A good teacher wants to make the curriculum easy for students to learn as efficiently as possible. The easiest way to do this is to set up rules. To write for a teacher, a student must follow:
- the rules of spelling
- the rules of grammar
- the rules of composition, and
- the rules of writing about the subject chosen by the teacher
All of this must be done within a set time period. And the student must stay away from references to sex, politics, weapons, violence, religion, and school staff (unless said subjects are part of the assignment).
Yes, indeed. It is a fine line a student must follow in order to pass an essay assignment with a decent grade and without any imposed visit to the school’s psychiatrist! Poor kids; I’m glad I’m free from those constraints.
In grade six, I remember the excitement I felt – the free exuberance – when the teacher supplied a mass of magazine picture clippings and gave us a chance to choose a picture to write a story around. There were so many possibilities! It took me so long to choose one that I was probably the last student to return to my desk. Then I sank into creative mode for so long that by the time I excitedly began my story, the teacher called, “time’s up!” – I had written only 2 sentences about a “wicked witch.” I felt so sad and frustrated. I was a complete failure in my own eyes and probably in the eyes of the teacher. But I know even now it takes time to cook a plot.
One rule I had difficulty complying with was the required outline. Nothing before or since has made me quake in my mind as I viewed the blank page. Where does a student begin when forced to write an outline for an essay entitled, “The geo-political ramifications of the cause of World War II.” Studying that history only confused me more as to how many reasons there were, and which were more important, and which happened first. Oh, me!
Anyway, I have happily realised that as far as outlines are concerned, there are no rules except one. If you make an outline, your life does not depend on your stickling to it! Some people “cheat” and write their essay, article, or story first, and then write their outline after.
But I invented the perfect method for outlining when I wrote Verity. I thought of what I wanted to write. I created a character upon which the story centred, and then just quickly jotted down “what happens next” in a series of imaginative thoughts. This quickly filled two pages. I set that aside, and closed my eyes. I pictured the first orientating scene, and I began to write. I never looked at the outline again, and the final result was close to, but not an exact outcome of, the outline. However, the outline gave me direction, and I’ve realised that’s all an outline is supposed to do.
Personally, I love outlines now that I know what they’re for, and how to use them. They collect thoughts and help to achieve focus, and I do recommend them.