My MC, Talysse, is a young female. Hunted by a ruthless wizard (not a ruth to his name), she has been fortunate in the friends she has made in the flight from her pursuer. One of these is an elf chevalier named Jehan. I have a scene in which Talysse tries to persuade the elf to teach her how to defend herself. I outlined this; which is to say I made a few notes that somewhere along the way I wanted her to learn how to use a quarterstaff. Tonight I wrote the initial dialog for this. Talysse says teach me to fight, Jehan says don't be ridiculous. They talk. As often happens in this phase of my writing, the room is largely white; that is, I don't have a clear sense of the setting, of what the characters are doing, etc. The focus is on the argument. And again as often happens, I on the fly give the characters something to do. They pace, they fiddle with clothing, or whatever. Out of the blue, and for no reason I can fathom, I had Jehan whittling. This is a great conversation tool, right up there with having a drink or smoking a cigarette. The narrator can go to it for a pause or a bit of dramatic tension. Without it making it into the scene, I realized it wasn't just any stick he was whittling, it was his quarterstaff, a utilitarian weapon he's recently purchased. This whittling turns it into his personal possession. Elves carve tribal symbols or family crests ... I dunno. Something meaningful. This gave me the opening for the dialog. Talysse comes upon Jehan working on the quarterstaff and decides to make her demand for training. The point to all this is: I couldn't outline this in a hundred years. I don't care if it was one of those outlines tens of thousands of words long. I don't care if it's pre-writing or free writing or what-have-you writing. The only way these details make it into the story is by being in the moment. Go ahead, call it the muse or inspiration, if that suits you. I won't complain. Nor would I have thought of this when writing my pre-novel character description list. Which made me wonder: what am I trying to capture when I outline? Plot points, assuredly, but plot points invariably feel somewhere between hollow and contrived without I know my characters. And I don't know my characters until I've run them through their paces, any more than one knows a horse without riding him, and in varying conditions. I will still outline. But I'm thinking I'll outline just as much as I feel like outlining and not worry about it. I can plan the meal, but I still have to cook it, and much can happen, deep in the spice rack.