1. Gloriana
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    Gloriana New Member

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    Anyone else hate outlining?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Gloriana, Oct 29, 2010.

    This is one of those general questions I like throwing past other writers, because sometimes I feel like I'm the only one.

    I don't hate the general idea behind it and I don't hate taking the time to do it, it's just I usually wind up tweaking it and tweaking it to the point it becomes redundant to even have one. With the finished pieces I've done with an outline, I would say the final product had perhaps one or two elements of that original outline.

    Also, I can be weird with compartmentalizing stuff too much in my head and feeling way to apt to become chained to an outline. In truth, I do wind up cutting tons of passages if I decide to go in another direction, but it's all stuff I wind up applying to another project anyway.

    I really prefer jumping in and watching the thing unfold with twists and turns I don't even see coming. I tend to get more interesting twists and turns without outlines.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. Noya Desherbanté
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    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

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    When I first clapped eyes on the title of your post, I thought... no. No [laughing] I am not one of those people!! Outlining's my favourite part, getting everything in order, making a thirty chapter 'form' and filling in every event that needs to happen within it, describing where to put little quips I come up with...

    Or so I thought.

    If I delve a little deeper, I realise I think obsessive outlining is probably my downfall. I pour all my creative energy into getting everything organised, that I suck all the fun out for myself... when I first started writing, I found outlines pointless. Yes I got stuck halfway through and had no idea how it would end, but the writing up until then I consider my best work, because it was spontaneous. If you read my hysterical thread in this forum, I'm currently struggling very hard with a novel, and I reckon it's because I devoted so much time to the outline that I've got no more love to pour into the actual prose. How on earth do you fix that without destroying all that perfected outline work?!

    I think you have the right idea, Gloriana... maybe no outlining for me next time...
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    No.

    Primarily because I don't outline :)
     
  4. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I'm inspired I need to write the outline. It's because I become uninspired so quickly I never get past chapter 2 if I don't. If I really want to finish a story, I need to get it all down so that when I become uninspired, I don't need to force anything out, it's all there. Despite that, I don't always follow the outline, but I try not to stray too far away so that I can get back on track. In my case, just following it is better because that's all planned out and no more research is required. If I stray too far away from the outline I usually find my stories turning stupid, simple facts are wrong, and suddenly I have no idea where to go anymore.
    My outlines are very detailed though. I usually put in some dialog if something specific comes to mind, and one chapter outline is usually 2-3 pages long...

    An outline is a map to follow, but that doesn't mean you can't take a little detour in order to visit the world's largest ball of yarn :D
     
  5. Gloriana
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    Gloriana New Member

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    I really do relate to this!

    It's the weirdest thing, isn't it? All the momentum followed quickly by total paralysis. I've had projects where I've done pretty much the same thing, folders and folders chock full of prep right down to family trees, flowcharts, and timelines. Actual writing to go along with those folders full of prep? Maybe 50-100 pages worth of awkward, overworked paragraphs. On one particular project, I put so much effort into the prep that I sat there looking at it like "Why can't I just publish this??", hehe.

    In a way, I think it has built my confidence in writing to go ahead and destroy those outlines and learn to trust my instincts in storytelling. I've hit walls and found upon reviewing chapters that I've left holes when I've written without an outline, but it hasn't been anything I haven't been able to tackle.

    I know I went through a period of having to 'let go' of my characters in a lot of ways and let them evolve right on the page. Basically, I used to toss my characters (and some major plot points) up on these towering pedestals and then my writing suffered because I didn't want to deviate from that initial idea of them. I thought if I deviated from that initial outline of them I'd be effectively 'ruining' them, but it didn't turn out that way.

    I'm sure loads of folks have already said it on this site, but I find the more I write the more I find myself tossing out a good 80-90% of the traditional writing advice I've been given all my life, starting with outlines.

    Again though, I don't think they're a bad thing. Maybe just bad if they do become the figurative manifestation of the old ball and chain?
     
  6. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Search for the term "Discovery writing" and read Stephen Kings book "On writing" if you want to feel less alone. It describes the discovery writing approach many people prefer. Myself included. Although its rare to find someone that during every circumstances is a pure discovery writer or outline.

    I don't like to outline. I create a starting point, questions i want answered and set things in motion. Keeping track of what promises and Chekov's guns i use during the story, reconnecting all the important story parts to an ending. Some people link the story process to the concept Ororboros, the snake that eats its own tail, saying that once you connected the beginning and the ending in a satisfying way you got a story.

    I don't like outlining at all and rarely feel that its needed for my creative process.
     
  7. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I do outline for my short stories, but I don't write it down. It's all in my head. The clearer the outline in my head the better is the story. Most of the hours I spend in writing a story is actually daydreaming (outlining) about the story, char, plot etc. so much so that it's almost like obsessively thinking about a good friend and his/her life when he/she is in some sort of trouble/crisis. So, in that sense I think outlining is very important in my writing process. One advantage of not writing it down is that it is very flexible, it changes as I think more and more about it. I don't feel bad giving up an idea easily as oppose to writing it down and giving it up. One obvious disadvantage is that any distraction for a day or longer can make me forget details of the outline in my head. So, if I write a longer piece there is definitely going to be outlines, may be writing those things down which I feel I might forget, but mostly outlining in my head.
     
  8. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I will type or scribble quick details of what I want to happen next to myself sometimes - or a note in the margin saying, "OMG! this was that all along!" next to an early mention of "this". But I will only outline at all after I have written something - often 2-3 chapters, if not more. I figure out a lot from the opening, because I am evaluating every line for clues and hints, things and characters that can be re-used. Often my plan is only a vague few ideas and images in my head, plus my knowledge of everything that has happened before, and a few side facts I came up with but haven't included yet but know will be important.

    But I do sometimes write a quite detailed outline. I won't keep to it, and I won't do facts or family trees or anything because those bog me down and I can remember such details without checking. I often do a timeline AS I write of events that have already happened, just so I can refer back more for continuity. But sometimes just rambling to yourself about where things are going will help a lot.
     
  9. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes.

    I don't outline because I prefer to see where the idea takes me. The only vague outlining I do is when I'm like 'oh this should happen!' and I'll jot that down so I don't forget about it.
     
  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Outlining is a waste of time and creative energy. Too many writers spend all their time outlining and don't get any actual writing done. They work on outlines and call themselves "writers" when they're not actually writing anything.

    I tried outlining a couple of times and found that after a few pages of writing, my characters wouldn't follow what the outline told them to do, and what they wanted to do was generally a better idea anyway. I tried writing without an outline, and found myself feeling much freer and happier as I worked. As Isaac Asimov once said, writing from an outline is like trying to play the piano while wearing a straitjacket.
     
  11. natsuki
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    natsuki Active Member

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    I've never heard of an author who just outlined and never wrote anything. Outlining is a process where you can brainstorm, change the order of events, and decide how will the story evolve without having to think about it "as you go". I don't think you can state that a writer who works on outlines is not a real writer, since he will be writing what he planned after the outline is ready.

    Outlining is the only method that seems to work for me, even if it is just a loose outline like: "MC1 visits MC2, talk about travelling". It keeps me focused on what I really want to write and my stories are much, much better when I outline and I actually enjoy outlining.

    There are several published authors who prefer to outline, and several others who prefer to write as they go. It's a very personal choice, and you can't condemn a writer because he/she prefers a method different than yours.
     
  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    From what I've read in this thread and others, I suspect that there are several right here on this forum.

    You're probably right for many cases. I think there are many people, though, who love coming up with stories and make very detailed outlines, filling notebooks with notes and character bios and maps of settings and backstories and on and on, and never actually write their story in any kind of final form. I can't tell you who these people are, because, of course, they never get anything finished and published. I'm speculating, but I think I'm right.

    And I believe you can't avoid thinking about your story "as you go". You'll probably think about it in greater detail than was possible when you were working on your outline. This is probably why you hear so often about writers who deviate from their outlines as they write, and may even throw the outline away altogether.

    More power to you. I'm glad you have the discipline and focus necessary to finish writing the story after working hard developing an outline. If it works for you, don't let me stop you. It doesn't work for me, and it doesn't sound like to works for some others posting in this thread.
     
  13. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, I know people who write really well if they let go, but they always come up with details and characters and backstory and family trees and stuff, but never actually *do* the writing. They're always waiting for that peeerfect inspiration instead of just forging ahead and writing what needs to be written - even if it says it there on their plan - and in the mean time spend all their spare creativity on working out more and more useless details.
     
  14. natsuki
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    natsuki Active Member

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    Oh, I understand now.

    I like a certain amount of details and preparation, but I have to agree that in those cases you mentioned (drawing maps, character bios, backstory, etc) it is pointless. All the preparation has to lead to something - the story, otherwise it is just a waste of time.
     
  15. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess it's a form of psyching up, like maybe they're actually scared to write the thing, so they spend energy on making it perfect and easy to write, except of course then they've spent all their energy on it.

    I've got one friend who can write well, but she only writes more than a few scattered scenes at times like NaNoWriMo when she feels *allowed* to let go and just have fun with the writing. The rest of the time she just plans and "finds out things" and makes notes, but only rarely does a new scene appear.

    On that note, when you plan a story, how do you feel about jumping ahead and writing all the interesting bits first? As someone who barely plans and still wings it 90% of the time and sees stories as a flow that can't be broken because skipping ahead ruins natural character development, I hate jumping ahead anyway. But for those who do it, I think they will never finish because they write all the key scenes, and end up needing to write all the bridging parts last, and not enjoying it at all, so no wonder their inspiration fizzles out, or they find their characters are contradicted and need to be re-written.
     
  16. natsuki
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    natsuki Active Member

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    I prefer to start writing in the beginning. I think if I write the most interesting bits first it's going to be difficult to write the rest later. I like to know I'm close to a part I'll really enjoy writing. It motivates me to keep going until I get there :)
     
  17. Noya Desherbanté
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    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

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    I cannot believe how common my own situation seems to be... I'd heard loads of problems with writers' block, but never outliners' overcompensation! 0_o the solution is probably just to put my struggling novel in a drawer and go back to it at some point in time with a fresh outlook, but it seems so much like defeat somehow, after all the advice one gets just to plough on...

    I have been wondering lately, what if I just take that outline and flesh it out, just fill in a bit of 'proper' writing? I've already got enough detail in there, and snippets of dialogue... but I just know that will end up more stilted than before.

    It's just so annoying, because I know as a writer I'm learning all the time, even the best writers make mistakes and it's all practise... but arrgh, I want to get all my ideas done, it's so frustrating!!
     
  18. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    Something I forgot to mention before, I sometimes write the scene before I write the outline, something that people don't think makes sense...
    I use the outline to know where I'm going with the story, but when I get stuck, it usually helps to just write for a while, without having to care about writing well. Then I use what I thought of in the outline, scrap it, and rewrite it well when the outline is done.
     
  19. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You sound like you've outlined your story to the point where you know it backwards and forwards and up and down. So why don't you take your outline and put it on the top shelf of your closet, close the closet door, forget the outline is there, and start writing your novel from page 1? Don't look at the outline. Don't copy lines from it. It has done its job already. Now you have to write your novel. So sit down and write it!
     
  20. Noya Desherbanté
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    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

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    ...You know, I might just try that :p I'll give everything a bit of time to settle down I reckon, work out some of my anger haha, and then the next time I feel just the slightest urge, I'll write blindfold, as you say :) great idea, thank you!
     
  21. The Nightingale
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    The Nightingale New Member

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    I'm not surprised that this is a common problem - it's an issue I have myself! I plan, plan and plan - perfect things over and over. Personally, I really enjoy the process of outlining. It’s exciting and stimulates my mind as it gets me thinking about my characters in more detail - “why does he do this at this point in the story? - ah!” I enjoy the process of thinking and writing about who they are as people (even in brief detail,) so I have a general idea of their motivations etc. throughout the story. Basically, for me, outlining allows me to get to know my own story. Although I appreciate that some people can do this purely by writing and letting their characters develop and adapt as they go along.

    I honestly don’t think I could write, at least comfortably, without planning/outlining my thoughts in some form. I think this is because I’ve come to believe that it’s the best way and I can’t get out of that mind-set. It’s learned behaviour (possibly) or just a personal preference. I’ve always been a very details and research-orientated person. I make obsessive lists of things I need to do. I tend to do a lot of research before pursuing any project (not just writing.) It feels almost in-built for me and is a very difficult mindset to shake. There have been occasions where I’ve been forced to write off-the-cuff and my work has been quite decent. But if I wrote like that all the time I would be constantly be questioning, “could this be better if I’d planned it in detail?” So therefore, I don’t go there often…

    The reality of the situation is that it doesn’t matter all that much. Some of my favourite authors are people who don’t plan a single thing and their writing is terrific. I think it’s mainly a personal thing and you should do what works for you. Forget what everyone else is or isn’t doing - writing is a personal thing and we should adapt our techniques in order to get the best out of ourselves. I remember a while ago hearing someone talk about several well-known authors from many years ago (including, I think Virginia Wolf and Wordsworth.) Some of these writers had some very strange writing habits, like one of them could only write after doing a certain ritual and one of them couldn’t write before 2AM in the morning or something like that. It sounds impractical for sure, but who are we to judge? They got the job done, after all.

    I agree that when someone is planning the back-story, full-length character biographies etc. then it is unnecessary and probably a waste of time. But again, it’s individual. There is one well-known author who planned every minute detail of her world - right down to the full back stories of her most minor characters. That author is J.K.Rowling. Apparently it didn’t do her any harm…
     
  22. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    No. I actually enjoy it more than the writing process because this is where I actually create the story, or least the skeleton of the story.
     

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