Pointers from the Pros: Author David L. Robbins Talks Plotting & Outlining

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.

I’m speaking at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in beautiful St. Simons Island, Ga., this week and taking copious notes at the sessions.  Although I can’t go to all the faboo classes, I’m sharing some tips from some of those I’m lucky enough to attend.

Here is what historical fiction author and James River Writers co-founder David L. Robbins* had to say about plotting and outlining.

Robbins. (Photo by Adam Ewing)

BASEBALL WRITING

  • Think of a successful book as a home run.
  • In baseball, in order to hit a home run, certain things have to happen, or it’s not a home run: player has to hit the ball and run all the bases.
  • Main characters need to run the bases of their stories—and they each do it in different ways.
  • Design a specific character that will run the bases—and then, run alongside him.  Record how he does it.
  • You might only have four bases; you might have 40.  But let those be the only parameters, rather than outlining.

IT’S ALL ABOUT CONTROL

  • Don’t write 900,000 words.
  • Physically control as little as you can, and let the rest have a certain autonomy.
  • However, don’t let your character keep running into right field; control him.  Get him to second.
  • The Juggler
    • With several items in the air, it looks like chaos.
    • The juggler only has two things in his hand at a time; yet, he still controls six or seven in the air.  He knows the orbit and the momentum.
    • Books we love demonstrate this: The reader loves the sense of chaos, but that’s because the writer has absolute control.

RECOLLECTIVE VS. RECORDATIVE WRITING

  • Recordative: Run the bases with your characters & record what they do.  There’s an immediacy to your imagery when you’re recording something.
  • Recollective: If you use passive verbs, there’s a detachment.  If you’ve outlined too much, you’re remembering what the character did, rather than experiencing what he did—and the reader will be detached.

ON OUTLINING

  • Don’t do it!  When you outline, you’re following a recollection when you go to write.
  • He’s a fan of pivot points (the “bases”).
  • Outlines hobble or hamper characters.  Let the characters surprise you.
  • An outline makes them run to first base a month before your character actually gets there.
  • Know generally where the book ends, and figure you’ll get there—be in the moment.
  • It’s insecure writing if you need to outline too much.

Don't let your paint brush drip!

ON BEING AN ARTIST

  • Manet didn’t decide where to put a brush stroke; he just did it.  Have your brushstrokes.
  • Set out the pivot points (bases) and trust yourself as an artist.
  • What’s in the character’s head, heart, & how he’s going to get there is all brushstroke for him.

*Click here for my SWA Presenter Spotlight on Robbins.

2 thoughts on “Pointers from the Pros: Author David L. Robbins Talks Plotting & Outlining

  1. Yanno, I found this really helpful – and reassuring! Turns out, the pivot point style pretty much nails my writing method. Whew! Here’s to whacking that ball out of the park and scoring a home run!!

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