On not knowing how to outline — and the universe

I have never learned how to outline. My favourite part of writing has always been when my characters run away with a story, and besides, Stephen King says he doesn’t believe in outlines, but more to the point, I just never wanted to.  Somehow it just seemed hard, or not fun.

But if the universe does indeed try to tell people things, I’m pretty sure it spent a few days in the middle of May sending me messages that it’s time I finally got around to writing an outline for my work-in-progress.

First, I spent a Wednesday evening in a local pub with a few writing friends, including Lynda Williams (who has created a whole science fiction universe), and she gave me a rousing pep talk on plotting. The very next night I happened to meet a famous author whose works I am crazy about, and I got the chance to ask him some questions. Could he tell me a little about his process? Being a kind and tolerant person, he actually answered me — and outlines were in there, of course. A few days later, there was this Flavorwire post with pictures of famous writers’ handwritten outlines. (The Order of the Phoenix outline was originally posted back in 2010, but the universe was saving it to show it to me now — just waiting for a time when I was willing to listen, I suppose.)

The weird thing is, now that I’ve surrendered to the idea, I’m kind of liking it.

Yesterday I went for a long walk, just thinking about different plot points. What would happen if Person X did Thing Y? Hmm. Would it make sense if Kim did Thing Z? Hmm. Hmm. It was like a jigsaw puzzle — although that is a cliché and I don’t really like jigsaw puzzles — but it was like the part of a puzzle I actually enjoy, where the end is almost in sight, and more and more pieces are fitting into place.

My walk took me to a pub I almost never get to, and I sat down and had a fine locally-crafted beer and kept thinking.

Not a bad day of writing.


This illustration is taken from Wikipedia’s entry on Conflict (narrative)Conflict in narrative comes in many forms. “Man versus man”, such as is depicted here in the battle between King Arthur and Mordred, is particularly common in traditional literature, fairy tales and myths.[1]


P.S.: If you haven’t already seen it, you might enjoy this short video of Kurt Vonnegut talking (and doodling) about storylines. I wish I could have met this man.


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