Let me be honest with you all: I’m not the best when it comes to making outlines.
That’s not actually what my novel outlines are—in other words, they’re probably not even outlines. They’re more like pages and pages of all my thoughts jumbled together in only a formation and organization that I can understand. My overuse of parenthesis would probably make you want to throw up. Literally. And, as always, I treat semicolons like periods and use them in pretty much every sentence. And I can’t spell for the life of me, most of the names of my characters are generic and boring, and when I summarize, I pick apart every single detail I possibly can, until it’s not even a detail anymore, but the detail’s details are details.
Say that five times fast.
I’ve learned in the past few months that outlines are very disappointing. They ruin some of the surprises in your story even you didn’t know were coming. They have you scrolling up-and-down until your finger hurts (have you ever thought about which finger you use to scroll with your mouse? I think I use my pointer finger, but I could be wrong) and you’re constantly going back and changing things. I HATE changing things. I hated every single minute I spent revising Reminiscence, and now Colleen has it, and has told me that she doesn’t plan on reading it anytime soon, even though she insisted on being the first one to take it from me and stuff it into her purse.
I just have to keep telling myself, “It’s okay, Meg. You’re gonna be okay.” Because the thing about novel plotting is, it’s never going to be as good as the actual story you actually write. The actual story you actually write is when you start painting with your words; you fill pages with descriptions you know some people will skip anyway and choke your readers with metaphors on every page. You change your beginning line seventy times a day, because you just can’t get it perfect. But you will. Maybe you’ll connect it to the end somehow, once you get there. But before the fun stuff has to come the work; the sadness.
We’ll call it Pre-Novelization Depression.
If you’re asking yourself the question “Why outline if it’s so horrible?” then stop. Don’t even go there. It’s like anything else you’ll ever do in your lifetime. You can’t go into a test without having studied (well, some of you may beg to differ, but stay with me, here). You can’t get on stage to sing a solo if you haven’t memorized the words. You can’t do an ice-skating routine at the Olympics without having practiced for hours upon hours upon hours before you get there. And just the same, you can’t start writing a novel without knowing where you’re headed. Because where you’ll end up is even more depressed, with an unfinished novel in front of you that you just can’t seem to figure out.
Outlining, novel-plotting—whatever you want to call it—is the hardest part of doing what I love the most (that’s writing, for those of you just tuning in). I hate planning out the details, figuring out what goes where, sticking substitute dialogue in parenthesis for myself to remember what I’m thinking at that exact moment, and second-guessing myself. No; Cindy can’t die at the end of the book without finishing her last journal. That would be too depressing, and too predictable. Yet what purpose does she serve, other than to tell Leah all these words of wisdom she’ll eventually apply to her situation later? What if I did add that subplot? Would people like it?
It’s a struggle and a fight. It takes me hours just to get through a few chapters at a time. And if you’re like me, you know how I feel.
But do you know what? There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. We’ll finish these outlines. And then, with our character profiles minimized at the bottom of the computer screen and our character sketches (horrible ones, if you gave up your dream of becoming an artist seven years ago like some of us) taped to the edges of our monitors, we’ll start writing. And that will end the Pre-Novelization Depression. We’ll come out of our funk, because all the planning is done. We won’t get stuck, because it’s all there. Along the way, we’ll come up with new ideas, but ones that make us happy, not sad. And we’ll write to our heart’s content.
Until then…let the plotting continue.