Why I Don't Outline

Many a person spends all their time they wanted to spend writing their novel planning to write their novel. They outline and they scribble and they make notes and they create detailed character charts. That's definitely what you'll see me doing on a day of writing.

What you will see me doing on a day of writing is simply that: writing.

Because I don't like outlines. They never work for me. When I outlined my third book, Sequence (which rests in peace in my junk drawer), I thought it was going to be better because I outlined it. I had a whole bunch of details and bubble charts and graphs ready for my use.

But what happened? The novel turned out boring and truncated and hollow. I already knew what was going to happen, so the life was sucked out of me. There were no surprises. The characters were already there. They had already developed and I just had to tell the audience how, and I didn't like that. But I decided to be faithful and I plodded through the novel's 51,000 words with misery.

I decided that that outline was the worst thing ever and I gave it a ride in a trash truck.

But why was it so terrible? Why did that outline, which I spent a month and a half toiling over to make sure I had a good plan for the story, just kind of...die? I think it had to do with me being constrained and, effectively, my characters were stuck in a box. They had the limits of the outline and the chains of their character sheets wrapped around them, so I ended up with something hollow and devoid of life and joy.

I wondered if I had lost my touch, so when I set off to write the sequel to Double Life, I expected it to be really slow. And it did start that way. I began the novel mid-January and wanted to finish by mid-February.

Then, about halfway through, I stopped. I didn't want to do this anymore. I wasn't going to handle more of this dull sludge.

But fast forward to March--I remembered how I wrote my other novels, how they had felt so free and so good. I remembered that these characters were people and not furniture, and I decided to take off the imaginary pressures of stupid outlines.

I wrote the second half of Terminal Velocity in two caffeine-driven days.

So if you ask me if I outline, I will say no. Characters grow by themselves and subplots happen naturally and spontaneously. Build your plot on your characters, not vice versa, and you will find that you have a new freedom and color to your writing than you ever had before.

That's just my two cents. You can comment with your ideas and opinions on outlining.


1 comment:

  1. I agree that outlining is a drudge, but two of my book contracts required that I submit an outline. Did the story change? You bet. What works for me is having a pretty clear idea in my mind the character's major plot question, how the character will develop through the choices he/she makes through the emotional plotline of the story, how my character will grow and change because of the events of the story? Then I set out to torture them.