To Hell With Outlines!

OK, not really.

But still, the point of today’s blog is to remind myself (and you) that outlines are not straightjackets, but road maps. And it is sometimes very desirable to veer off and take a different, more scenic route to get to your destination.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to discuss what I am learning along the way. I’ve managed to get two novels and a short story published with small publishers, but that hardly makes me a successful author. My writing still isn’t where I’d like it to be, and I am still a student of the craft. (Literally. I’m taking a writing course now.) There’s always something new to learn.

My first two novels were very organized and outlined, as I blogged about a while ago. It was very important for those two, because the plots were like mysteries, where everything had to fit in place to be explained in the end.writing

I didn’t need that kind of complexity for my current project BLOODSUCKERS (about a vampire who runs for President). I made a very simple outline. I wrote a sentence or two with every idea I had for the book and then put them in order. When I was done, I had a list of about sixty items that I felt were necessary. It looked like this:

      Democratic frontrunner finds naked girl in hotel room night before convention; she charms him into jumping off balcony

Reporter Steven Edwards woken by call from editor; turns on TV to watch coverage of the “suicide”

NY Times article about the incident

Edwards travels to convention floor and is shocked to discover that the Virginia delegation is supporting Norman Mark, even the conservatives; becomes suspicious

Hardball episode with discussion about what the Democrats will do; word gets around media that Mark is surging, everyone astounded

Mysterious conversation where powerful businessman says that Mark must be stopped or he’ll “ruin everything” – hires Karl to assassinate him

AP bio of Mark; multi-billionaire computer genius, inherited from immigrant father, never married, educated in Europe, no college, philanthropist

Edwards talks to protesters calling Mark a vampire

Conservative talk shows talk about Mark

Mark accepts nomination, gives amazing and inspiring speech, saying that unlike other politicians, he cannot be bought; pushing a very populist platform

News article about police investigation of suicide after autopsy; no drugs, no suicide note, but no one saw anyone enter the room, video shows him jumping

Interview with woman who wrote book about charisma, looks and (for men) height and how important it is in business and politics, emphasizing how Mark is very charismatic and surrounded by equally charismatic people

Steve is back in Richmond, lamenting how boring his life and job are

Steve appears on local conservative talk radio, caller discusses vampires

Karl plans the assassination, realizes he will need Nick’s help

…And so on (as Kurt would say).

I skipped a few of those points when I realized they slowed the story down too much. About ten points later on in the outline turned out to only comprise one chapter.

And even though I was following my outline, I was not satisfied.

My original idea was very political, about corruption in politics and whether we would be willing to accept an evil vampire as President if he was going to do good things. Originally, my main character Steve was to learn of the real existence of vampires at the end of Act One, and would then spend the rest of the book trying to prove that the Presidential candidate is one. But as I continued, I became less and less attracted to that idea. It just wasn’t enough fun. There wasn’t enough adventure. Where was the action? Where was the thrill?

So I suddenly moved an important assassination scene that originally had been scheduled for near the end of the book to the end of Act One.  But even that wasn’t enough. Then the idea hit for Steve to be framed for the assassination by other vampires out to get the candidate.

Now we’re talking.

This pushed the novel into high gear. It went from a humorous political satire to an action-paced thriller with political undertones. Much more exciting!

And that outline? Well, it’s still there but it’s all out of order, and a lot of new plot points have been added. The destination is still the same — I know exactly how it’s going to end — but now I am coming up with something more.

And that wouldn’t have happened if I had remained glued to my original outline.

So my lesson this time is simple: Definitely outline, but never be afraid to toss it out the window if something better comes along!

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