Characters and their blatant disregard for outlines


I had another lesson this week in why the outline means nothing when characters take over the story. It’s always initially scary, (“but…but… I already planned this, and it was perfect!”) but at the end of the day if I could give the reins to my characters 100% of the time, I would.

In my outline, I had a fight scheduled for this particular scene. It was one of those heart-ripping fights with top of the lungs shouting and storming away and that lingering sense of “I never got to apologize.” I was really excited for it: running through snippets of dialog in my head all day, deciding how my character’s face would contort in fury, trying to find a unique way to say his hands became fists.

And then I got to the scene, and the fight just refused to happen. Refused. Sometimes I can force dialog onto the page even though it isn’t true to the character, but I couldn’t even bring myself to do that. My characters just weren’t angry, and I couldn’t make them angry. They were sad, and eventually I wised up enough to just allow them to be sad and see what the scene looked like through that completely different lens.

As is normally the case in these situations, I was so glad I didn’t follow the outline. And maybe that’s the other thing I learned this week: there are so many things more powerful than yelling. It’s definitely something I’ll consider next time I insert a shouting match into my outline. And, while I do need outlines to keep me from spending my writing sessions staring out the window, I’ll always hope that characters will make the final decisions for me.

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At the end of the day, my characters are better writers than I am, and that’s exactly the way I want it.

Do you have a fun moment of characters saying ‘Nuh-uh’ to your carefully planned scene? Please share below if you do! I love hearing about characters kicking holes in the author’s outlines.


10 responses »

  1. It happens all the time. I even used bookend outlines on one story and it worked out well. The first outline got me started, the characters took over, the ending outline brought everything together the way I intended. The characters owned the middle, and made the ending that much better. I recently had a walk on character demand more page time. The story is better because she stuck around.

  2. I fine quiet anger can be more impressive than shouting. It all depends on the character! I find all sorts of things come up when I write that can’t be predicted.

  3. I had that happen during my first NaNoWriMo. The plan was for the main character to fall in love with someone, but she walked away from him instead. It freaked me out at first. Then I realized how much better the story was because of that.

    Now I’m more than happy to let the characters take the reins when they want. It’s still a bit nerve wracking, though I know it’s for the best.

    • Lol, the ‘failed love’ 🙂 That’s awesome. Do you ever feel like you’re trying to set up friends on a blind date when you outline romance? “You’d be so perfect together! Now kiss!!”

  4. It happens quite often to me. The last time was when I had planned for my characters to move into action and discuss how they were going to handle a difficult situation. And they ended up with a heart to heart instead. I was a little angry and quite stunned, but it actually worked out better and more heartfelt this way. Thanks for a great post 😀

    • Aw, that’s sweet 🙂 I’ll bet that scene is going to be a nice gear-change for the readers as well. I always love when I’m reading a book and suddenly characters are having a heartfelt chat.

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