“An Outline Doesn’t Have to Handcuff Your Story”
There are so many different schools of thought about outlines. Some famous authors say they never write a book without one, and others will tell you they simply sit at their desk with a general plot idea and just start typing, allowing the story to follow its natural course.
I believe a compromise is the right way to go.
An outline has two primary purposes. The first, quite obviously, is to give the author a roadmap for writing the story, thereby preventing the possibility of conflicts, the likelihood of which becomes greater when the book has a complex plot and/or our main character is solving a mystery. The second purpose of an outline is to remind us exactly where we are, which becomes increasingly more helpful as we’re writing the latter parts of a book.
The biggest mistake I think many people make with an outline is thinking they have to relentlessly stick to it. The magic of writing a great novel is letting the story create itself, hence why many writers don’t use outlines at all, so we can’t let an outline handcuff our story. Instead, we should use it as an initial roadmap subject to change at any time. It provides a clear direction to start, thereby allowing us to hit the ground running, but gives us the latitude to take the scenic route or change our destination entirely if that’s where the story and our characters want to go.
But here’s where I think things can really go awry, and I found out the hard way with my first two novels. If the story takes a turn, even if it’s just a small one, the result can be a domino effect that destroys the original storyline, renders the outline unusable, and may even conflict with the chapters we’ve already written. But what do most of us do? We jot down notes to fix these things later and keep on trucking because we’re all fired up about our new storyline and can’t wait to get it all down.
My advice? Call a time out. If we press forward and let this new direction take over without keeping everything in line, the manuscript will turn into a convoluted, mind-numbing mess that will take forever to fix, assuming we don’t give up on the project entirely and metaphorically throw it into the nearest trash dumpster.
It is rare for me to go an entire day without some sort of story alteration. But before I’m done for the evening, I do three things, regardless of how late I have to work to accomplish them. First, I fix everything in the book – past chapters and all – that may have been impacted by the latest change. Second, I edit the outline to make sure it ties perfectly with the manuscript as it now stands. And third, I alter the description of all future chapters in the outline to correspond with the altered storyline. That way, when I pick up the book again, whether it’s the next day or two weeks from now, the entire project is tight and clear, I can remind myself of exactly where I am, and I can keep working without any risk of driving myself into a dreadful mess.
Being an artist and disciplining our work practices seem counterintuitive at times. But when we successfully balance the two, the creative process is so much more enjoyable and fulfilling.
The Jack Lazar Series has it all from mystery and suspense to action, humor and romance
Jack heads to Egypt to investigate a crash-landed World War II fighter plane that was recently discovered in the middle of the Sahara. But something remarkable was left onboard, and people will stop at nothing to possess it.
An Egyptian Girl with Blue Eyes? Just Stunning.
But Jack soon finds himself in the middle of a hornet’s nest as he becomes enthralled with Dalia, an exquisite woman of Egyptian and English descent whose father is the Egyptian Head Consul to the UK, not to mention a formidable ex-agent with the Mukhabarat. The man’s skills and weapons come in handy as he and Jack join forces to battle a faction that has plans to kill millions of innocent people and subject the world to their twisted ideologies.
A Race Against Time
The trail leads to Northern Europe as all hell breaks loose. And before long, it’s up to Jack and Jack alone to cheat death as he struggles to save Dalia, her father, and scores of unsuspecting people from the plot of a deranged madman.
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Genre – Action, Mystery, Suspense
Rating – R