1. forgebench
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    forgebench Member

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    Outline strategy

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by forgebench, Jan 2, 2012.

    How often do you use an outline? What points do you like to detail?

    In my novel I've gotten pretty detailed, not down to the paragraph or anything like that but
    each step of each scene in a sentence. The outline is 17 pages long and 5,000 words. I find it
    helps because then I can copy

    I'm curious how other people do their outlines. Do you go into pretty good depth on them, or
    just basic points? Do you outline short stories? I've outlined a short story once and it turned out
    alright although I ended up doing a lot of changes in the writing itself.
     
  2. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    I don't usually write to an outline - I start with my inspiration, which might be a scene or an image, and just start writing. The plot tends to evolve by degrees, on a chapter by chapter basis, either by having a vague idea of how I want it to end, or how I want my characters to develop.

    This time though I'm writing to a pretty detailed outline, because I'm rewriting a completed first draft. I have now added a bigger plot and demoted the original plot to a subplot, so I have to carefully weave new and old into a coherent story. I'm finding it much more difficult than usual, because I keep changing things as I go along and I feel constrained to keep to the outline. It's probably creating a better product but it's harder to write.
     
  3. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    My first novel I didn't outline much, just had a general sense of what was supposed to happen, a few things along the way to the end, which I already knew before I started. With the second one there were so many details to keep track of and so many ideas that I wanted to incorporate that I needed to write them all down. I didn't do a classic outline but I did put every story idea on its own post it, and then I put them loosely in order, and started writing. if a new idea appeared I made a new post it and put it where it belonged. I didn't write cronologically. I wrote scene by scene, so now that I'm almost ready I have zillions of scenes in no particular order and I have to sit down again and decide exactly when they are supposed to happen and write the bridges between them.

    I liked this way of working and it made me write a lot faster than I would have normally. it's been just two months and I've got something like 70K already. knowing what was supposed to happen made sure i never had to stop out of lack of ideas and writing with no particular order was the best way to never have to feel that I had to write a lot of stuff to get to the interesting part. Right now I've started yet another story and I kind of use the same method like the first one. I think it depends a lot of what kind of story you're writing. I like both ways, but I make sure I always know at least how the story is going to end, that way it's still be fun to find out what will happen along the way. I don't think I'd have the courage to start writing a novel lenght story without knowing the ending.
     
  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I used an outline for one story, mainly because there were many time-sensitive details to keep track of. It's also taken me longer than any other story to get through, and the hardest to keep my enthusiasm up for. Obviously, I'm one of those who (otherwise) never outlines. ;)
     
  5. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I have a general outline of major plot developments written down for my seven part series. I add to it anytime I think of something new. I only do it because it would be impossible to remember everything as vividly as I can writing it down (unless of course I wrote all seven in like a year; but that would never happen, haha).

    I have also started writing in smaller plot points as well, and even future scene descriptions so I can remember those. I also frequently read it so I do not contradict myself. For something this big it is good to have a reference guide.

    But, if I was writing just a one-off; I would not outline. Though I am not saying it is bad, I just personally would not need it for one book.
     
  6. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I outline everything - right down to what colour socks my character is wearing in that scene. only if it's relevant, of course.

    My novel outlines can easily end up being the length of a novella. If I don't know exactly where I'm going right from the beginning then I get lost/bored and give-up. Some people enjoy discovering their story as they go along but I just find it frustrating.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i never bother with a fiction outline to start with, only do one up when writing a novel and at the point where time frames and subplots can get tangled up, in order to keep 'em straight...
     
  8. Immy
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    Immy Member

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    "My novel outlines can easily end up being the length of a novella. If I don't know exactly where I'm going right from the beginning then I get lost/bored and give-up. Some people enjoy discovering their story as they go along but I just find it frustrating."

    I completely agree with you. If I don't have every tiny bit mapped out, or if I'm not happy with it, I'll end up going off the point and/or getting bored. I wish I was like those people who can just develop their story naturally as they go along. Life really isn't fair.
     
  9. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Immy and Yoshiko (and any others who do the same) - not trying to argue, just curious. ;) If your outlines are that detailed and long, why don't you get bored/lost while writing them? It would appear you're almost writing the story itself anyway. Like I say, not arguing or saying anything is better - just find it odd that you can do the huge outline but not the book. Could you explain why the difference? :)
     
  10. Party Poison
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    Party Poison Member

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    Not really, unless it's required at school and stuff. I just go with the flow, and from what most of what others said, it's pretty decent.
     
  11. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I actually do consider the outlining process to be kind of like a first draft. By outlining it in this way it means I can get everything (actions, facial expressions, sounds, smells, bits of dialogue, etc) out of my head and onto the page quickly - this leaves me no time to become bored of it. Also, because this is being done quickly it means I find the flow feels more consistent and there are fewer plot holes in the actual first draft (as I can usually identify and rectify them in the outlining stage).

    I never get lost when outlining. Before I even begin outlining I've usually had an idea in mind for several/weeks months and the outline itself can take me anywhere from two days to three months to write depending on the complexity of the plot/size of the cast/amount of free time I have. When outlining, I go scene by scene instead of organising it into chapters early on and each scene is given a silly, yet relative, title to identify it by. Each title is set as a heading in MS Word, so that I can easily click and drag it to another place in the sidebar and this, in turn, moves it in the document -- this also makes it a lot easier to rearrange the story if I feel I've some scenes appearing the wrong order than it would be to implement in the first draft itself -- which means I'm less likely to get lost/confused while trying to work out the plot.
     
  12. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    It's worth mentioning I almost exclusively write suspense/crime/mystery stuff. The strategy might be different for different genres.

    Personally the way I do it is I know how the "climax" of the story will pretty much work out almost in my head and I do write some of it down. And I might spend a few paragraphs of bullet points explaining how the story works in general to get to that point. Usually there is some kind of "trick" to each mystery I write and the specific details matter and I really want to get those down so I don't forget. After that, I just outline very general, very vague plot points. Usually each point turns into it's own chapter and it's stuff like "MC meets Guy A at his house and they talk about blah blah blah"...... whatever point I wanted to get across for that chapter. I mean, I might have a specific point or philosophy that I want to bring up using the characters and I'll write that down but other than that it's pretty much anything goes.
     
  13. Immy
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    Immy Member

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    Sure :) I never used to outline, but then when I started getting lost with my 'creativeness' I decided to try it. And yes, it's very much like writing a story and a lot of the time, when I actually start to write, I start to be bored by it because I felt like I've already lived the story when I wrote the plot. However, when writing the story without mapping out what's going to happen first, I find myself trying to think of things to happen between larger scenes and I don't want these to be what author Kelley Armstrong calls 'fillers'. I want them to actually mean something, to be of some relevance to the story. So that's why I like to outline, because I get into a bad habit of filling the gaps with unimportant rubbish. I tend to imagine the story from the main events and the romantic bits and the meaningful bits... but I always forget the rest of the story because I'm so excited by the best parts. Another struggle I've yet to get over :)
     
  14. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Immy and Yoshiko - thanks for the explanations. Sounds to me like you're really writing a first draft, but hey - whatever works for you. Can't argue with success :D
     
  15. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not really - it's more like a summary. A first draft should have some structure to it while my outlines are just walls of text with important bits highlighted in pink and blue. I only take line breaks for new scenes. :p
     
  16. Immy
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    Immy Member

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    I tend to use excel spreadsheets to plot - placing a few words in each cell that would be important for me to remember when writing. For example, it would be something like: 1. Scarlett hits a pregnant doe when driving into the village.
    2. Aunt admits to lying and Scarlett is angry that she's stuck here

    Just little brief things like that - not too much detail unless I think it's important to jot it down, so I can remember later (I'm quite a forgetful person). So, it's not much of a first draft but I see what you mean :)
     
  17. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't outline. I think outlining is an excuse to not actually write. My first draft serves as my outline.

    Write stories, not outlines.
     
  18. Immy
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    Immy Member

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    If it helps to outline, then outline. Every author has their preferences and every one will learn what method best suits them. There's no rule to writing, or to how to plan to write or the world would be extremely boring if everybody thought like that.
     
  19. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Precisely. I don't outline and that works for me; others do and that works for them. The important thing is the story gets written, however one goes about it.
     
  20. Immy
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    Immy Member

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    Exactly :D
     
  21. Birmingham
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    Birmingham Active Member

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    I'm currently writing an ensamble novel with way too many characters and timelines. Trust me, I'm outlining! Not 17 pages of outlines. But here and there, you betcha!!!
     
  22. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me, it depends on the story. When I am writing simple stuff, like short stories or when I publish chapters weekly, I rarely have any idea of how I want it to end, but I always have a good idea about what my main character is like, so that, and the response of the audience, drives the plot to a certain degree.

    When I decided to write a novel, with a pretty complex plot and multitude of characters, I found it impossible to do without an ever-growing outline. But my main obsession are the characters, I analyse them deeply, think about them for ages, for some reason, that's what I spend most of my planning time on.
     
  23. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm with Kallithrix. I never use an outline. I simply write the scene that inspires me and continue from there. Usually I have a rough idea of where the story's going, but often enough I'm wrong even about that as the story takes a left turn. (My last novel All The Stars has actually been praised for all the twists and turns in it. I haven't quite found the strength to tell my readers / reviewers that it wasn't intentional. The book just kept changing as I wrote it! I didn't even know who the bad guys were until about two thirds of the way through it!)

    Cheers, Greg.
     

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