Intestinal Fortitude

To outline or not to outline, that is the question.  Whether tis nobler in the mind to forge ahead organically, or take up arms against unfertilized plots, and by opposing them, end them

Ahhh, who am I kidding. I ain’t no Shock-es-Spear.

But here’re my slings and arrows:  I don’t outline my fiction.

I’ve tried.

Really tried.

But can’t.

I’ve stared at blank computer screens for days.

Weeks, even.

Can’t do it.

Nonfiction, yes, but fiction–negative.  Sure, one can do anything one puts one mind to, but I also just don’t want to. I’m sure there’re deep psychological issues there, most of which I’m quite aware of, and with one in particular I’m even going to talk about: discovery.


I like to be surprised! Love to discover the story along the way. I do not like to have everything intricately or even partially outlined. To me, for one thing, it’s too much like work. My day-job, work. But mostly, I firmly believe, because I want to be surprised in the journey of discovery of the story itself.

Now, of course “outliners” can do the same….

But I’m not wired like that. Not for fiction. Whether or not my slings and arrows are any good, I’ve written eleven novel-length manuscripts since 1987 (about 100K words each, of part time writing), not one of them outlined. It’s most vexing to me to outline and I never get anywhere doing it, and I’ve tried for coming up on thirty years. It just isn’t how I work. I’ve heard this is how publishers like to see newcomers’ work, and if forced into such a position I would obviously giver ‘er a go, but I’m pretty sure that they (the publishers) would be pretty disappointed, yeah. A lot of cool stuff comes out when I “free hand” my efforts, stuff that even amazes me. Stuff that makes me say things like “Maaan, where did that come from?!” and “Whoa, now that was cool!”

Many can even say that outlining makes a better book. I don’t believe it. I think either method can create a great or even good/passable book, and think there’s more to a great book than mere mechanics (apologies, stalwarts). One thing I do do, however, is reverse outline. When I have a completed draft, I then go through and highlight all the events, and work and rework the hell out of them to get the story right. I ain’t married to any of my words…only the story. What makes it better. I also write up a synopsis to help keep me on target. So, though I don’t do it all up front, I do partake in the outlining endeavor in a round-about way. To me, I love doing it this way. It’s just how I’m wired.

And, don’t get me wrong–I don’t think one is better nor easier than the other. Both require perseverance and discipline. Gutting it out. There is never just one right way in doing most things, because if there were, there wouldn’t be all these other ways.


So, find out what works for you, and do it. Don’t get all vapor locked in the details; don’t allow mere mechanics to kill your enthusiasm. If you find yourself stalled, blocked, or otherwise hindered, well then, siddown and just…



About fpdorchak

Upmarket paranormal fiction author. I write gritty, Twilight Zone-like fiction. Please check out my website:! Thank you for stopping by!
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6 Responses to Intestinal Fortitude

  1. Marne Ann says:

    Great post. I am an outliner, of sorts. I begin my synopsis, write the first chapter or two, decide where the next chapter or two are going in the synopsis, write them, et cetera. It works for me. But that’s the secret…doing what works for you. Good points.

    • fpdorchak says:

      Now, see, that’s cool and that’s what I mean! There are all KINDS of ways of gettin bizness done! Heck, I might even try that out!

      Thanks, Marne Ann, and thanks for stopping by!

  2. karen Lin says:

    I like to use a combination of pantser and outliner method. And with the genre of my new book (suspense thriller) I find I need to outline more. My grandmother is in NY city on the 11th floor on the upper West side of Manhatten and her 24-hour caregiver has apparently abandoned her. Imagine that! Karen

    • fpdorchak says:

      I have to admit, I’ve been messing around with outlining more over the years. One started-but-uncompleted conspiracy thriller was kinda like that. I find, thought, that I come up with lots of “plot points,” write all these things down, then work them into the ms as I go. I do know, on the whole, where my stories go, just not the details. I eally love finding all this stuff out as I go! It’s a large part of the FUN of writing for me! What gets me up at Oh-Dark-Thirty every fricking day (uh, ‘cept weekends…)!

      As you know, I’ve not been doing much book-length ms writing the past several years, but only in the past month or so have things begun to fall back into place and start “coming around,” so I was trying outlining as a method to continually move forward on my embarrassingly stunted efforts (“OTHER people have these problems–not ME!”), without having the actual words shouldering their own workload–and it was still hard! Maybe I hit a cycle of needing to back off and recharge, don’t know, but my newest “mainstream effort” centering on the afterlife is coming along “swimmingly ” (I just wrote a gnarly out-in-the-middle-of-the-ocean drown scene ;-] )! But it’s all about getting the work done, so it’s nice to see that there are others out there feeling and doing the same thing, working with their own mojo and not so much feeling the need to be forced into rigid structures “just because.”

      Karen–I hope your grandmother will be all right–is anyone going to remain with her/check in on her, since her caregiver left?

  3. Adrienne says:

    I’m with you, Frank. In school, I hated when you had to turn in an outline several weeks before the essay, paper or other writing project due date. My palms would begin to sweat and I’d go into panic mode, because I’m not wired that way either. Often I’d complete my writing first, then go back and prepare the outline to turn in, then tweak the original before its due date. Glad to know I’m not alone. Always thought there was something “wrong” with me because it was such a struggle to outline first.

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