Real Writers Don’t Use Outlines (But I Do)

Once again, I hit a wall in my story and had no idea how to move things forward. When that happens, it usually means that there’s a deeper issue that needs to be resolved before I can even pretend to move forward.

My first problem is that I lost sight of the heart of my story, which is the relationship between my protagonist and her lover. I got so wrapped up in elaborating my character’s backstory and putting her in place that it made the relationship superfluous. That’s not to say I don’t like a good Whodunit, but that story is for another writer to tell.

My second problem was trying to force a three-act model on my story when needed to follow a different structure. Again, my story isn’t about who the killer is or how to slay the monster. It’s about how learning a big secret about someone you love changes that relationship. That doesn’t necessarily follow the usual conflict-and-resolution structure people tend to expect in Western narratives.

Now, I’m going to say something a little controversial. Bear with me. Don’t click and call me a hack and a moron until you hear me out.

OK, some writers would say that only amateurs use outlines, and others swear that you need one or you don’t know what you’re doing. Whatever works for you is what works for you, but if you’re dealing with a structure that’s somewhat unfamiliar, having a outline does help.

Now, I’m somewhat familiar with kishoutenketsu because I love anime, especially shoujo-ai, and those stories often use that structure, and I tend to find them more fulfilling to experience. However, it’s not a structure that’s intuitive or second nature to me. It’s something I have to think about and visualize in order to grasp it.

Thus, an outline.

What I notice about this outline is that my vision of the story flows more freely, and I actually have a firmer grasp of what happens and when. With a different structure, I ask different questions of my story, and those questions lead me in a direction more in line with the emotional core of this story. I don’t have to manufacture motives, characters, and locations because they come naturally when I think about what I’m trying to reveal about these characters and their relationship.

It’s a far more satisfying process than trying to get the words just right and wondering why I keep rewriting the same chapter instead of moving to the next part of the story.

So, it’s OK to outline. Really.