Tag Archive for outlining

The Real Connections Come from Writing

Sure, outlining is important.

When telling a story, it helps to know where it ends. It helps to understand the setup and plot twists along the way. Or, when writing time is scarce, it gives the writer a clear sense of direction rather than wasting time winging it and having to backtrack or rewrite after a pre-reader or editor points out why a key element doesn’t work.

The problem is it’s easy to overdo outlining.

Some people labor over their outlines for months, sometimes years, tweaking every little detail until the whole thing sings. Or they’ll develop complex backgrounds for even minor characters, things they may not ever use in the story.

At some point you’ve just gotta write. Fish or cut bait. Shit or get off the pot.

I’m not saying character sheets and fat outlines and story bibles aren’t good tools. I’m saying readers don’t buy character sheets and fat outlines and story bibles, they buy finished works.

It’s easy to fall into the “outlining is creating” trap. Hell, I’ve done it a time or two myself. And oftentimes, no matter how meticulous an outline has become, a new opportunity appears halfway through and takes the story in a whole new directly.

We writers like to tell ourselves precious things like “my characters tell me what to do” or “my characters just won’t listen to me,” but the reality is the act of creation is a very organic, fluid process. When we start writing, we start making new connections.

Outlining is creative, but also logical. You might have a killer character and a dynamite scenario, but when you have to put the building blocks together to get the character to the scenario, you have to involve a different part of your brain. It’s effectively math vs art, left brain vs right brain. Is your time better spent solving problems or crafting sentences and making new connections?

As an example, I started work on a new project last night. I feel like I know the protagonist fairly well, as I’ve been thinking about her and her story for a long time now. Until last night, her story has been jammed up behind a few other projects in the pipeline.

Within the first 500 words of the first page, I’d both found and filled a major hole in her back story that I didn’t even know existed, and it made her introduction more effective.

Would I have found that hole by just brainstorming over and over? Maybe, but I doubt it. The brainstorming time was focused on the plot problem, and this was a free-form connection that arose from the act of writing and telling the reader about the character. It sprang directly from the creative effort.

A gift from the muse, if you’ll allow another writers’ cliché.

If you’re all about outlines and character sheets, by all means, keep it up. As with most creative efforts, your style is your own and your mileage may vary.

I’m just saying at some point it’s more important to start creating. Take that skeleton outline and throw some prose meat on its bones. Find out what it really looks like.

The left side of the brain makes important contributions to a story, but the real magic happens on the right side.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Spring Break: Not a Total Loss

Despite a somewhat disappointing Spring Break due to sick kids, a sick wife, and crummy weather, I managed to salvage my time off with some solid productivity.

There was last Sunday’s interview for starters, and shortly after I printed the script to the graphic novel script I’ve been working on and took the pencil to it (never was fond of the red pen). I slimmed it down by several pages, rewrote two scenes and added another, and I think the book will be stronger for it.

I have a novella contract to fulfill, and I finally figured out the right way to handle the plot and came up with a better villain. I finished the outline not long ago and fired it off to the publisher for review. Once it’s approved I’ll be able to start banging away at the prose.

I may not have been able to light up the grill, but I can’t complain about lighting up the keyboard. Sure, I’ve had more productive days, but with everything else that was happening this week, I did pretty good.

I also dropped by Borders today and browsed their art books. I found Andy Schmidt’s The Insider’s Guide To Creating Comics And Graphic Novels and remembered his interview with Indie Pulp, so I took it home. I think it’s a bit too late to learn to draw, but I’ve always wanted to get a better handle on the artists’ side of things while I write scripts, particularly layout and perspective. I already have Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art, but hopefully Schmidt’s book will offer a broader take, offering some editorial insight in addition to tips for writers and artists. I learned quite a bit while working with Moonstone and Joe Bucco on Werewolves: Call of the Wild, but I’m still not as comfortable with comics as I am with prose.


Tomorrow it’s back to the grind. Yippee. Nothing like a day job to get in the way of writing productivity!

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.