Out with Outlines!



Some authors argue that the most successful, efficient way in which to write a novel is to have a structured outline and a clear path of progression already planned out. Some other authors claim that you should at least have a beginning, a middle and an end, and the rest will fill in from there. Some say every detail needs to be pre-planned and micromanaged, so that your characters are truly YOURS and never THEIRS and don’t have an inch of breathing room or an inkling of opportunity for spontaneity. Some…are a little more free form.

The picture shows my outline technique of choice: arbitrarily scrawling in the margins when inspiration rears its whinnying head. I don’t so much have a plan in place as I have goals for each scene, and each scene collects its own structure that is woven into the general arc of the novel as a whole. It’s worked pretty well so far.

Not to say I haven’t tried the whole Moment A goes through Moment B into Moment C when everything comes crashes down into Moment D layout idea. I have; and it failed. I get distracted in the details, and by the time I’ve finished writing the outline I’ve finished writing the book, incidentally with a few more descriptors here and there and a character that nobody saw coming. Suffice to say, it failed as a concise plan of attack, and more became the meandering breath of creativity that is the Whole Point of Sitting Down to Write Anyway.

Write? Right.

For me, the structured Who’s Who becomes more of a method for procrastination, sort of like this blog.

But what about you? Tell me how you made this crazy idea work, fellow writers! Or am I not unique in the world and there are other people who doodle in the margins, like a child coloring outside the lines because their soul is too free to be caught up by the restrictions and rules of whoever designed that god-awful “tree with a bird in it”?

The thing is, though, if you are a margin-doodler, remember this rule: ALWAYS FLIP BACK AND MAKE SURE YOU’VE INCLUDED THE DETAIL. I cross them out when I write them in. But I have found the occasional tidbit that was forgotten at the time, and is suddenly the glorious epilogue that otherwise would have left a certain backstory hanging off the spoiler cliff.

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