My Way or the Highway

In ballet, there’s only one way to do an arabesque.

Well, okay, that’s a little misleading. In fact, there are several variants of arabesque – first, second, fifth, etc. etc. And those variants will have different names depending on the school (Vaganova, Chechetti, etc. etc.). But the basic step is the same, and there’s only one way to do it: you lift your leg up behind you with your knee straight, your leg turned out, and your foot pointed. That’s an arabesque.

Writing is not like ballet. There are as many ways to write as there are people who write! Everyone has their method.

So let’s talk outlining.

To Outline or Not to Outline?

That’s perhaps not the best question, actually, because views on outlining, like many things in life, fall along a spectrum. So let’s talk about the “extremists”, so to speak, and then I’ll weigh in on my own position.

At one end of the spectrum, we have the “pantsers” (so called because they “fly by the seat of their pants”). These writers don’t outline at all; they just write and see where the story takes them. Pros: It’s spontaneous, fresh; you can go with your best idea at any one time and not worry about contorting the story to fit your outline; you can come up with some surprisingly creative stuff. Cons: it’s easy to wander off into fruitless territory, to lose the narrative thread and get wrapped up in tangents.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have those who outline the most thoroughly. These writers outline all their scenes in detail, and know exactly how their novel begins, develops, and ends – as well as everything that happens in between. Pros: You always know where you’re headed. Cons: if you know exactly how the story goes, you may feel less motivated to actually write it (weird how that works); if you come up with a better idea halfway through, you either have to stop and re-outline or press on, perhaps abandoning a really good idea.

Personally, I prefer a more intermediate approach. Enough outline to map out the skeleton of my narrative (keeps me moving forward productively) but not so detailed that I can’t make changes, or no longer feel like actually writing the scene in question.


I find myself with something of a problem, however. I’ve gotten to the beginning of Act Two of Princess. I started writing the second scene of the act and…one of my characters has decided to change her entire personality. She was supposed to be a secondary antagonist for Kel, a rival for Teo’s affections. But…she decided she wants to be Kel’s friend instead. And, honestly, don’t we have enough cattiness in fantasy? When I started writing, I wanted to write about a sisterly relationship rather than a romantic one. Well, turns out the romance is there – but I still wanted to privilege other kinds of relationships. It’s looking like “friendship” is butting its head in there.

Of course, this means I have to work Tav into more scenes with Kel. And change some of the action of the climax. And…sigh.

Bria is the bigger problem, though. She was supposed to be a bit part! She wasn’t supposed to cause me this much grief! I’m not going to go into to much detail (spoilers), but it’s looking like I want to completely rework the first half of her subplot.


Which just goes to show you that you can’t plan for everything – it’s good to be flexible, at least inย myย writing method.

Now You

So where do you fall on the outlining spectrum? Ever had a character run away with your outline? What was your solution?

4 thoughts on “My Way or the Highway

  1. I could say so much on this subject!!

    In your circumstance, I believe you should let the story develop along the lines that feel right and fix inconsistencies in the revision.

    In my novel (and you are the only person who will understand this), Joann was simply an add-on: she was supposed to be a cardboard cut-out intended to explain the choice Damon (the MC) had to make and then leave. However, she refused to leave the stage after her scene, and she became a main character as well. In fact, you could argue that she is actually THE main character since her actions may have impacted the story more than Damon’s!

    I know that my writing is not something to be emulated, but it did work for me. Joann blew up the details of my outline, but not the overall course of my outline. Overall, I was happy with how it worked out.


    • Well, in Bria’s case its not so much a question of inconsistencies as it is that I need a different plot. What I had originally planned just won’t work at all. That’s fine, I don’t have a problem with it, but it does mean that I have to pause and re-outline. Probably I’ll just keep forging ahead with Kel’s POV, and skip Bria’s scenes, until I decide what to do with her.

      In Tav’s case it will be much more of “Let’s just roll with it for now and fix problems later”. Should be interesting. But definitely doable.

      I remember you telling me about Joann taking over – I’m glad she did, because she was interesting to read about and Damon is a boob sometimes ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Well, it’ll all work out in the end, and then I’ll look back and laugh about all the little pitfalls along the way.


      • Did you just call my MC a boob?!?

        He really was sometimes.

        I tried to write my characters to be different: an imperfect sometimes bumbling hero, a bad-guy who’s not such a bad guy, a dissident who ends up fighting to preserve the status-quo, a pastor who is actually combat-augmented, etc.

        Successful or not, it made the writing more fun for me!


      • Mmmm….yes, I did. Sorry ๐Ÿ™‚

        I still enjoyed reading about him, and it made him more of a realistic character in my opinion. But, as it turns out, feeling that way and occasionally wanting to smack him upside the head are not mutually exclusive ๐Ÿ˜‰


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