Saturday, March 6, 2010


"Outlines make writing boring."

I hear things like this all the time. But I disagree.

As most of you know, I'm an obsessive outliner. Before I started the actual writing part of The Temper, I wrote up a 12,000 word outline. (Yes, almost 1/4 of the projected word count for the finished story.)

Those who jump right in often believe a too-detailed outline sucks all the fun out of the first draft. There's nothing new left to discover. Nothing to hold interest. The magic is gone.

But I still have magic.

Here's an example from what I wrote today. I'll start with my rough outline notes.

(Set up: Connor is facing villain Blaze Blitz for the first time. They are on the roof of the mall, and Blaze is shooting fireballs everywhere. Connor is formulating a plan to get close enough to Blaze to be able to use his power on him.)

* * * * * * * * * *

Connor thinks: maybe my ability will work against him, if I can just get close enough...

Hiding behind roof vent, Blaze throwing fireballs, Connor jumps out to face him. Sees Freezepop creeping up behind Blaze...

Blaze turns around too late. “You little brat!” Tries to clap hands to create fireball but Freezepop touches him and he freezes.

* * * * * * * * * *

So that seems like a pretty straightforward scene. Easy to write. Each sentence gets expanded a little, details get filled in. So... where's the magic?

The magic comes as I fill in the details. As I create the dialogue off the top of my head. As the brilliant way to make this scene flow hits me.

After writing it all out, this is what I ended up with.

* * * * * * * * * *

Connor kept his back pressed against the metal of the vent. Then he heard footsteps crunching toward him, and Blaze calling in a sing-song voice. “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

When the footsteps were close enough, Connor took a breath and jumped out. “Surprise.”

Blaze startled a little, but his feet stayed firmly on the ground. He giggled and shook a finger at Connor as though he were chastising a young child. “You are a tricky little thing.”

“I thought you liked to play games.” Connor boldly held the villain's gaze. But when he saw the streak of Freezepop's blue hair creeping up behind Blaze, it took everything not to call out.

“I do like to play!” Blaze grinned again. “How about a round of my favorite game. It's called Setting People on Fire.”

“That sounds boring.” Connor shrugged, purposely keeping his eyes away from Freezepop as she approached. When she was right behind Blaze, she peeled off one of her gloves and shot Connor a pointed look.

Connor smiled. “How about Tag?”

“I love Tag!” Blaze squealed. “People running and screaming and fleeing! Such fun.”

“Great.” Freezepop stepped out from behind Blaze and smiled sweetly at him. “You're it.”

“What the--” Blaze started to clap his hands together, but he was too slow. Freezepop grabbed his arm and his whole body went rigid, his face frozen in a comically shocked expression.

* * * * * * * * * *

The little riff about playing games came to me totally on the fly. It's things like this that make the first draft fun and exciting, even with a detailed outline.

It's my own kind of magic. And it's never boring.


  1. I feel the same way about outlining. For me, it's a guide, a map through the story. The magic is in the discovery and details.

  2. Wow, that's a long outline. I usually spend a lot of time on developing my main characters and then I have the basis of the plot, but I never know what's going to happen, which actually takes the fun away for me because I always, always hit a block. I might just try doing much more detailed outlines too.

    Anyway, on to the fragment. I really liked how you chose to make it a game, especially how the villain responds that what he likes about it is people's fear. It makes you wonder how he has become such a villain.

    I also read part of the first chapter you put up, and while I never read this kind of novels, I would totally buy this if you'd publish it. It's nice how you immediately make us wonder why, for example, Connor and Sinker are broke and I really like the humour and how Captain Power is so incredibly stuck-up.

  3. Okay, so you know I don't like outlines.

    With my first few ms, I started writing when I only had the very beginning in my head. I had NO idea what the story was even about. I soon learned that this made the writing process a little too challenging.

    Now when I come up with an idea, I think it through and come up with a conflict and a general ending. That's as detailed as I can go.
    Although, I often wonder if my writing life would be easier if I could outline first.

  4. I could not agree more about outlining. It helps keep us organized. And oddly, our final manuscript almost never ends up looking anything like the story that we originally mapped out. There's magic in that.