Spontaneous 10: Outlines, Like Recipes, Are Negotiable

Even if I have all the ingredients, I feel this uncontrollable urge to substitute things. It’s not always easy to follow a recipe, but— can we agree— it’s less risky? There’s a frontiersman in me that doesn’t want to take a well-worn path, even to chocolate cake. Where’s the fun (or artistry) in that? My family, who has to eat my adventures, is not exactly on board with this line of reasoning.

But for writers, this is the way. Recipe=Springboard. Your outline is your recipe. Don’t feel compelled to follow it exactly. Should you start with a recipe? Of course. One can’t just toss things in a pan. There are chemistry rules to follow. Have you ever made bread and forgot the yeast? Maybe it was a sweet brick, but a brick it was.

I am an artist. Words only. I don’t decorate, paint, or even hang pictures. But cooking is a form of art, is it not? Which may be why I thought of writing when I was in my kitchen yesterday having a fantod over the eggless state of my refrigerator. I mean, I’m all for risk, but a chocolate cake must have eggs. I know there are people who swear by XYZ cake that has no sugar, fat, dairy, flour, or eggs. Ack…ack…(that’s me vomiting).

Anyway, the egg detour prompted me to consider the parallels between recipes and stories. I had lots of thinking time on the ride to the grocery store. Grrr…

To have nothing in the way of outline notes will likely end with you, pulling out tufts of hair, pacing in front of your laptop screaming expletives because you’ve written yourself into a Gordian plot knot at 65,000 words. Nevermind your dark litany may be the most creative thing you’ve uttered recently, which will also tick you off.

To follow your outline exactly will likely end in a bland, unremarkable story, something everyone’s heard before, only not as exciting because you’re not Mary Shelley. Readers like their tropes, but they want to be surprised, too. We’re not McWriters.

My haphazard kitchen thoughts follow. And after that, my grandmother’s Black Magic Cake recipe. Even with two options for dairy, I subbed yogurt because I didn’t have either sour cream or buttermilk. Could I have picked one of them up when I got the eggs? And ruin the fun? No way. Oh, and I also subbed coconut for vegetable oil.

As promised. 🙂

13 thoughts on “Spontaneous 10: Outlines, Like Recipes, Are Negotiable

  1. Sherry

    What an adventure! There are substitutions for most things in life, some better than others. Egg substitutes a too! 1 large egg = 2 tablespoons water, 2 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil. Pantry staples can save the day (or the cake) in a pinch.

  2. Kathleen Joyce

    Love this, Kelly! I’m suffering through a fantod right now! I think I love that scene, I wrote that scene, but damn how do I make work? Sigh…alas I had no recipe and I’m trying to create one! My thought of who would have done the deed has turned into a character I adore. I empathize with her and now, now I have to pin the murders on someone else. It ain’t easy but I will succeed! “Ever try, ever fail, try again, fail better.” Beckett

    1. Oh darn. You fell for your character. Well of course you did. You write the sweetest people, ever. I even like your villains! At the table one of the first questions on a new dish is, “Did you follow the recipe?” As if the answer EVER changes. “No.” 🙂

      1. Kathleen Joyce

        I always chuckle when I read the reviews of recipes on line. It’s delicious and I followed the recipe except I didn’t have… 🙂

  3. I love that recipe! It’s one of my favorites. I also love that you share your bits of wisdom with us. I’ve heard people say they’re either outliners or not. But I think you make a great argument for a loose outline.

  4. Great analogy–of course I usually only outline after the first draft is done. But then I also am always trying to sub applesauce for oil in recipes. That recipe, however, looks delicious just as it is–strong black coffee. So key!

    1. I will think about the idea of getting draft #1 out before outlining. I am in the thick of it right now and I’m pulling out my hair, even WITH the occasional stop to outline. I think I’m destined to pull out my hair. 😉

      1. A thriller is probably a beast best outlined before, I’m guessing. I imagine I would be bald by now, for sure, trying to get a book like that to gel–but also to be surprising for the reader (but not too surprising). Looking forward to reading when you’re done! I’d be happy to trade again. I’m 33K in on #2, having done some but not a ton for the historical thread. I feel freer this time, so hopefully that’s good!

  5. Pingback: I Stand Corrected: You Can Have Your Cake & Eat it Too – Kelly Griffiths

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