Thursday, August 4, 2011

Outlines, How I Hate Thee

Outlines and me are not friends. We tried to hang out a few times, but I felt like the outlines I was meeting just weren't giving me enough. It was always me giving, giving, giving. We'd always get to the end of a meal at a restaurant and they'd casually slide the bill over to me, expecting me to pay. I'd end up driving them to work and buying their groceries for them. "I'm between paychecks, baby" they'd say in that syrupy tone of theirs. "You understand." I even tried meeting a few outlines online at, but they all turned out to be leaches.

Honestly, I got tired of being treated like a doormat.

So I resolved to stop. Well, not entirely. Because I like what I can't have, I like the proverbial "bad boy", so I still do vague outlines. Just enough to give me the faintest skeleton structure for my stories. And then I jump in and start writing.

I find that it's a waste of time to outline anything in too much detail, because I invariably come up with way more cool stuff on the spot than what I'd written in my outline, and I go way off the reservation. This, incidentally, is also the approach of arguably the greatest writer in the history of the universe, Tom Robbins. When asked in an interview by January Magazine once if he plots out his scenes before writing, he said this:

No. Almost none. When I begin a book I have only the vaguest sense of how the plot is going to shape itself and no sense at all how it's going to end...(a)nd that's the adventure of it, for me. That's the fun of it. That's what keeps me doing it every day. But in order to do that and to make it appear as if I knew everything in the beginning it demands a tremendous amount of concentration and energy. At the end of every writing day I feel like I've been wrestling in radioactive quicksand with Xena the Warrior Princess and her five fat uncles.

Exactly. I like the adventure of writing, not knowing what exactly is going to happen at every step of the way. Of course, the downside is that you don't know when you're going to finish your book, but that's not all that important to me in the grand scheme of things.

How do you write? Do you need an outline to keep you oriented within your story, or do you like to work without a net?


  1. I like the way you talk, lol. I hate when outlines leave their wallets in the other pants. Players.

  2. Haha, I know! So full of excuses. But my fear of never finishing a book keeps bringing me back to them. Like a moth to the flame.

  3. If I don't outline, I wind up with a steaming pile of crap. This short video series from Dan Wells was probably the best outlining/story structuring thing I ever watched. You should give it a watch.

  4. Thanks Stephany, I'll take a look at that. After having tried outlining several books/screenplays, I've found that it's good to start with an initial outline but allow myself to deviate from it if the plot doesn't seem to be working.