1. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Outline methods

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by DeadMoon, Nov 29, 2015.

    I have heard the advantages of outlining a novel and have heard the arguments against it (looking at you Stephen King) What I would like to know more about it is people individual preferences on how they outline a book and how it works for them.

    Today I have spent a good deal of time reading various blogs and and watching videos on the three act structure. Some had a basic rundown of the three acts with a few points under each one, others had a more detailed breakdown some consisting of 27 total charterers/scenes (3 acts with 9 chapters/scenes/points)
    Of course those were just a starting point to the process and not meant to be a chiseled-in-stone kinda method.

    It does seem like a good starting point though, the three structure method.
     
  2. Jeff Countryman
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    Jeff Countryman Living the dream Supporter

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    I swear by it . . . but wow, once I put in word constraints (ie 110,000 words for the entire novel) it gets frustrating to keep within it. It does force me to stay focussed on moving forward though - you can block each 'section' into percentages and get your maximum word count from there to ensure the novel is 'moving'. I give myself a break though - I make sure I give myself a day a week to just write anything within the novel and ignore the 'rules' ( a lot more fun!).

    It's worth investigating.
     
  3. Jeff Countryman
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    Jeff Countryman Living the dream Supporter

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    This is your classic 3-act, 12-part novel:

    Novel = 110,00 words

    ACT I – (23%) 32,200 Words Total
    Section 1 – (2%) Hero at home – 2,800 Words
    Section 2 – (6%) A significant event – 8,400 Words
    Section 3 – (5%) Hero consults friend- 7,000 Words
    Section 4 – (10%) Hero makes a decision – 14,000 Words

    ACT II – (48%) 67,200 Words Total
    Section 5 – (3%) Hero crosses line – 4,200 Words
    Section 6 – (22%) Hero faces opposition – 30,800 Words
    Section 7 – (11%) Further tribulations - 15,400 Words
    Section 8 – (12%) Crisis for Hero – 16,800 Words

    ACT III – (29%) 40,600 Words Total
    Section 9 – (3%) Hero rallies – 4,200 Words
    Section 10 – (11%) Disaster threatens – 15,400 Words
    Section 11 – (10%)Hero confronts Antagonist – 14,000 Words
    Section 12 – (5%) Hero returns to everyday world – 7,000 Words
     
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  4. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks for the info. It does help to see it like that.

    I am also having trouble with working with separate story threads. I get the main structure of the story and all the parts of it. I can read a book and understand that sub-plots and how they work and weave together but I am not sure on how to work that into an outline so I can see it.

    I am sure there are many ways to go about it. I just need a bump in the right direction. like when a single chapter has many story threads ( the one I am currently reading has 14 treads or three story lines in a single chapter) Do they have to go in the same order or is it based on what is going on in the story?
     
  5. nastyjman
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    I do a reverse outline, meaning I write the first draft and then write the outline for that draft. This gives me a skeleton of the finished draft, and it also serves as a framework of what needs to change, what needs to be moved, what needs to be deleted, etc. The result would be an outline for the second draft.
     
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  6. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    outlines don't work for me. I feel that the characters and the story should lead itself but this is a good example of something I could do once my first draft is finished. I could do this as a way to straighten everything out and cut things or add this or rearrange things. I wouldnt use an outline from the beginning though. I certainly would not use a detailed outline at the beginning.
     
  7. R.P. Kraul
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    R.P. Kraul Member

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    I'm normally a pantser who spontaneously creates. The advantage to this method is that your right brain will add a lot of subtext and complexity. The disadvantage? You have an editing mess ahead of you--that and you have to find those complexities and subtexts that your right brain planted.

    So I normally improvise. But then I had to co-write a book with another writer, and she is also a pantser. If you think a story can get out of control with one improvisor, you ought to try it with two. We were halfway through and decided we needed a plan to make the story coherent. We outlined scenes and gave ourselves freedom to be creative within those scenes. It worked out pretty well, I think, but readers will be the ultimate judges. Not sure I will ever outline solo, though. As tough as it is to edit, I'm addicted improvisational writing.
     
  8. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have tried the spontaneously/organic writing style where I would just write and write and see what came of it. I have learned that, in my case at least, I am able to not only write better with an outline but also write with more confidence and that in turn makes the whole process that much better.
     
  9. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wonder if this basic formula could work for various amounts of words. Like if I wanted to go for 90,000 words or even 80,000 words. as long as the total percents were the same and all. I would think that the formula would change somewhat once the word count got to be lower like in a short story though. Might be fun to test it out though.
     
  10. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't usually plan, but when I do, I usually plan backwards. I figure out how I want the story to end, then figure out what the characters all would have been doing just before the final events, and then figure out what they must all have been doing just before that, etc.
     
  11. Siena
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  12. Jeff Countryman
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    Jeff Countryman Living the dream Supporter

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    WOW! . . . that's takes it to a whole new level of complexity! Love it. Thanks :)
     
  13. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I never do a formal outline, but I usually know the beginning, ending, and a handful of major events before writing. I know the MC and what he/she is trying to do throughout the story. But the moment-to-moment events and interactions that lead up to the major planned events are spontaneous.

    Of course, anything and everything is subject to change at any time should I think of something that makes more sense or works better for the story.
     
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  14. AASmith
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    I feel the same. This is why outlines haven't worked for me. For this book I make two major changes, like huge to the point that it actually changed the entire story like the entire line. The second change was a major change because it requires me taking characters out of the book for half of it and not bringing them back until the very end. Imagine if i had created a detailed outline? lol
     
  15. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I get that but it's not like there is some writers swat team that will swarm in if you dare venture outside of your outline. To me the outline is a more organized set of notes and thoughts then a strict direction you have to follow.
     
  16. nastyjman
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    Yep. Every writer has their quirks. What's important is finding what method works for you and what gets you a finished draft.
     
  17. mikeinseattle
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    ^^ This.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2016
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  18. BayView
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    There are a significant number of pantsers who never actually write up an outline, or pay too much conscious attention to structure. They write their first draft and however it comes out is more or less the way the story will end up.

    I wonder if maybe that's a more significant difference in kinds of writers? I remember trying to express this idea before and not getting too far, at least with some, but I've noticed some writers on this site are very aware of technique - they've read a lot of books about writing and are very conscious of the tools as they use them. Other writers (and I'm firmly in this second camp) don't really think of their writing through that prism. I honestly couldn't tell you if a single novel I've written has a three-act structure or... or any of the other terms I hear people using all the time. I may have absorbed the ideas unconsciously and am maybe using them without knowing it, but I certainly haven't used them consciously.

    And I think there may be a correlation between those two types of writers and plotters/pantsers, in so far as one group is very consciously aware of the tools they're using, and the other group isn't.

    Does this make any kind of sense to anyone but me?
     
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  19. mikeinseattle
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    A bit too rigid, no?
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2016
  20. AASmith
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    If it works for you it works for you. I'm not saying don't do it, im just sharing what works for me. Granted there is no writer swat team but to me it feel like more work. I kind felt like i was working towards a goal gather than being creative. I think maybe for people who don't outline, its because we work best in revision. I actually enjoy the revision process. I guess i keep a mental outline to some degree but as new ideas pop up my mental outline becomes pointless.
     
  21. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    So I found an interesting outline for script writing from a guy named Blake Snyder. (Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet) I was wondering, in everyone's opinion, if an outline for script writing could be use in a novel form also. I personally think it could be but I do like to also get other people opinions on the subject.
     
  22. Ben414
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    Snyder's story structure was written for movies, which tend to be faster-paced with shorter scenes and less time to tell the story. You may find instances where you want to break away from it, but I think it has solid applicability to stories conveyed through prose fiction. Personally, I found a lot of applicable ideas from McKee's Story, which is also written for movies.
     
  23. nastyjman
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    @DeadMoon check out this website and podcast called "Story Grid." It's conceptualized by this editor who has 20+ years of experience. It's another method if outlining your story.
     
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  24. Feo Takahari
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    I don't create formal act structures, but I do make bullet-pointed lists divided into scenes. Each * is an overall description of an event I want to happen, and each ** is an idea for how that event might happen or how I might portray it. As I write the story, I check back on the list, reorganizing and restructuring when I get new ideas from actually writing things out. (A lot of the Chekhov's Gun moments in my stories weren't in the original rough draft--I wrote something that could be used as a gun, and I decided I might as well fire it.)

    I've also experimented with flowcharts, but I find them more useful for games and other non-linear media. They're overkill for books unless you want to have a lot of different perspective characters or present events outside chronological order.
     
  25. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Early in 2015, I pantsed two novels in just 36 days. I'm still editing the first one.

    To get to a second draft, I had to outline based on the first draft just to get everything straight, then do a lot of plot manipulation to make it compelling (I hope). By the fifth draft, I was sure I had it nailed... until a beta reader told me it sounded like it was aimed at a juvenile market. That, I think, is mostly because it's a comedy about two teenagers fighting aliens and, having no experience writing novels in that vein, I accidentally dumbed it down while attempting to gave the narrator's voice humourous overtones.

    Now in the sixth draft, I'm pulling out all the narrator's humour and working toward having the situations create the humour instead. Hopefully, this is working, but I won't know until I hand it off to beta readers again.

    To build the outline, I used a combination of Blake Snyder's STC! 15 plot points, ran those through a hybrid combination of comedy, horror and science fiction plot points (yes, they're all different), then compared the results to Dramatica theory and Swain's scene/sequel stuff.

    As I write, I think only in terms of scene and sequel (moment-by-moment action followed by regroup/rethink/new plan). It seems to be working so far.

    But, I'm now coming up on the end of Act II and I've hit a brick wall. I know where the story is going, where it wants to go, where I want it to go, but I'm having trouble getting myself to carry on.

    Tomorrow, I may be sitting here staring out the window instead of working. (Gah!)
     

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