Author: Angelica Kate

To Outline or Not to Outline That is the Question

If you are a writer of any longevity, whether the first book or the thirtieth, this is a question and argument you will come across. Yes, there are two main schools of thought on plotting out your entire book chapter by chapter, character profiles ad nauseam before starting the very first word on your new project. I applaud those who have this clear picture in their head of how the story is to go. When you spend the first two to ten thousand words of your inspiration on an outline, I find it is a slippery slope that may sometimes steal the inspiration later.

When is Outline Too Much

Again, this is one writer’s opinion, but a good outline should only be a highlighting endeavor. Main themes of chapters, character engagements, and what the chapter will do to move the story along. If the outline is longer than a chapter is intended to be – you did something wrong. Try to allow the organicness of storytelling to still come through even as you read and follow an outline is how I prefer to go about this process. Additionally, how much to outline will depend on the book’s length or piece being worked on. Novellas under say fifteen thousand possess much fewer outline details, but it must move the conflict, resolution along much faster than longer books where you need to carry a story for a lengthy bit of road and still engage readers.  

Series, of course, will require you to keep some form of an outline. You cannot retain characters, places, and events all in your head in a manner to work through three, four, or ten books of a continuing series. Again, basic facts and ensuring you can read and remember the outline points are critical. Try not to overdo this outline either, though, because what you will find is as you write, should things change, you now need to keep the main book and outline current. I am not of the school of thought to have cards, massive outlines, and huge character tables before starting the story. While it works for many, this process makes me feel like I’m at the therapist having to recall events, people and tell feelings, and at the end of the day – I didn’t write a word on my actual story!

The messiness of No Outline

I have ghostwritten several books where the outlines for a twenty thousand book, part of a series came to me and was eleven pages. Full details on how to write, what to write, conflict in the chapter, and even cliffhanger per chapter were provided. I hated those projects as I had no idea why the outliner didn’t just write the book themselves as they had a crystal clear picture of the story in their mind. On the other hand, the ones that tell you here are two-sentences on my idea and go; without any outline, you will have plot issues, sequencing, point of view changes, and other concerns, but that is where great editing can come in. I will say about fifty percent of my books started this way, and the other fifty outlined. Sometimes the chaos of no outline will cause a writer to lose the position where they are in the overall project, or the characters don’t stay true to the story.

You can tell from this I can make an argument for either side of the aisle. I can outline when a story needs the structure and is so clear I want to capture details. On the other hand, always leave enough room in the outline for organic storytelling to develop. Outlines, in my opinion, can choke the story and lead a writer down a path that maybe isn’t the best final destination. On the other hand, outlines will keep the characters, sequence, and other story elements fine-tuned and on task throughout. I think somewhere in the middle is where I would say is best. Ensure you have a firm understanding of the characters, motivations, and story you intend to tell, and then let your fingers walk across that keyboard putting all those amazing touches to the final product.

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Killing Your Main Character in a Romance? How Dare you!

I wrote a book called Discord, in which twin sisters were raised separately due to a horrifying situation at birth. While they can stay connected, it is with limited understanding of this connection. This book is about them finding their way to each other and earning the love they both deserve after so much heartache in their lives. I did end up killing one of the main characters despite this being a happily ever after romance – this got reactions from several readers. I would love to share some of the unique emails I got on this topic. I’ve heard repeatedly how you kill the main character in a contemporary romance and still manage a happily ever after ending.

Killing the Main Character – A Slippery Slope

Sure, this has been done in fantasy, suspense, and other genres, but rarely in romance. When I first outlined Discord, it was not to kill my sweet, earnest main character. Unfortunately, like life, the story took me to a place where everyone escaping without a scratch and living happily ever after was not feasible. Yes, with the paranormal twin connection, the ending could be crafted to deliver a happily ever after, but I clearly remember when it became evident that my main character would die. There was no other organic place to take the story, and yes, despite probably having to put a warning on the book about adult content – I was going there.

Writing is an art and, many times, mimics life. Life is messy, horrid, and often even in the most earnest of quests, we do not succeed in the manner we hoped. Readers escape into books for that happy ending they might not have attained in life. This does not mean that your stories always need to be syrupy, sweet without any obstacles, and that holds for romance. This would not be realistic or even give enough content to fill a reasonable story of in-depth details and backstory, obstacles, and joys when success is attained. As anyone that has turned on the news recently – bad news prevails everywhere. It is the main reason I write romance, with the endings, so many of us never get. So, how do you kill the main character but not immediately have readers slam down their kindles and not finish?
For me, I made the bad guy so horrible that taking him out was a positive. The fact that it had to be at this sweet girl’s hands the only obvious conclusion, and then still managed a tiny twist with the paranormal angle to tie it up. I have written fifteen books under my pen name since and ghostwritten forty, and Discord’s story is still one of my favorites. Realizing killing the main character comes with additional nuances that must be addressed. In romance, as they climax and ride into the sunset, such a book with such a tough emotional loss will require additional work to wrap it up and keep the readers from giving a one-star review.

Killing main characters in books, movies, and shows is a tricky business. Watchers of shows and readers of books invest in these stories for the characters and their like or hatred of them. Taking one of them out mid-story requires the writer to provide some wrap up still that feels like that was the only path that could have happened and still provide a semblance of ending that resonates with readers. Remember, resonating doesn’t always mean happily ever after; I always tell people – if you got an emotional reaction from a reader, you succeeded. Even the hate mail after Discord made me smile; it meant they got to the end of my book and felt enough to sit down and write me about it. That, for me, was a good day. Happy writing all!

Photo courtesy of Pexels

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