of it? Can you tell that I'm figuring out the broad motivations as I go along? You could call it discovery outlining.

This outline got less and less detailed as the story went on. In fact, the end of my outline was something like "they experience stirring resolution." It was pretty laughable.


It totally worked. 

As I struggled to write each day on this story about a girl in a desert, I found that when inspiration dried up I could return to my outline. "Just make it to the next plot point." I'd tell myself. "Doesn't matter how you have to do it." Sometimes it was easy. Sometimes it was hard. I discovered things about my world and my characters as I went. Halfway through my 50,000 word goal I re-did my outline, adding in later details and plot points using what I had learned so far. That made it even easier. It also made it longer. 55000 words ended up consuming only 1/3 of the outline, and the second half of it still isn't very detailed.

Can you tell I'm excited about it?

So try this, sometime. Just start outlining as if you have no idea where you're going and it doesn't matter. Ask yourself questions as you do it. Don't let yourself stop typing. Just outline. there will be time to think later.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A cynical view of insurance agents.

Just don't let it get too close to an open flame, okay?
And it really, really works!
Insurance agents are the meta-gamers of the working class.

See, here we have the working class. Here's a teacher. There we see an accountant. Here, a doctor. There, a fast-food worker. Each one of them earns a different amount of money in a different way. Each has goals relating to growing their income, moving on to better things - whatever they are.

Now, here, swimming among them and looking for all the world like a normal, working member of society, we see an insurance agent.

Full disclosure: I happen to be an insurance agent.

The insurance agent doesn't look at his own career and think about how to move up, adjust it, or change jobs. The insurance agent is planning on always being the insurance agent. What the agent is doing, however, is looking at your career. Your goals. Your future. He is evaluating you in the same way you evaluate your own career.


Because the insurance agent is a many-tentacled parasite who experiences gains only as his clients do.

There. I said it.

See, the insurance agent stretches a tentacle out and attaches it to a likely looking janitor. Perhaps this tentacle is called "disability insurance." With this small connection, the agent draws a tiny portion of the janitor's income away into its own being.

Another tentacle, this one called "health insurance," reaches for a small business owner.

The twin tentacles of "home and auto" lovingly embrace a teacher.

I brought hand sanitizer this time!
I was just thinking of a way to insure your insurance!
From each of these varied connections the agent draws a drop of others' earnings into himself. But what he's really looking for is the big money. The whale.

When he sees a likely subject, one who seems to be doing well for herself and who appears to have a bright future, the insurance agent clamps on with as much grip as possible. Why? To ensure that when the subject is making more money she sends it to him instead of any other insurance agent out there. He attaches as many tentacles as he can, and attempts to squeeze as much life insurance as he can out of her. Life insurance is his most profitable area, after all.

Eventually the insurance agent has thousands of tentacles, each one providing a dollar here, a dollar there. He doesn't care about his future. He's got your future to sustain him.

Clearly I've grown cynical about the insurance industry and those who work in it. I've been discouraged at the behaviors of many of those around me who only look to sell sell sell. Those who can't stop being a tentacled horror because they now have no other way to be human.

Let me add one thing, though - and this is important: There are some really amazing agents and advisers out there who will fearlessly tell you exactly what you need with no thought for themselves. They will inform, and not sell. They will lift and not drain. Do I have guilt about my years as an insurance agent so far? Well, in one or two cases I wonder if I made the right recommendation, but for the most part, no, I don't. I think that I really did try to always make it about the client and never about my income. (That may have something to do with why I'm not really making much money from it. Hmmm.) So what am I saying? I suppose I'm saying be careful. Don't avoid all insurance agents, just the parasites who see you as their next meal.


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