Monthly Archives: March 2014

Why an Outline is Just an Outline

I have written almost two full books now with a third in the works. Each time, I write an outline of the scenes that I see in my head to guide my story. I don’t go crazy. I do a lot more with character than I do with plot. I like to know the people I am writing about to make them real. My goal is always to give them an actual voice. In my view, if I know them well then the story will develop authentically.

In any of my writing, I always go in with the end in mind. I have an idea of where I want it to go. Not a single time though, have I followed the outline I drafted to the end. The reason why is simple: it isn’t my story, it’s the character’s. Often, when I am writing, my idea of what I wanted to occur doesn’t work with what I have already written or with my characters. Each time this has happened, my story has twisted and turned in ways that make the story better, and make my characters better. Perfect example: In my current manuscript I wanted to dump my main character on her ass and leave her there, but it wasn’t working. I came up with a perfect star-crossed lovers angle that works beautifully.

The moral of the story? Don’t be so rigid in your outlining that you force the story to go somewhere it shouldn’t. As corny as it sounds, my stories are growing entities. They change and grow as my character’s do. Flexibility is a writer’s best friend.

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When to Walk Away From a Manuscript

I sat down to write today for the first time in a few days. After being sick and having the rest of my family get sick, there hasn’t been much time. Yes, I started to itch like a junkie who needed a fix. When I went to open the manuscript that I have been writing most recently, an MG, I just stared at the screen blankly for a good ten minutes. I started to panic that maybe my hiatus gave me writer’s block.

During my anxiety attack, I realized, stupidly, that I had no idea where I wanted my story to go. I had reached a pretty critical part of the problem, but what now. The end was foggy and unclear. Who did I want this character to be? What did I want my message to be? Where was I going with this? I still love the character and love the story I started, but I quickly understood that I needed to think about it some more.

Then, another manuscript I started and stepped away from smacked me in the face. Again, I had had the same problem with this manuscript, an NA about a kick-ass chick with an agenda of her own and a very unique perspective. I LOVED THIS CHARACTER, but again, I was unsure of how I wanted the story to go. Today, however, the fog lifted and the climax of the novel burned into my brain like a wildfire. The words flowed off my fingertips and I wrote 3K worth of great stuff (I am partial though). My MC’s personality came flooding back to me and I was able to set up my problem in no time flat.

Writing today taught me a valuable lesson. There are times when you need to step away from a work in progress. Now, I am the last person to ever leave something and not finish it. I have the compulsion to finish the things I start and it drove me slightly mad for a while, haunting me every time I opened another file. It made me feel the way not finished a novel when I am halfway through reading it makes me feel. That hollow, gnawing feeling of unfinished business. But coming back to it today was a glorious testament to the fact that sometimes, as a writer, you need to step back, take a break, and do other things. I now have a renewed energy and drive to finish the project. Plus I learned a little something in the process.

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