The Obsession of Thérèse de la Neige


I've come to a realization of sorts lately, one I should have realized quite some time ago.

You see, I suck at outlining.

In the last year and a half I have attempted to put together a complete outline for Paper Girl. Unfortunately, every time I threw myself into the task, I seem to end up in the same spot. I end up with a big, over detailed and unruly document that I am ultimately unsatisfied with. I'm convinced there are "holes" in the story yet to fill in. Sometimes I attempt to fill these holes forcibly, only to be disgusted with the results. Then i brood for months at a time waiting for ideas to occur to me.

This is not to say that some of that brooding isn't useful. Sometimes I do come up with new ideas that expand the story. The ideas I incorporated to the forthcoming Draft 4 outline have left me more satisfied with the story than ever. And yet, there are still these damnable holes, now at the beginning of the story. Earlier this week I had read through the Draft 4 prewriting once more. As I did so, I chatted with a friend over Skype, lamenting about these problems. During the course of the conversation I realized that the holes I currently see are mere minutiae. I could write nearly anything for it, and it would be just as good as anything else. (Save for something patently ridiculous like all of them being attacked by dragons or a radioactive 50ft. tall Matt Damon.)

Despite this, I still have a desire to format the current prewriting into a formal outline. I attempted to start this task while on my last flight, but was too exhausted to get very far. I attempted to do so again last night, but failed miserably. Instead, I sought out suggestions for writing outlines of fiction. Eventually, I landed on this insightful little page.

Surprisingly, the page discusses just the sort of problems and arguments I've had with respect to outlining. Years ago I was against them decrying the death of the creative process. Then, when I realized that I simply couldn't keep all of Paper Girl in my head, I turned to outlining. And quickly, I made my mistake.

I have a tendency to over-plot my stories. This isn't a new realization. A friend of mine suggested the exact same thing almost a year ago. So obsessed by these holes was I that I ignored her completely. Never underestimate my ability to stubbornly refuse someone's advice if I haven't discovered it myself. When thinking about this, I realized that I did much the same thing with programming. If I actually sat down to design the application before coding, I would quickly become embroiled with potential problems, complexities, and pitfalls. The experience of designing a program in detail was completely distasteful to me. Instead, I would sit down for an hour, or toss around ideas for weeks until I finally started serious coding.

And guess what I should be doing now?

From a practical standpoint, there is no more outlining to be done. There is no more idea tossing to be done. There is no more brooding to be done. Paper Girl is more than complete with regards to preparation. Granted, I would still like to construct a formal outline. I would like to incorporate subplots from Draft 3.7 into Draft 4. This isn't so much writing as it is organization.