I am a firm believer in the importance of having an outline before you sit down to write. It doesn’t have to be detailed outline– it might only be a page or two. You just need to know where you’re going and, to some degree, how you are going to get there…or what happened to author Sandra Scoppettone could happen to you:
In the course of writing today (yes, I did) I inadvertently
discovered that I have two different men involved with the same two
women who are trying to get the money everyone is after. It has to be
one man or the other. Pages and pages must be rewritten. Whole
Did this happen because I took off so much
time? Or am I losing it? I understand forgetting the color of a
character’s eyes, but this is crazy. And with one man I’m not sure I
even did the set-up with the women. I think these three just happen.
The reason I don’t know this is because I couldn’t go on with this
Tomorrow I’m going to have to trace backwards and find out. And then I’ll have to write new scenes, rewrite others completely.
"How Did This Happen?" is the headline of Sandra’s post. No offense to Sandra, but I can answer that question in two words: No outline.
That doesn’t mean that if you have an outline that the writing of your book is going to go smoothly. You could still find yourself having to go back and rewrite everything…but not because you’ve inadvertently duplicated a character. Outlines give you a path and a direction for your story, although that doesn’t mean you have follow it.
But at least the path is there.
I think of my outlines as "living outlines," since I’m constantly revising them as I write my books. Why? Because I am always deviating from my outlines and going in new directions, so I have to replot my story to take into account these new events and discoveries. I usually end up finishing the outline about a week or two before I finish my books.
I’ve read so many books that were clearly made up as the author went along…and I find them a lot less satisfying that a tightly plotted, tightly-written, confident narrative.