It sounds, and feels, like a horror movie. WHEN PLOTTERS MEANDER. AN OUTLINE DIVERGED IN A YELLOW WOOD.
In reality, it’s been my process in writing Five of Hearts, my YA contemporary about the kids in the band and a televised competition for a record deal. The Glee meets THE DISENCHANTMENTS book. I outlined this book thoroughly, and then vetted the outline with my critique partners. I love the outline. It’s my roadmap and it’s helping me continue to slog through this first draft.
The roadmap only tells me what towns I’m going to, though, and the major attractions in each. It tells me in this chapter that the band is going to the smoothie place by the beach, they’re going to fight over their set list, this character will cry, and this character will blow up, which is the equivalent of knowing that you’re going to Philadelphia where you’ll see the Art Museum, Reading Terminal, and then you and your family will probably fight over standing in the line for the Liberty Bell versus doing the Mural Arts Walk (protip from a Philly native: Do the Mural Arts walk.)
But on the walk from the Art Museum to Reading Terminal, you’ll walk by Love Park and you’ll see homeless guys laying on benches while tourists take pictures in front of the infamous LOVE sculpture right by City Hall where they somehow expedited construction when Occupy Philadelphia protests were camped out on that plaza. It’s what you think and do and *notice* versus let your eyes skip over that makes up you, and informs your experience of Philadelphia.
I knew my characters were going to a smoothie place (They have a thing between them called “Smoothie Out The Tension”. Whenever they fight, they make up over smoothies.) but I didn’t realize the Smoothie Guy was going to flirt with my narrator. And I didn’t realize that was going to lead to a discussion amongst the friends about why she attracts so much attention, and what she does with it. That scene is simultaneously the funniest I’ve ever written, and the most important in the book so far.
So, yes, I believe in outlining. And I love plotting my books. I can’t imagine not plotting my books out now.
But inside that roadmap? Meander. If you see a sign a quarter mile outside town that says The Fountain of Youth is Only A Mile Down This Super Sketchy Dirt Road to the Left, take it.
Only in fiction, though. Do not take that road in real life without someone with you and adequate cell service. #PSA
Don’t let an outline hinder the little moments that’ll make up your book. Don’t let your roadmap stifle your creativity. It’s just a lamp. It’s just a compass pointing north. You can detour and you can stop to smell the roses, admire the view, and linger. Let yourself linger. After all, at least for me when I read, those lingering moments in a book? Those are the ones that stay with me, far more than the climax of the conflict or a fight scene.