If I May Take A Moment of Your Time

If I May Take A Moment of Your Time


A failed literary outline.

Hello, Friend! Are you a writer who struggles with Scene Development Instability, sometimes called SDI? I know, it can be hard to talk about in public, but let me reassure you, Friend, that SDI can be treated!

Great, tell me more! Read on from 400.
I’m not actually a Writer! Read on from 300.
I only write short stories, so I’m immune to SDI. Read on from 200.


Perfect. Grab your favorite fountain pen, a sheaf of paper, and a nice hot cup o’ joe! Now just do what comes naturally. Continue from 210.


Outlining your book from beginning to end can certainly help. But it can also serve as a hidden source of bloat and even additional Scene Development Instability. Always be willing to alter your outline, since you learn your characters a lot while writing them, and sometimes your outline, written weeks earlier, contains questionable decisions or scenes that aren’t needed by the time you get to them. Don’t let your outline dictate that a scene is needed when you actually know better by the time it comes up. After all, writing prose isn’t like construction on an assembly line, and you aren’t a child laborer working without safety standards. We’re all about the safety standards around here, Friend!

Gee, thanks! Continue reading from 500.


Wow, that is bad. But fear not, Friend, I’m here for you! When characters and other literary elements are actively fighting you in the construction of your narrative, you may be helped by asking yourself one of these insightful questions:

Question One: Is the story I’m telling the real story? Maybe the character is onto something, and their need to jump into every rabbit hole is actually because those holes lead to more interesting places. Consider what the story will look like if you follow this thread. Can it still lead to where you want the story to end up? Or is this new place even better than your original conception of the end? If so, maybe you should consider relinquishing all narrative control, and letting that character go completely hog wild, unrestrained by any form of literary bounds. Or something more restrained, of course. Your choice!

Question Two: Is this character really necessary for this scene? Maybe there’s someone more suited to just deliver the goods you need at that time. Someone more staid and reliable. More malleable and controllable. Someone you can bend to your literary will, rather than the other way around. If so, swap ’em right quick!

Question Three: Have I been getting enough sleep? Even Writers need to sleep, Friend. Being creative on an empty tank is more disheartening than a flapjack in a rainstorm. Let those sheep jump, and saw some logs!

Thanks, this helped a lot and I’m ready to rock this scene! Continue from 500.
This was swell and all, but could you give me some advice on how to proceed? Read on from 360.


This is a common misconception. But let me assure you, Friend, that the length of your fiction doesn’t in any way immunize you from Scene Development Instability. Except if you do nano-fic. That’s a separate issue! Just realize that any scene can go unexpectedly off the rails. It’s not a moral judgment, it’s a medical condition, and it can be treated!

Read on from 310.


Here’s my card. I’ll be in touch! And remember, as a writer, if it feels good, it’s automatically good prose, and any editor or publisher will be happy to work with you! Continue from 500.


Mild Scene Development Instability happens all the time. Usually, there are no irreversible consequences to any one scene going a bit sideways. That’s what second drafts are for, am I right? But letting SDI become a habit, where things are more often than not distinctly different from what you imagined, that is asking for trouble. Sooner or later some character will have a full-blown episode of SDI, and fall in love with another character that really needs to stay uninvolved. Or perhaps they’ll kite a check, forge a signature, and impersonate their bosses. Soon they’ll be finding lost books of wisdom you didn’t plan for, and sudden, unexpected sacred relics. Then you’ve crossed the line into serious SDI, so it’s best to nip those loosey-goosey writing habits in the bud.

One thing you might try is the traditional Snippet file. Just clip that prose right out, and paste it into a snippet file. No muss, no fuss, and you get to save your precious prose. The reason this can work so well is that Scene Development Instability often cloaks itself in very suave writing. Writing you might grow to feel some attachment to. Forbidden attachment. Don’t get seduced, Friend! Put those illicit literary gems into a safebox, sequestered away from the rest of your story. You can always open your Snippet file, even years later, and marvel at the glittering gemstones in contains, knowing that within your story they would have been as constructive as a kidney stone, and equally hard to dislodge later on, with a literary kidney fully grown around it.

Golly, I’ll try that! Read on from 510.
That sounds dumb. Read on from 320.


A metaphorical outline, with the metaphorical outline of a short story in close proximity.

Outlining is usually at a scale that covers the entire work, whatever the length. But as the saying goes, a gerbil is just a capybara at a distance. So sit yourself down, grab a mug of herbal tea, and outline the purpose of each interaction in a scene. Give yourself some keywords to help you bounce dialogue back and forth, or really get granular with each shift in action, tone, or visual cue. Then, when you have the scene from beginning to end, follow that outline even more strictly than you might otherwise. This is an emergency, after all!

Hmm, I like the sound of that, thanks! Continue reading from 500.
I tried it, and I’m back to report that it didn’t work well enough to avoid more SDI. Continue reading from 310.


For those of our Friends that don’t know, the snowflake method is where you outline in finer and finer detail, until you replace a super-high resolution outline with written prose, and continue that way until you have a finished piece. Sort of like how animators swap out more and more finished scenes from an original rough called an Animatic. You start with storyboard panels, then rough pencils, then rough renders, then finished renders… you get it.

The main problem with writing like this is that any “found” element that you discover as you write will usually require you to alter the outline to fit it in. The more detailed your outline is, the harder this becomes, since you’re compromising already-detailed work. Maybe even finished prose, if you’re the sort that skips around a lot in their story, choosing scenes to write out of order.

This can be like acquiring a box of kittens by growing a tail here, a tiny leg there, and maybe a bundle of whiskers other there. Sure, when you’ve gotten all the parts done you have a selection of adorable kittens, but sometimes you’ll end up with a few extra toes, mismatched eyes, or even a tail where you swore you’d planned a back leg. So don’t get too attached to your kitten-parts, or you’ll be begging for a serious Scene Development Instability infection.

Good point, even if I lost the metaphorical thread! Read on from 220 for a quick refresher on how this might look to you as a snow-flaker!


Not a Writer, you say? Are you sure, Friend? Because many people who don’t think of themselves as “Writers” per se actually, secretly, find themselves feeling unfamiliar and disturbing thoughts, such as a desire to create plot diagrams and intriguing metaphors involving a character’s eyebrows or the strength of a particularly piercing gaze. It’s all right; what you are experiencing is perfectly normal. Some people even find they have produced a number of short stories, or even a novel or two. We’re here to help!

I admit it! I’m a Writer! Re-read from 100, and let’s keep the honesty flowing, okay, Friend?
Nope. Still not a Writer. But I find myself oddly attracted to the idea. Read on from 120.


First off, let’s recognize the different levels of Scene Development Instability. On the mild end of the spectrum, you might find the setting getting a little wonky. You imagined the scene in one place, and now it’s happening somewhere else, and it’s causing a problem, yet you feel helpless to address it.

More serious cases will include characters suddenly interjecting irrelevancies into conversations, derailing them repeatedly, and keeping the scene from serving its purpose of advancing the story. The most serious form of SDI is when a character rebels entirely, refusing to act in any way conducive to the plot. Not only do they sideline all attempts to move things along their intended course, they interject actual problems into the fiction, such as adding unforeseen twists and unwelcome complications. Now, how serious would you say Your SDI symptoms are?

I’ve got it bad! Read on from 150.
I have mild to moderate symptoms, I suppose. Read on from 220.
This has never happened to me, actually. Read on from 410.


Now, Friend, there’s no need to get all defensive! We’re all in this together, right? Now, if the Snippet file doesn’t tickle your fancy for relieving the occasional SDI symptoms, how about these tried-and-true Burn It To The Ground techniques? Continue from 360!


The fig leaf is not actually part of the artwork, if you catch my meaning, Friend!

This is a tough case! Perhaps you have a strong sense of what the scene is for, but are just uncomfortable in actually committing it to paper. Is it too graphic? Too intense? Too much of something else? Well, Friend, if you feel self-conscious around your own writing, maybe what you need is to just go for it, and try to tackle the necessary details with as much class and dignity as you can muster. Your troubles in advancing the scene arise from trying and failing to construct literary fig leafs, leaving your muses to cover their eyes and clutch pearls, rather than wielding chainsaws and arc-welders, as is their wont. Your fans will respect you for it, even if they share some of your discomfort in letting it all hang out. I call this the French Riviera Intervention.

This makes me strangely excited to get back to those difficult scenes. Thanks! Read on from 500.
I politely decline this advice. Read on from 340.


If neither the Literary Tonsil/Appendix Method nor the French Riviera Intervention apply to you, maybe you just need a good old-fashioned dose of Outlining?

I guess it couldn’t hurt. Read on from 230.


Ah, yes, the stern disciplinarian! While you and I both know the benefits of the occasional caning, I have to give a Gentle Warning that not allowing for any deviation from the plan can cause a new sort of problem for you: instead of serving you, the Writer, your scenes can more and more serve the plan instead. In your fear – yes, fear! – of Scene Development Instability, you may well fall victim to its dark opposite, where scenes advance a plot in defiance to every other need, such as characterization, setting, tone, or theme. Remember to wrap that iron fist in a velvet glove!

I shall endeavor to do so. Continue reading from 500.


Using this revolutionary advancement in Science, you, the writer, can now choose to just obliterate the entire section that’s giving you trouble. If you’re on your toes, it will be the very first sentence that seems nonsensical. Rather than wait to see if your characters or narrator can recover, just slap them with a trusty Backspace combo! Don’t wait, just get snipping as soon as you detect a problem. Just get it over with, like with frostbitten ears. Then, as your prose begins to scab over, you can consider why your muses seem to have lost their collective minds.

Maybe you aren’t sure what purpose the scene serves. In this case, it might not have any reason to exist at all, and you’re just in denial. Try continuing without it. You can always circle back and implant it later, if your story appears jaundiced or lethargic. I call this the Literary Tonsil/Appendix Method, since you don’t know what they did, but you may miss them once they’re gone.

That sounds like just the thing, thanks! Read on from 500.
That’s sort of gross, and doesn’t seem relevant! Read on from 330.


Sure thing, Friend! Scene Development Instability is a serious condition that can afflict Writers of all genres. How does someone know if they are afflicted with Scene Development Instability? Well, Friend, am I glad you asked! Let me ask you this: have you ever been writing, and you get to a scene that you’ve been imagining in your head for a while? That’s great! You finally have a chance to experience the sweet, sweet payoff of all that character building and scene setting. At least that’s what you expect! But then, to your Dismay, the scene proceeds to mature in a manner that has an embarrassing divergence. It isn’t the same as you were imaging it, and the change isn’t a good one. This isn’t a “happy trees” sort of development. It’s okay, Friend, I’m a professional. You can trust me to be a straight shooter with you. Read on from 310!


How fortunate for you! Tell, me, Friend, how you keep your writing abs so trim:

I outline all of my scenes! Continue from 130.
I use the Snowflake method! Read on from 240.
I just crush my character’s free will completely, maintaining an iron grip on their actions! Read on from 350.


Well, Friend, that just about wraps up this public service announcement. I hope you’ve learned to recognize the warning signs of Scene Development Instability, which can prove so destructive to an otherwise healthy writing project. So just remember to admit it when you have a problem, and seek professional help immediately, even if that help is in the form of a choose-your-own-advice column! Good luck, Friend!

Stop Reading now, or Continue from 100 to Refresh your recall, or to get New Advice!


Glad I could help, Friend! Continue from 500 for a cheerful Fare-Thee-Well!

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I’m interested in the metaphorical outline. Does it inhabit the same ecological regions as the allegorical outline?

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