Outliners are from Mars and Men are from Venus

Outliners are from Mars and Men are from Venus

I don’t belong to a writers’ group for the same reason I don’t participate in drum circles, sing Kumbaya or go to dubious foot massage parlors – mainly because it might lead to strangers trying to touch me. If you don’t think this is true, then you’ve never been in the bar at a writer’s conference.

But I do have one writer pal with whom I regularly trade pages. Unedited pages. Things I would not show another human being ever because it is more personal than being naked. It’s like being naked and x-rayed and handing over your entire medical file, including that thing about the itch. I do this because he is smarter than me. I have no idea why he does it. But my work is better off for it.

There is one problem. Outlines. I do. He doesn’t. And this can lead to certain misunderstandings. Like the one today. On his end, I’m sure it wasn’t any big deal, but I was seriously considering becoming that kid in class who bites. Hard.

I take my book outlining process Very Seriously. I spend months thinking about and making an outline. I outline every single scene, think out every relationship, every conflict. I even write much of the dialogue in the outline. I’m one-of-those-people. And I gave the outline to him. He had one comment. Change one of the main characters from a boy to a girl.

I stipulate that he is probably right, and I probably will.

But my first reaction was something along the lines of OH MY GOD WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE.

This isn’t just a matter of changing pronouns. Everything changes. Motivations, relationships, reactions. Changing this character’s gender will make an enormous difference to how the protagonist becomes involved in the mystery and an equally enormous difference to the conclusion – not to mention the 300 pages in between. As different as men and women are, that is how different a book it would be.

To him, it’s just an outline. Some notes. Fewer than 20 pages, which is nothing to rewrite. To me, who works out life as she knows it within those 20 pages, it was like having my house burn down around me. It was traumatic even if the house needed to burn.

So we had something of a perception problem. I wanted – nay, needed – enormous amounts of sympathy and head patting. He had no idea what the big problem was, and – here is where things really went awry – actually said so.

I know!

Which is why, for an hour, I prayed he’d sit down too fast and crush a testicle.

Just one.

(Related: God does not answer prayers about testicles.)

After the testicle thing didn’t work out, we talked about it like grownups. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize…” “No, no. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize…”

But this just goes to show you. Men and women really are very different, and this is going to be one whopper of a rewrite.


  • Eric

    19.02.2010 at 21:00

    Maybe it would be easier if he simply became a transgendered male to female. Would that require as much?

    Okay, okay, okay, my bad, I say, cupping my hands protectively over my testicles.

  • Susan Adrian

    22.02.2010 at 18:23

    Heh. Sorry, but I’m with the guy on this one!

    Not because it isn’t a big deal to you–I get that it is–but that (prepare for ouchness) if it’s a good suggestion it shouldn’t matter how much work it will be.

    I know, you can vow to crush me, except I don’t have any testicles.

    My agent suggested the very same change for me on my last book–and it was the main character, AND the whole book was already written and rewritten. And still I was willing to try, because it might have made the book way better.

    Mind, we didn’t end up doing it, but I did start the change.

    But if it’s a really good suggestion for the better of the book, and you trust his opinion, you have to consider it, right?

  • Eric

    22.02.2010 at 23:50

    All I can say is, Thanks Susan.

  • Eric

    22.02.2010 at 23:52

    And I forgot to say, however, that even the best suggestion can still make you recoil in horror from what it might mean. And I was, undoubtedly, less aware of that than I ought to have been.