To outline or not isn’t what you should be asking yourself…

We all know the downside to outlining, right?  Constraints, boundaries, hinders creativity, it’s boring…etc.

We all know the downside to not outlining…what am I writing about? Where does this story go? How does it end?  What if a later scene means an entire 10,000 words needs to be rewritten?

Here’s my take on this.  If you don’t outline and just plug along and write an 80,000 word thriller…you’ve written an outline.  It’s detailed, it was hard work, you worked within the constraints of the genre, and just maybe there are no inconsistencies or wrong turns you took by not using a map before heading out.

If you do outline, taking that thriller and writing it in 4 pages or 1,000 words or whatever short form works for you before you start, you still have the creative flow, the flashes of insight, the plot twists that come  to you mid-sentence…and it’s still in a manageable format.

New sub plot comes up?  (And they always do).  Plug it into the 2nd page of the 4 page outline.  A twist at the end you didn’t see coming yourself?  Rewrite the first 3 pages of the outline, not the first 50,000 words.

I guess there are people who can write an 80,000 word piece of fiction without some kind of mapping of the territory beforehand.  If you’re one of them….count your blessings.  For the rest of us mere mortals… get out the map, plan a route…take it.

In my first book I had written 50,000 words and told a writing coach it was “…like The Sting meets Wall Street.”

His response, “Great, when does the crime take place?”

My answer, “About half way through.”

“It should happen on page 2.”

First 25,000 pages a waste?  Nope, just very detailed back story that led me to what the story was really about.  A very detailed outline of events leading up to the beginning of the story.  Could they have been done in 3-4 pages instead?  Definitely.

So what is the question you should be asking?  It’s the same question all writers of fiction should ask before they even start…

“Who wants what, and why can’t they get it?”




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