Saturday, November 05, 2005

Horses Circling the Airport

I love mixing my metaphors! Oh, and also Chicklets soaked in Big Red but that's for another post. This post is a concoction of equine and aviation metaphors but is really about outlining.

I plan to quote people with more cells than I in the screenwriting lobe of the trilobed structure of the brain, lying posterior to the pons and medulla oblongata and inferior to the occipital lobes of the cerebral hemispheres... oh wait. No, that is the portion of the brain that regulates voluntary muscle use and balance. Anyway, please take advantage of the web addresses, where provided, and get the information straight from the horses' mouths as I have a tendency to confuse horses with mules, zebras, small giraffes, an occasional political figure and even now and again, the lead singer of a geriatric rock band.

Perhaps you are one of those few people who can knock out a darned good first draft without outlining. Terry Rossio ( says that in this case, your first draft is actually functioning as an outline. Everyone outlines, says he and he's a thoroughbred so no need to examine his teeth. Just take his word for it.

I've often compared writing without an outline to taking a road trip without a map. Sure, it's easily done, but the driver risks getting lost, taking unnecessary side trips, wasting fuel, and making the journey longer and more frustrating than it has to be. Many writers buck at this analogy but Charles Edward Pogue says that while non‑outliners always think that outlining precludes "wandering", it doesn't. Rather, because we have the road map, we are free to wander, explore interesting by‑paths and curious dead‑ends, without losing our way and still, we know how to get back to the main road without all the grief, and confusion of getting lost.

I saw a remark yesterday by Dave Olden on an Artful Writer forum ( where he compares writing without an outline to circling the airport and looking for a place to land. Dave is not a seasoned horse like Misters Pogue and Rossio, but you can check out his blog just the same at

Though I've never seen a flying horse, nor elephant for that matter, many writers do this very thing. They circle because they really don't know where they are going, much less where they are landing. I know because I've done it myself.

Yes, on the rare occasion when I was liquored up on arrogance, I deluded myself into thinking that I was a unicorn, a mythological version of the horse that doesn't observe the laws of nature or gravity that mortal horses do. Naturally, stories written while I was in that state either fell from the sky, crashed into mountains, or exploded into fireballs.

By the way, I did eventually locate the little black boxes for each of these doomed screenplays. They all said the same thing: pilot error.

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