Trust the Outline

Yesterday I completely rewrote a chapter because I had decided that a major event that had been the climax of the second novel in the space opera series was in the wrong place.  What this involved was me walking away from the carefully and painfully plotted outline sitting on 3×5 cards on the cork board.  But I did it anyway and spent a day of work redrafting an entire chapter.

Then I came wide awake at 5:00 in the morning because I realized that I had just blown the end of this book.  It was going to end with a whimper rather than a bang.  Yes, the outcome for my hero is dreadful and horrible for him, but it’s not creepy and it doesn’t serve as a powerful spring board into book three.  My original ending — the one on the board accomplished all of that.

Also by deviating from the plot as outlined I ended up with people not reacting to a shocking event which makes them look dumb or they have to start dealing with this event and it will drag the book out longer then it needs to be and I’ll have lost focus on the theme of this particular book.  As you know theme is important to me.  If you don’t know it and pay it off you won’t end up with a satisfying story.

So today I get to rewrite this chapter yet again and to back to the outline.

5 Responses to Trust the Outline

  • Wolf Lahti says:

    To me, an outline is like a recipe – a vague notion of what might go into the final product.

    But you can almost always count on garlic being there.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      Not for me. My outlines are more then a “series of suggestions”. What I learned from this mess is not to second guess the outline. I’ve done so much work plotting the story I just mess it up if I deviate.

  • I don’t outline– unless we count a well-defined mental map of the story. I never write it down, that feels… too much like locking myself into something, I guess. It feels stifling, so I just don’t do it.

    Different strokes, etc, so forth and so on.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I understand that people have different techniques. Some write late at night. Others in the morning. I’m a linear writer — I have to experience the events with the characters so I can’t jump ahead in the book. What I have noticed about outlining is that it makes it easier to meet deadlines. If you’re the kind of writer who can take your time, explore options, be willing to toss out hundreds of pages and have no contract deadline pressure then being a “gardner” or a “pantser” can work. But if you have strict deadlines or multiple deadlines it seems to make it far easier to meet those deadlines if you have an outline. I also think that failing to “Stick the landing” as Daniel Abraham says can kill a reader’s enjoyment in a book and it’s harder to arrive at that satisfying ending if you haven’t worked it out in advance.

      • Melinda Snodgrass says:

        One other thought. When I write down the scenes it gets me out of my chair, on my feet, pacing in front of the board and that’s good for my mental process. I also have a physical cue that I can refer to. I also assign different colors to the various characters so I can tell with a glance if I’ve lost track of a character or am giving too much weight to a particular person in the story.

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