Death by Bus

bus.jpgI’ve received a few anxious emails about my outline process from several writers who are at work on their first novels.  They’re afraid an outline will suck the joy out of writing. They’re afraid it will somehow lock them in. They ask, “Doesn’t it kill your creativity to know what’s going to happen?” The answer is no, not even a little bit. Once you begin working with your characters, you’ll quickly realize that your creativity is spectacularly alive. Your characters will constantly surprise you, whether you want them to or not.

My outline only gives me the roughest framework of a scene. For example, for my work-in-progress, my first two notecards read:

ch.1  Maya   2009   In antique mart, thinks pregnant, gets palm read.

ch. 2 Rebecca 2009  Overhears rumor, realizes must flee, sees Brent before leaving, lies to him

I’ve finished the first draft of these two chapters and it totals seventeen pages–seventeen pages during which my creativity had very free reign. By page eleven, for example, Rebellious Rebecca (my new nickname for her) had already altered part of my story in a major way. You see, I thought a particular character had died of cancer, but she actually died in an overturned bus. Much, much better! Thanks, Rebecca! My outline shows me where I want to go; it’s my characters who create the maze to lead me there.

So you don’t need to be afraid of outlining. Neither do you need to be afraid that you’re doing something wrong if you don’t outline. You may be more comfortable being a “panster”–one of those writers who is more productive flying by the seat of her pants. Time and experience will give you that answer. Until then, the most important thing is to keep writing.


  1. Lindsay on January 30, 2009 at 10:52 am

    I started writing a few years ago, stories for an online sight. It was a way of procrastinating while in University for me but I did finish one novel while doing it. That one has been done for 3 years and needs a major edit. I edited once but it needs another overhaul. I didn’t use an outline for that one so I see what the people who are emailing you are talking about. Actually when I first read this entry I was like that’s what I think too! (having an outline blocks creativity) but then i realized I did just that with one of my other stories. I had basics from each chapter plotted out. At times a detail would be tweaked because something would change but it worked just as well. My newest idea for a novel came to me a few months ago, and I’ve outlined a few chapters for it and only written one. I love to write but I do not have much time for it, and have chosen in the last year to use my free time reading.
    I finally finished the first shopoholic novel, FINALLY. And now I’m reading a novel I’m enjoying and is much easier for me to read because i’m enjoying it- your novel SUMMER’S CHILD.

  2. Margo on January 30, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Lindsay, I didn’t know you were a writer!…enjoy SUMMERS CHILD which is a favorite of mine. Diane, you’re already breathing life into Maya & Rebecca…my curiosity is going wild…

  3. Lindsay on January 30, 2009 at 11:54 am

    I write for myself mostly. My completed novel is the only one I have any interest in getting published someday but it needs a lot of work before that day 🙂

  4. Krysia on January 30, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    We always had to outline in school. I hated it, with a passion. I actually got docked 30 points on a college paper because I didn’t completely follow my outline, an outline we couldn’t change. I wrote on poverty, which took a big turn and started writing more on a local/state level. It was an awesome paper, but he was way to picky on the outline.
    Gunnar is growing way to fast for us. He’s 7 months old now and a terror. He can now sit himself up on his own from a laying position and we are expecting him to talk off crawling soon. He tried but falls not long after.
    I just finished Luanne Rice’s Summer’s Child and Summer of Roses. The first one made me mad, it was like watching a good movie that just ended. If there wasn’t a sequel I probably would have gone on a tyrant wanting to know what happened to the characters. I am working on Mary Alice Monroe’s Sweetgrass but it’s not grasping me yet.
    Well everyone have a good weekend. Gunnar’s squealing is getting to loud for my ears so I better see what he’s up to.

  5. Diane Chamberlain on January 30, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Lindsay, sounds like you’re writing quite a bit! My writing also started “just for myself,” so you never know what will happen. . .
    Krysia, if Gunnar’s a terror NOW, before he can even crawl, I can’t wait to hear from you in another six months. You have some interesting times ahead of you!
    I’m sorry your teacher docked points for not sticking to your outline. I suppose he/she was trying to make a point, but that truly IS a way to squash creative thinking.

  6. Denise on January 31, 2009 at 8:56 am

    I always hated doing outlines, too, but writing a paper with an outline was so much easier!

  7. brenda on January 31, 2009 at 10:08 am

    I do not require my students to do outlines-too difficult to stick to. I give my college students copies of outlines-if they want to use them-but high school kids-just kills them…
    Krysia-enjoy it…best years when raising those little ones…glad you take the time to read-you need to do that…I love both the authors you are reading…
    We are still snowed in here…and iced…school was out all week-so so unusual for this area. Teachers went on Friday…we are to report now no matter what…Several of us do not have classrooms, so I worked in the English office-I had tons to do…but does not make a lot of sense as we have to make most of the days up…
    I was not out of the house from Friday-Thurs…finally had to get food and books…however…I had not a touch of cabin fever…my books keep me company…
    Can’t wait to hear what happens to those in BEFORE THE STORM…I can relate to the sequels.
    Diane-is the book an actual sequel or can it stand alone?????

  8. Diane Chamberlain on January 31, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Brenda, one of my next blog posts will be about the sequel, Secrets She Left Behind, but to answer your question, it CAN stand alone, but it definitely gives away the biggest secret (the identity of the arsonist) from Before the Storm.
    Stay warm!

  9. brenda on January 31, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Good Diane…I like it when they can stand alone…although for us-glad to get to know the answer…the arsonist…I keep guessing…

  10. Amy on January 31, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Your blog comment on outlining is so timely. Diane, I am trying, really really trying to make a novel happen. I am the forever procrastinator, but just knowing you is inspiring and makes the achievement seem so much more possible. Thank you!

  11. Diane Chamberlain on January 31, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Amy, I had no idea you were working on a novel! We’ll have to talk. . .

  12. Margo on January 31, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Krysia, my friend had triplets around the same time you had Gunner…they crawl around but are not trying to walk yet…I think Gunner is ahead of his time and will probably walk before my friends 3…I like Luanne Rice and Mary Alice Monroe also…have read all those books. They both have new ones coming out this year.
    Brenda, stay safe…I know how dangerous it is when there’s ice and snow storms…sun’s out today but suppose to change for Super Bowl Sunday with cold, cold weather again and snow.
    What’s everyone reading while we wait for Diane’s new book?…I’m in the middle of THE RICHEST SEASON by Mary McFadden and love it. (-O:

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