1. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    Novel outlines

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by DBTate, Aug 14, 2011.

    Hey guys,

    Just wondering what everyone did in terms of planning your writing.

    When I first started writing, I was a 'sit down and write' type of writer. I didn't care much for planning, as I found it bored and uninspired me.

    Now though, as I plan my first serious attempt at a solid novel, I feel like setting up a detailed structure will help me immensely. I'm actually eager to do so, to see how it can help my writing both in terms of efficiency and creativity.

    So what I'd like to know is, when you plan your novel, where do you begin? Do you start with characters, then move to key plot points? Do you work out a detailed plot, then make characters / settings that fit it? Do you have a theme worked out first, or select a theme based on the plot you've conjured in your mind?

    What other things do you do? Do you write detailed descriptions of every scene, from the introduction to the final page? Or have general ideas for how you'd like a chapter to progress?

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just start writing and let everything fall into place, with only a rough idea of what happens and to who. That's probably an exceptionally bad way of doing it, but I always find that whenever I start to plan I have an urge to write whatever I've planned. It works out well if you look back through your novel several times over for inconsistencies and errors, and also if you are good at improvisation, and you do get some excellent ideas that way that you'd never have thought of if you stuck to a plan.
     
  3. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    do whatever comes easiest to you. I don't think there is a patented way of outlining, everyone has their own method, it's all up to each individual. write down what you feel is important to know; character desciptions, descriptions of the scenes (as detailed or not as you want), the major events of the story etc etc. plus it's an advantage I think, to know how the novel is going to end before you start writing. decide beforehand whos pov you are going to write from, in which person (1st, 3rd etc). these are just some of the things you could take into count.
     
  4. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm usually the same way, but it's becoming a bit of a problem. If I develop it at all before I begin writing the piece itself, I lose a lot (if not all) motivation towards it.
    I'm not finishing many of my pieces anymore, though, because I start with a goal in mind, but without a plan, I often accidentally lose track of that goal and it becomes something I didn't want it to be.

    That said, I recently got an app for my phone that allows me to take verbal notes. I'm hoping that doing a little bit of development, then verbalising the notes, will make it a shiteload easier for me to keep track of plotlines. I mean, all I'll have to do will be listen to a two to three minute clip, you know?
     
  5. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    I agree that knowing the ending is an advantage to you when you begin writing. I've just written the one sentence outline of my first and last scene, and am now going to summarise each scene in between :)

    Creating characters is something I have come to realise I have trouble with. It seems I just have 'people' that are in the novel to 'do what they have to'. This might change as I delve deeper in to my novel, but really imagining a character and what they look like, how they act, what drives them etc is very difficult for me.

    Any tips or experience with that?
     
  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't outline at all. A few notes as I think of things - some of which might actually make it into the story. Characters the same - I know the basic type and get to know them as I do any friend - over time and as things happen to them. They unfold for me much as they will for the reader.
     
  7. Anonymous Miss
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    Anonymous Miss New Member

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    I originally would just wing it with hardly an idea as to where I was going, but as I've continued writing, I've found that creating solid characters and a basic premise before working on a plot outline works best for me.

    http://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1569061-Character-Sketch-Template - This page is a really helpful tool for fleshing out characters. It forces you to delve deeper into them, and you really get to know your character in the process of filling out the template. I ended up spending a week on this, because I had never thought so hard about my protagonist before.
     
  8. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I start writing with only a vague idea in mind (or nothing at all) then the story will most likely derail somewhere along the way. I know some writers like the mystery of "discovering" their story as they go along but I prefer to know how my story will end before it even begins. If I've a clear path ahead then I'm more likely to have a coherent first draft by the time I reach the end.

    My outlines are, in a way, almost like a first draft. They are known to end up anywhere between 10,000~36,000 words in length. Some people think "over-planning" kills the writing spirit but for me there is no such thing. I make notes on important aspects of setting, symbolism, dialogue, actions, emotions, facial expressions, sounds, scents - everything. I say it's like a first draft because it's a detailed summary of every single scene; in the outline I'm just telling the story rather than showing it. In this way I'm able to get everything out of my head quickly without worrying about using proper sentences and pretty phrasing.

    Before I even get around to planning I'll have an idea simmering in my head for at least a couple of weeks. In this time I'll get to know the characters - what they like, who they like, what they want, etc. If I lose interest within a fortnight just thinking about the story then I doubt it'll have potential to keep me interested once I'm actually outlining/writing the novel. Nothing is put to paper until I'm certain I'll devote the time and energy to this cast/story. This might be the time to point out that while I do share/publish my work I primarily write for myself: if I lose interest in the story then I won't write it. Why should I expect anyone else to find my novel interesting if I don't? So, I don't force it. Thinking about my story, and outlining it, helps me save time rather than getting 30k into it and realising I hate it.

    I outline scene-by-scene to keep things simple. I don't create the plan in linear order but rather I jump around in the time-line to wherever inspiration strikes. I also don't force the creativity and instead wait for it to form in dreams/daydreams. Forcing it can make it feel contrived which is the opposite of what I want to go for. The only thing I really need to think about during the planning stage is how tie the random scenes in my head together. All it requires is some time and a little logic. In the novel I finished recently the first scene to be outlined now occurs in Ch. 23 (of 50) in the timeline.

    If I didn't outline it would take me a lot longer to finish the project and the quality would be dreadful. This way I'm able to write swiftly and I have something worth salvaging at the end. Plus, because I know where I'm going right from the get-go it means that there is minimal word-padding, everything will be relevant to advancing the plot/character development and there will be fewer plot holes. This wouldn't be the case if I'd just winged it. I also have a habit of making majors to the plot on a whim during the planning stages and this would be a nightmare to implement after I actually started writing.
     
  9. heyitsmary
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    heyitsmary Member

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    I usually start with an idea in my head, then come up with characters and the two come together. I plan a story out in my head for months, sometimes years before outlining and then finally starting the first draft. The plot usually changes drastically as I keep working, but if I don't plan the story out before I write it down then I get bored with it really quickly.
     
  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't like outlining. Preparing an outline before writing kind of denies yourself the opportunity to explore ideas that occur to you WHILE writing - it shuts down your creativity. Most of my ideas come to me as I write. If I were to stick to an outline, and didn't permit myself to follow a new path that came to me in the writing, I'd not only be bored stiff as I wrote, but I'd wind up with a poorer story.

    I regard my first drafts as outlines. They serve the same function, anyway.
     
  11. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm kinda in the same boat - I tried outlining one story and it's the one that has taken me the longest to actually write and the one I've gotten bored with as I near the end. I discovered then, that once I wrote the outline, I knew what the story was and all the fun was gone. Now it's a constant challenge (and not in a good way) to keep the story interesting so the readers don't get as bored as I am in these last few chapters. :( I'm just glad I do my editing/revising as I go or this story would never get finished. I'd rather trunk it than go through it in-depth again.

    BUT...

    Every writer is different. You have to figure out what works for you and the story.
     
  12. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you are bored with the story at the end of the first draft, how are you going to get through all the revision and editing that will follow? ;)
    (no offence, this was only me trying to be wise) :rolleyes:

    Hm, I actually don't know but I do think that the longer you write that novel the more clearly you will see the characters, as you get to know them and everything about them. When you "live" with them and think about them most of the days eventually they become almost as vivid as if they were real people. So don't worry about that, I think it will work out when you start writing. if you want you can try and cast someone (a celebrity, someone from your real life or someone you don't know but see regularly) to the roles as the characters, at least for the physical appearance.
     
  13. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Precisely why I do my edits/revisions as I write (one page, maybe one chapter each time). When I finish, it's ready for the betas and only if they have a question/suggestion do I look at it again. Then I move on to the next chapter. When the story's done, I let it set for a few days, re-read and tweak (and tweak only) and that's that.
     
  14. Mikeyface
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    Mikeyface Member

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    Wow, surprised to see I'm so far out of the ordinary here.

    I plan a lot. Usually down to chapters and events. I start with a high level list of events and how those vaguely break down into chapters. Then, I take a chapter and outline everything that happens in that chapter.

    And then I pick up the laptop and hop to it. Obviously, I add and change organic to the process, even adding entire chapters on the fly-- just can't imagine not knowing where it's ending while writing. Everything leads to that.
     
  15. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    This is what I thought at first, which is why I avoided outlining. Although as I've started to use a basic outline I've found it to help with my creativity. I think at first I was just lazy.

    If I'm just staring at a blank sheet of paper or an empty word document, there will be a mass of ideas and possibilties flying around in my head, none of which I can grasp in entirety. If I have some basic plots points or scene ideas jotted down however, then the ideas relevant to those notes start to flow through me in to my pen / the keyboard.

    I've found outlining assists me to get started with my writing, and provides me with a good foundation for what might happen in the story. If I'm writing and I spark a new idea, I will write that down somewhere, look over my outline, and see if / where it can fit.

    I don't think an outline stifles your creativity, I think it is a way of filtering irrelevant material out from what might really benefit the story.

    My two cents :D (All this coming from someone who originally despised outlining and planning)
     
  16. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    DBTate, I've had just about the opposite experience. I do a little "planning" before I write, but that just means I have my main character in mind, what his situation is, and I know what direction the story moves in. I rarely know the ending, and besides, if I did, nine times out of ten it would change by the time I got there anyway. None of this is written down.

    But I've tried outlining in detail, and it just really annoys me. First, it constrains what I do in the actual writing. Second, it makes the actual writing kind of boring, because all the problems have been worked out ahead of time and the actual writing becomes just a process of going through the motions. Yawn.

    One other thing about outlining that bothers me is that it seems to be an excuse for not actually writing. That is, it's easy to pat yourself on the back after a day at work on your outline, thinking you've really accomplished something, but you didn't produce a single word of actual story. Too much of that sort of thing is dangerous - you become an outliner, not a writer.

    I'm glad it works for you, but it sure doesn't for me.
     
  17. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    I may do a lot of thinking, but I don't make outlines. I'm a seat of the pants writer.

    I like to be surprised by where the story goes. If I'm surprised my reader will be too.
     
  18. pattycat
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    pattycat Member

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    I'm in the same place as you, DB. I've never used outlining in my writing before. I've always just sat down and started, sometimes with some vague idea of where my story was going, and sometimes not. I even had a creative writing teacher in college tell us emphatically that you should not outline-- that when you outline, the plot begins to dictate your characters, rather than the other way around.

    But now that I'm working towards starting on a novel, I'm thinking more and more that outlining would help me. It seems an unsurmountable task to try and sit down to write 250 pages by starting at the beginning and writing on a whim of an idea. What a mess it would be at the end! Maybe for an experienced and seasoned writer. But for now, I'm thinking structure would be a good thing. :)
     
  19. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    I don't think what I've done is outlining. I know the beginning. I know the middle. I know the main turn of events and the end. Beyond that it is working through the process I suppose.

    What I do actually do is spend a lot of time developing my setting and characters. Who are they? What makes them tick? Why is my antagonist a bitch anyway? What would make someone make xyz decision? What does their normal day look like? Are there traditions or customs to the region/area I should include? I do a lot of research if necessary, then think through what it looks like. Am I in a town? Am I on a farm? What's to my left and right? Where would I be if I walked through that door?

    I may not write all of that down, but I do write down the essence of the the setting in a paragraph or two. I also keep meticulous name lists so I don't mix characters up. I like my names to have meaning when possible. It helps me define their traits. But sometimes parents are just too plain to think about cool names for their children so I take that into account as well.

    So...I guess I quasi outline? Sort of kind of? But not in the traditional sense. How's that?
     
  20. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    I don't think what I've done is outlining. I know the beginning. I know the middle. I know the main turn of events and the end. Beyond that it is working through the process I suppose.

    What I do actually do is spend a lot of time developing my setting and characters. Who are they? What makes them tick? Why is my antagonist a bitch anyway? What would make someone make xyz decision? What does their normal day look like? Are there traditions or customs to the region/area I should include? I do a lot of research if necessary, then think through what it looks like. Am I in a town? Am I on a farm? What's to my left and right? Where would I be if I walked through that door?

    I may not write all of that down, but I do write down the essence of the the setting in a paragraph or two. I also keep meticulous name lists so I don't mix characters up. I like my names to have meaning when possible. It helps me define their traits. But sometimes parents are just too plain to think about cool names for their children so I take that into account as well.

    So...I guess I quasi outline? Sort of kind of? But not in the traditional sense. How's that?
     
  21. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is me, in a nutshell. If I'm writing something lengthy, I like to feel like I have some 'goal' in mind, but plenty of wiggle room to exlore and write off the cuff.

    What kind of outlines have I done? Usually it's just brainstorming notes, sometimes bullet-points... etc. Nothing long or involved, in other words.
    Now half of these I won't be able to decipher later if hand-written anyway, as my handwriting is truly... different. :D
     
  22. walshy12238
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    walshy12238 Senior Member

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    I used to do the same thing: have an overall goal in mind, and write whatever fits in. Nowadays I like to have an overall plot arc sorted, as well as a list of scenes in chronological order with a description of what happens, and a little detail.
    I used to think doing it that way would be annoying and would make me bored of what I was writing quickly. My opinon's changed though. Now I think that having a constant reminder of what I want and how I want it is pretty good.
     
  23. Quorum1
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    Quorum1 Member

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    Another reformed seat of the pants writer here! I am in the middle of 'planning' a novel for the first time and am really enjoying the process.

    I have a toddler who demands my constant attention, so where before I used to be able to hold all my ideas in my head and think about my stories constantly, now my brain is just too full to do that. Planning means I know what I am going to write when I get a few minutes to do it, so I'm not wasting precious time staring at a blank page, or writing several pages only to realise I forgot about some important plot point and none of what I've written will work. I actually feel as though I'm getting somewhere now, and I have a much stronger plot and characters to work with.

    If you're interested, I'm using the Snowflake method (google it!).
     
  24. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do think we have to be careful not to imply that outlining is or isn't the 'right' way to go. It can be stifling - to some writers. It can be essential - to some writers. But whether one outlines or not (or to what extent) isn't a matter of being lazy or creative or reformed or anything like that. It's a matter of discovering which way helps that particular writer the most. Which is most productive for the individual. And some stories will demand an outline - others don't need one.

    If what you're doing now isn't working, try the other way. Or a variation. The point is not to feel that one method or the other is 'better' or 'right' - the point is to find what helps you write the story.
     
  25. CH878
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    CH878 Active Member

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    The way I plan is this:
    -Write down in very rough form everything I want to include, random ideas about plots, character, setting, anything. I guess you'd call it brainstorming
    -Create a simple timeline of events, just to get my head around how the action pans out, and also work out if I've got enough material. Revise until I do
    -Start work on my chapter plan, starting off basic and building it up so eventually I have a very full and detailed idea of what each chapter contains
    -Write the story!

    That tends to work for me, but everyone's different. Also, I rarely stick steadfastly to my plan, I change things around constantly as I write
     

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