“No plan survives first contact with the enemy…”

Or second contact… 

Or third…

The quote may  come from Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, or Carl von Clausewitz, or Dwight D. Eisenhower… or just some dude who knew shit.

But it’s true — and it isn’t just true about war.

It’s true about any sort of creation that requires spontaneous adaptation to unknowable but expected change. Like writing fiction.

I outline while knowing the nature of outlining, which is this —

The thing fictional characters do when presented with a story plan is to act around the plan — to do something that will beat the plan. Fictional heroes and villains alike invariably act like real human beings. That is, they work to improve their own odds of success inside the story, and by doing so, they invariably shift the odds in their favor, and invariably surprise me.

These surprises are good for the story — if they surprise me, they will surprise the reader.

They’re just such a pain in the ass… because my heroes AND my villains keep blowing up my nice, neat, carefully plotted outline.

But anyway, that’s where I am today — several hours into my workday, having to stop to re-plot the next few scenes of my outline to maintain the structure of the story I’m building so that I can keep the cool shit one of the little jerks just did.


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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and indie-publish my new ones.


2 comments… add one
  • dragon Aug 24, 2021 @ 13:49

    *chuckle* Some of the best DnD/RPG runs I played in happened when we ruined the two hour planned session in the first fifteen minutes and the DM had to wing it for the rest of the session. Obviously, writing gets like that now and again. Yay!

    • Holly Aug 25, 2021 @ 8:04

      It’s true. It’s a giant pain in the ass, but it makes you think on your feet, it keeps you in a position of discomfort (which means you can’t get lazy or sloppy or phone the writing in) — SO, cussing your characters and spitting invective at the already-finished plot that got away, you improvise, you push yourself for the harder, tricker, not-in-the-least-obvious answer… and you get a better book in the end.

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