Why I don’t outline (besides the obvious reason)

Posted: March 26, 2016 in Uncategorized, writing

It came to me earlier while I was doing non-writing related things and my mind started to wander as it often does: why outlines sabotage me. I think sabotage is the right word. I know a lot of people swear by outlines, whether they be loose or written with beat by beat precision, and I’ve expressed my share of jealousy at how nice it must be to know what’s going to happen in your book before you actually write it. Sometimes I wish I had that kind of certainty. But I don’t have it. I go into my stories with a vague sense of what might happen and a fair bit of bravado. Just like my characters. That’s what keeps me going. I write so that I know how the stories end. Even when it seems impossible in the beginning. Even when I’m terrified that I don’t have the skills to tell that particular story. If I don’t write it, I’ll never see how things fall into place. That’s generally an effective motivator for me. But it isn’t always enough.


Endings are the things that destroy me the most. Putting a fitting end to the story, something satisfying, something exciting enough to justify the pages that went before. But not just that, something to preserve the mystery and the uncertainty that came before. That is what is the hardest for me because by that point I have a vague idea of how the story will end. My characters don’t. It’s more difficult to pretend like I’m with them when I know that their plans will or will not succeed. It’s hard to let go and let them plan daring attacks that are obviously doomed to failure when I’m sitting in the passenger seat thinking “But you should’ve known they would betray you.” To write from that sense of I can’t wait to see what happens next when I already know. Instead of being with them I’m ahead of them, looking around corners for danger. That’s just a fancy new version of outline sabotage. That’s me writing things the way I think they should happen and not the way they actually do.

It seems it’s never too late to do things the wrong way.

Now I know why everything feels like a holding pattern in this book. Instead of letting my characters march their stubborn asses into danger I was trying to lead them around like a string of kindergartners on their way to the park. Well the end of this book isn’t going to be the park. You don’t break hearts in between the slide and the merry-go-round (well, maybe you do but this is not that kind of book). It’s time to go back to fumbling in the dark (sadly not as dirty as it sounds in this case). I just need to figure out how to forget what I know. Somehow. If that means throwing out the ending I thought this book had, so be it. Hopefully the ending will be better for it.

the boulders conflicted feelings

Okay I lied. I might still be over here crying over my garbage can for a while. I really liked that ending.


  1. Holly.Evans says:

    That’s why my outlines are fluid, my characters still surprise me. In one book they were supposed to beat the big bad, it was tidy, and done… but when I got there, they couldn’t. They were too weak, ill-prepared, and there were too many strings being pulled from the shadows. I had to throw out another ending that I’d so looked forward to for similar reasons. The protagonist had more of a spine than I thought, so it twisted away into something else.

    I think of my outline as something like tango steps. I haven’t studied tango (yet) so I’m going off the little I know. The steps are a dialogue, one partner does one thing and the other can react, respond with one of say five steps. They go back and forth, telling their own story. The outline is the rough box, the guide, the options, the dance falls into. You expect the man to be aggressive and push, the woman to be coy but come to him, then she decides to spin away instead of step into him, and the whole story just changed.

    I don’t know if that made any sense whatsoever, but I’m glad you had what seems like a breakthrough. I hope it all comes together to make you happy and proud.

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