Why I Have to Outline

Because my brain doesn’t work right. This article says that the way my brain works is good for solving problems. Thinking outside the box. Connecting things in ways one doesn’t ordinarily connect them. This is a good thing in many ways. It’s a good way to be creative.

But it’s also like this, although I don’t have ADD. Or maybe I do.

When I start thinking about a story, I just mess around playing computer card games or pinning stuff on Pinterest or hunting mushrooms or cooking or whatever, free-associating with whatever started the story in the first place. It’s a little like the time after the big bang — remember? — when atoms coalesced and, the next thing you knew, there were stars and stuff? ‘Member?

But shiny isn’t the same as story. All that stuff has to be put in some kind of order. Even stories in which things are shuffled around had to be put in order before they were shuffled. William Faulkner knew exactly the order in which things happened when he wrote “A Rose For Emily”. Virginia Woolf didn’t just hop from one point of view to another at random. James Joyce didn’t just ramble in his narrative.

So outlining. That’s the part I hate about writing. You have to catch all your happy little fish and rabbits and hummingbirds and write choreography for them and teach them the routine. If you’re lucky, you end up with the Rockettes. Or at least Rocky Horror.

Outlining is telling all the sparkly possibilities that don’t fit that they can’t be in the show. Outlining is, to continue the choreography metaphor, A Chorus Line. I only wish my outlines came out as well as that.

WRITING PROMPT: What do you dislike most (or like the least) about writing?



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Why I Have to Outline

  1. Floyd Hyatt

    March 13, 2012 at 12:22am

    As I was hanging around to field questions on the quick overview of Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld Series, I thought I’d dump off a few words on outlining here, a subject I have touched on in the Writer’s series articles I’ve been allowed space here to present.

    Although our characters and general story ideas may come to us in dreams or snatches, the gruel of such creativity is down to putting it together on paper in a way that is appreciable to the alert and discerning reader. This comes to hundreds of hours of typing, editing, and flushing out the ephemera of imagination, to present a worthwhile read. There is discipline to this. It is not entirely a party-going experience. As with any complex task (and writing novels is all that) It pays to break the BIG TASK into smaller, approachable ones. Outlining is one of the root mean square chunks that helps to do that. You can be every bit as Creative and Imaginative in your outline as you can when dreaming up lines of poesy, or worrying over a cool descriptive passage. It is not a limit on your artistry, it is part of the process of translating it into literature. There are thousands of possible stories, but, they each deserve telling one at a time, which means it is always brilliant to set forth the one you are working on today as clearly as possible, and that, is what outlining is. Perhaps each of your characters has a story it wants told, but first, there is the story in front of you, and they can wait their turn. Actually, that kind of pressure, to tell more, puts writers in a position of rarely ending one story without having before them the bones of their next, which is, probably a good thing.

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      Marian Allen

      March 13, 2012 at 9:24am

      Outlining is a MUST for me. Some writers are apparently really good at keeping on track, but I’m a bad bird-dog, always running off after rabbits and squirrels instead of following one trail.

      It also helps, as you say, to promise pruned characters and storylines their own stories. đŸ™‚


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