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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Diverging from the Outline Is Okay

Most authors fall into two groups, plotters and pantsers. Plotters plan every part of their story before they write. They know exactly where they’re going and have a very clear map on how to get there. Pantsers are, well, we fly by the seat of our pants and see where the story takes us. Like extroverts and introverts, there is a range. One can be a plotter with pantser tendencies or a pantser that makes an effort on outlines. I’m more of the last.

As a result, when I write, I outline, often two to three times. Each outline is different from the others, often emphasizing a new thread or momentum for the story. But what I’ve come to realize above all else is that, no matter how hard I try, I will always diverge from this outline.

This could be a point of utter frustration or like yanking the car off the highway and trekking it through the desert sands without a clue how to survive. Instead, I like to view this as an opportunity. It can be a challenge, but it’s the time to ask, “What new and interesting complication can I throw at the characters now?” Rather than restricting, it allows the creative part of the brain full range. Most of my best plot twists have come from diverging from the outline.

That said, if you yank your storyteller’s car off the outline highway, make sure you have a few pieces of survival gear: conflict, character motivation, and character goals. The nice thing about diverging from the outline is that, because there already is an outline, you can always go back if the detour doesn’t work out.

1 comment:

  1. I've always considered myself an outliner, because I never start a story without knowing how it will end, and at least several of the major plot turns, but I really fall somewhere on the middle of the continuum because that's about all I know in the beginning. And I fast-draft, so my first draft--which is really, really poor in quality and not remotely publishable--could almost be considered my "outline." I usually end up rewriting the second half of the novel when writing the second, almost-publishable draft. I do think every writer needs to feel free to diverge from the outline when the story demands it.