Writing According to Plan— Or Not

To Outline or Not to Outline, That is the Question

First, there are authors who outline extensively, and authors who don’t outline at all, and every possible range between. All possibilities are equally valid and viable, as long as the author uses a method that their brain likes.

In other words, the answer is “yes.” Outline or don’t, whatever you like.

But if the method you are using isn’t working, go ahead and try something else.

If you normally outline like crazy, but then you’re bored with the story because you already know what happens– outline less.

If you got lost somewhere in the middle and have no idea what happens next– outline more.

If you know where you’re going but you forget things along the way–outline more strategically.

What About Me?

I’ve always said I was a plotter. After all, I wrote a sentence or two of outline for every single chapter (six) I planned for my short story so long ago. Which then grew into an entire book.

Yeah…. not a good outline. Maybe I wasn’t a plotter.

But plotting is good, right? (See how I drank the Kool-aid?) So I tried more plotting for book 2. Which stalled in the middle. I thought plotting was supposed to be easier!

Plotting also eventually saved book 2, after I rearranged a lot of stuff. The whole process of learning helped me develop the plotting system I still use (with a few updates). That system made books 3 & 4 much easier (as easy as it gets, ahem).

For my new series, I added a column for “What goes wrong?” because I was making things too easy for my characters.

So Now It’s Easy, Right? Everything Goes According to Plan!

*wild laughter*


Major things still go wrong. Drama goes missing, beats don’t work out, plot holes appear, characters refuse to do the thing because they don’t want to. Those all require re-plotting on purpose. (I hate that.)

Then there are the accidents, happy or sad. I’ll be writing along, following my notes, and then something happens that I didn’t plan. Sometimes I erase it because it messes up stuff I have to have later. Sometimes it’s better than what I had planned and I still have to re-plot. (The one time I love re-plotting.) Sometimes it’s just different, neither better nor worse for the plot, and I have to decide if it adds anything else to the story. Is it funny? Poignant? Foreshadowing? Linking to backstory? Okay, it can stay.

Sometimes I Don’t Find the Broken By Myself

I have a lovely critique group, and I always get beta readers. And sometimes they’ll twiddle their fingers nervously and say, “You know, I really don’t think this thing right here works. Here’s my reason…”

And then I cry.

Okay, not usually. But I might be sad. And then I start pondering how to fix the broken thing. Sometimes it’s easy. “Rearrange the dialogue here. Add all the reasons there. Put the cause before the effect.” Sometimes it’s hard. “What do you mean, you don’t like the ending??”

But really and truly, I’m grateful to those who find my errors before I expose them to the whole world. I’d rather fix them first.

Well, Should I Plot?

I don’t know. Do you have a plotting brain?

Try it and find out. Remember, there’s no “true” answer, no matter what So-and-So Famous Person says. If plotting works for you, plot. If not plotting works for you, don’t plot. If semi-plotting works for you, then do that.

It’s your story and your brain. Do it your way. Really.

If you want to learn more about plotting, I have a list of my favorite plotting books.

Happy writing,
Marty C. Lee

© 2023 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Author: MCLeeBooks

Marty C. Lee told stories for most of her life, but never took them seriously until her daughter asked her to write the first in the Unexpected Heroes series. Between writing and spending time with her family, she reads, embroiders, and gardens. Her characters take over her brain on a regular basis. If you catch her muttering to thin air, she's probably arguing with one of her characters. She has learned to keep a notebook by her bed to jot down ideas so she can go to sleep and deal with them in the morning.

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