Even Outlining Goes Awry

Ah, outlining. Some people hate it. Some people swear by it. The longer I’ve written professionally, the more I’ve come to like outlining, both as a writing tool, but more as an editing tool.

One of the last steps I do before I start in on a major edit is to create a new outline for the story. (At this point, I’ve already identified plot and character issues, missing worldbuilding, etc.) And then I go through and see what’s salvageable from the original draft and link it to the new outline, so I can reuse things or move them around instead of rewriting everything from scratch.

And I make note on each new scene of the associated old scenes, and how much of the original scene is useable. Sometimes a scene is brand new, and needs to be written from scratch. Other times, the original scene is more or less fine as is, and just needs some line editing here and there. Every other one falls somewhere in between.

Doing it this well tends to be very beneficial, because it helps me know the amount of work a particular scene will take, and how much time I need to budget for it.

But, as lovely as this method is, it’s not always fool proof.

Take my current scene for an example. My notes denoted that the original scene was about half useable, though I would need to pull in information from a couple of later scenes. It’s always a bit of a pain in the neck to graft scenes onto each other, but you know how it goes–sometimes things simply aren’t in the right place the first time through.

In this case, though, my notes ended up completely wrong. The scene needs a complete rewrite. There’s almost nothing that’s useable from it.

Some people argue that outlining means there’s nothing to discover in your story. I think it’s cases like this that proves that statement wrong. This was a fairly detailed outline, with everything in its place to make sure that I’m getting the most out of my editing process.

Part of it is an evolution process. When I outlined, this scene seemed perfectly reasonable. And indeed, the characters involved, and the order of events, are fine. It’s the nuances that no longer work–conversations sharing information that came out earlier, or changes in the characters’ relationships that make a particular set of actions no longer make any sense. It’s hard to predict that sort of thing, no matter how much work you put in.

Any opinions on outlining, especially for editing, Squiders? Tips or tricks you’ve found really work?

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