Fuck-Ups an Outline Could Help Avoid


Have I mentioned how annoyed I am with myself for not properly outlining Spiralling before starting it? It may have come up once or twice. The outline for the Perrinne Legacy was beautiful. Detailed but not too detailed. Had a nice flow, all the plot holes were worked out before I even sat down to write. Spiralling? Not so much. Yes, I’ve learned my lesson, but I still need to finish writing the second draft before I can go back to the drawing board and spend a painfully long time on making a great outline so the third draft will be free of  these horrible problems I’m dealing with now. I cannot even tell you how eager I am to be done with draft two so I can get the outline right before draft three. It’s almost all I think about.

I’ve written before about why outlining is such a great tool. Now that I’m feeling the consequences of a bad outline more than ever, let’s talk a little bit about specific problems that wouldn’t be problems if only I had done a better job with the outline. Outlining is a lot of work, but it is so much better than dealing with all of these little and large issues when you’re actually writing.



Relationships between characters are undeniably important in any story. For a lot of readers, it’s the thing they care about most. When you have a lot of great characters, and in your heart you know everything there is to know about their relationships and feelings towards each other, it can be easy to miss that you haven’t actually put as much of that on paper as you thought you had. One of my critique partners pointed out a while ago, that she didn’t understand why these friends of my MC cared about her so much, why they were willing to put so much on the line to help her. I realized that I’d never provided any actual scenes that showed how her friendship benefited them – only the other way around. And that’s not very good, is it?

I was convinced it was clear, and yet I’d just forgotten to show it in a scene. If I had an outline in front of me and worked with it carefully before starting the writing process, I would have spotted this myself and strengthened the relationships with necessary scenes at the right places. This isn’t the only time this has happened. It took a while before my critique partners understood that my antagonist was the antagonist, because while I thought the antagonist was horrible based on what I knew they would do in the future, my partners hadn’t really seen much that warranted fear or even unease. All of which could have been fixed by, what? Oh, that’s right. AN OUTLINE.



In my novel, the MC spends a lot of time digging around and trying to figure out what is really going on. This means there are always new questions to ask with every answer she gets, a new clue to follow every time something goes wrong. I already knew what these things were – I even thought that I’d outlined them well. I was wrong. As I write, I realize there are so many things I didn’t think to account for when I rushed through my crappy excuse of an outline, or the sad pile of words that is draft one. The flow between when new mysteries pop up and when old ones are solved, the excitement and fear as things begin to pile up and become more than my MC thinks she can handle… All that just seemed to get lost in translation when I put it down in words.

When your MC is trying to figure out a complex, frightening, big-deal problem, when they’re dealing with secrets and lies and betrayals, it’s so so so important that you know everything there is to know about those secrets, lies and betrayals. That you know exactly what it is the MC is trying to figure out and what pieces of information to drop in their laps at what time, what twists should occur when, how often they can experience failure before you have to give them at least a small victory. These are things that I, personally, cannot do by improvising as I go. For it to be good, I need it to be planned. I really fucked up without an outline on this one. And this fuck-up ties directly into my next point.


Upside Down and Wrong Way Round

This past week, a particularly frustrating aspect of not outlining has become clear to me, and it’s more annoying than any of the others. It’s bad enough that I’ve realized I’ve started the story in the wrong place, but I’ve also discovered that many events that occur in my novel are not happening in the right order. I thought they were in the right order, but it turns out the story would be a thousand times better if things were arranged differently.

When you outline, if you use a similar method to mine, you will at some point have every scene you’ve imagined lying in front of you, where you have a full overview. You can move them around, play with the order, test out a few things and see how they influence the evolution of your character or your story. And you can do it without wanting to tear your hair out because it’s just cards, not entire scenes you need to copy and search for a few hours until you find the perfect place to paste it, and then you make adjustments to make sure it fits. NOT FUN. It’s moments like this that make me question why I need to finish draft two before re-doing the outline. Then I remember that I’m me, and if I stop and re-outline before the draft is finished, I will hate myself forever.


Listen, I know that outlining isn’t for everyone. I know writers who can’t even imagine doing it, who can’t see any advantage it would bring to their personal process and their story. Good for those writers. I am not one of them. Outlines are crucial to my process and for me to get the best possible end result. And I love to outline! It’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s mind-boggling and challenging in the best way. I just really wish I’d remembered that before starting Spiralling. But oh, well.

I have learned my lesson. And to my horror, I will keep learning it every day until the second draft is finished. Should be a fun few months! Whether you outline or not, I hope your writing is currently more on track than mine. If not, let’s share in the frustration of cleaning up our own messes.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a novel to write.

Rain S.

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