1. wilprim
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    wilprim Member

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    Outlining in your head before or just going with the flow for a free write?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by wilprim, Mar 22, 2012.

    I personally do not like outlining at all, but I have a question about the "make it up as you go" approach. People tell me to just start with a sentence and then just write with no clue about what the story might be about. "As you write the characters could lead the way" is what they tell me. But then I get the other people who don't like outlining but believe thinking about the story in your head a few minutes before your pen meets paper will make it a better story in the end and will more likely make sense. So which one is a better approach?
     
  2. Cassiopeia Phoenix
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    Cassiopeia Phoenix Contributing Member

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    Whatever floats your boat, man. I, personally, can't think of an outline before start writing -- it comes to mind as I go. But then, without an outline, the chances of you rewriting a great chunk of the story because of a new idea increases...
    Writing an outline it's more organized, perhaps even easier, but not all writers do that. I like the freedom of going with the flow... Anyhow, if you have in mind writing a complex story which details count, you should consider writing an outline or have at least a loose idea about what you want and how the story will go.
    My two cents.
     
  3. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I used to be a pantser (a term I've heard used for when we write without planning), and now I am hardcore planner. I've found that if you first think about your next scene for a few minutes before you write it to be beneficial, regardless of your level of preparation.

    What have you tried; what works for you?
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    My own experience has taught me that the less preparation I do before sitting down to write, the more shallow my writing will be. Knowing where the story is going helps me develop a feel for where and how to best develop characters, what conflicts to set up and what subplots are possible. I also found through painful experience that even more careful planning is needed when writing in an unfamiliar genre.

    My outline might only be a page, and might be little more than chapter titles, with a sentence or two describing what happens.

    Sitting down and "just writing" can be a great way to explore ideas, thought, and that's what I use it for these days. In fact, my current novel project is a rewrite that started as a "just write" based on one specific idea. When I was finished, I thought it was pretty good and went on to something else. About three months ago, I dug it out and read through it, and was both chagrined at how it read to me now and struck by the possibilities. I gutted about 40,000 words as "backstory", keeping it in a separate file for reference. Next, I reworked the opening chapter, with a little input from an online writing friend. Then I went to work on the rest of it, keeping some, rewriting some and deleting some.

    funkybassmannick (from funkydrummermaned) - where on earth did you hear the term "pantser"?
     
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  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't intentionally write deep, because I find life interesting enough without me needing to delve too far. For me just letting the characters lead the way is fine. I'll start with a character and a vague idea. Sometimes I'll be thinking about it whilst doing other things.
     
  6. Rennie1989
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    Rennie1989 Member

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    I've seen a thread like this in another forum I visit.

    Outlining is personal choice. I, personally, do outlines when I write novels because I need to know what I've written and what I need to write. It's not strict, but it keeps me on track. I don't create outlines until I've started writing anyway.
     
  7. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I think it's a term highly associated with NaNoWriMo. It comes from "fly by the seat of your pants," which is a great strategy to get to 50k in a month. I first heard it used by author Larry Brooks on his blog not in context of NaNo. He has a strong opposition to pantsing because it inhibits you from having a strong story structure. He says it's fine if you just want to enjoy writing, but it is a waste of time if you want to be published.
     
  8. Rukh
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    Rukh New Member

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    I, too, greatly prefer outlining my work beforehand. To me, it's the easiest, surest way to craft a compelling, structured, and coherent story.

    That said, I've seen that E. L. Doctorow once said, "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." While poetic and idealistic, I just don't think it works for me personally.

    I'm trying to think of famous authors who would fall into the two camps. Something tells me that authors from the romance/gothic eras probably "Pantsed" it more than James Joyce, for example.
     
  9. cs2212
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    cs2212 Member

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    I've done both.

    I think just sitting there and writing as it comes to you can work well in the sense it leaves you the freedom to explore any creative idea you come up with as the story develops. But equally, it can lead to your ideas being a little unfocused and not tying together as strongly as they would do had there been a plan from the start.

    I try to do a mix by outlining key plot points as a list of ordered bullets and then filling in the blanks as I go.
     
  10. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    I outline. At any rate, I try to outline. I do tend to get swept up in the flow of the dialogue or the action or whatever I'm writing, and it takes me where I've never gone before - which is good, because if I stuck religiously to a preset outline, I'd never write anything new. But I can't go totally by instinct. That would require several dozen rewrites later as I tried to clean up all the debris from discovering en route who my characters are, what their motives are, what their little quirks are, etc. I like to have an idea where I'm going before I start.
     
  11. Jowettc
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    Jowettc Contributing Member

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    Short Story - I pretty much just start with no real planning, however I have begun changing that - not intentionally as far as I know but the critique I received suggested it just wasn't working. I wouldn't say I sit down and plan it either though. I try and frame the story in my head, let it roll around for a few days and try and make some general outline in my mind, not on paper. I have a novella on the table I am working on so I have developed a universe around that - I am now setting all my short stories in that universe which is making it easier as I already have the background on that.

    Novel - definitely work on it. There's way too much going on in a novel to just free write without hiccups falling in along the way - even if you begin free writing you need to keep track of stuff. I recently got caught out with a continuity error in a short story (DOH!) simply because of that. Also it helps develop depth I feel if you can write some back history, some future history, some character features etc.

    I guess in answer to the question - a bit of both. Vague enough?
     
  12. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    i agree with what has already been said. I'm a planner, I plan the major events and the overall story structure and leave the details to the moment of creation. As long as I have a direction, I need to know what is going to happen in each scene to even get something written. If I hadn't I probably would just sit there staring at the blank page. To me the planning releases the creativity. When I do, ideas seem to be everywhere and I can't even sleep because I'm constantly writing them down as they appear.
     
  13. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've been in discussions about this so many times, I'm not sure what I've said where! At any rate, I don't outline. Not on paper, not on screen, not in my head. I have a vague idea of what the story is about, or maybe just have a character that I want to do something with. Sometimes I just start with a sentence (I love stories where the first sentence is there, just waiting to have some company!). And no, it absolutely does not have to mean tons of editing when one is finished - I abhor the idea of revising after I've sweated blood getting the thing finished. I edit/revise as I go, with the next bits depend on what's already written. Do I think about what's coming? To the extent of figuring out if what I'm going to do will screw everything up or not (ie, if it cannot possibly work) or if I have avenues of escape going with what I want. And yes, the characters make a lot of the decisions (another discussion somewhere). I don't think I've written a story yet where I knew what the ending was going to be - most of the time, I have some inkling and it's totally wrong when I get there - or who all the characters are, or what they'll do and when. It's like life - you keep moving along and things happen you have to deal with. The only difference is I get to throw the spanners in now and then. :D
     
  14. Kaymindless
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    Kaymindless Contributing Member

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    I honestly don't outline. I've tried it before, it's not very helpful to me. Maybe I'm doing it wrong but it just breaks me. There are countless things that have be sit down and start writing from ideas to random scenes. Once I get writing and then I do start having an idea of where I'm heading, a list of scenes I want to write to get to another certain section, but that all stays in my head. I managed to keep my backstory and all that jazz straight in my head. Unfortunately, I'm not like Shadowwalker, I don't edit as I go so I know very well there is going to be editing and transition added in, but that's my method.

    I have actually gone through and made general outline for stuff that I've already written, but I haven't even looked at it since...
     
  15. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

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    I don't outline. When I start writing a chapter, nicely enough the chapter lays itself down before me and I know what should happen in it to advance the story. I usually have small pieces and bits scattered along the whole story, I know which should go where but most of the time I just wing it as I go. Seems to work for me and it's more exciting that way, it's like reading a whole new book.

    Whatever works for you, if you need to outline or just come up with it as you go then by all means, go ahead.
     
  16. Dubya
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    Dubya Member

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    I find it useful to know where I'm going to end up, and a few landmarks to make sure I'm on the right road don't go amiss! That said, I find that I will write a chapter without more than the vaguest idea of what it will contain. If you are satisfied with the results of using the method you are comfortable with, why change?
     
  17. Jetshroom
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    Jetshroom Active Member

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    I'm actually trying to narrow in on my preference for this. I find pantsing isn't very productive for me and I never manage to finish the story. At the same time, I can have an idea in my head of what I want to do and where I want to go and I'll spend so much time thinking about it that I get too close to the project and can't cut things out. This has resulted in me not really STARTING a story due to my not knowing where I want it to go. I've tried the Snowflake method and didn't have a whole lot of success with that either. I just need to find my niche and I think that's what everyone has to do. Some people don't need to plan. Some find planning too restrictive. Personally, I think some level of plan is necessary, just so it gives you direction.
     
  18. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    Creating a story is very much like painting a picture. Some people have the Big Picture already in their minds before they start, and others set the paintbrush to a blank canvas and create as they go. When you do the latter, you channel all your hidden thoughts and feelings, and it becomes a snapshot or X-ray of your life at that moment. Your painting is you.

    That is, I believe, what we do when we free write. We are taking our inner self, the part we hide from others, and transforming it into characters and storylines that look nothing like us - on the surface. When we structure our stories, we still do this, but not in its purest form. It doesn't feel as satisfying.

    The difference between art and writing lies in cultural expectations. Art can be abstract and we appreciate it for its obscure beauty. Writing, however, MUST have a story. It MUST have a point. Every scene, every sentence, every word must work toward that point. If parts of it are obscure, we dismiss it as bad writing, unable to truly appreciate it for what it is - an unconventional work of art.
     
  19. kingzilla
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    kingzilla Senior Member

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    I just finished my first draft of my first full novel of 83,000 words with the 'going with the flow' method and what I noticed right away is I didn't have many sub plots. Simply because your mind can handle only so much info at a time, you will have problems writing miltible sub plots. I am working on an epic with a massive story world and I plan on making it 1000 pages and 250,000+ words, so I have made multible different types of outlines and I have managed to write a lot of sub plots in the first draft.

    If your novel is a big one, I would make outline. If it is a more concentrated novel with a linear plot, then going with the flow could potentially give you more idea. I know in my first draft, I had ideas popping up all time. From what I first imagined my novel to be, it has changed drastically.

    Its all up to you, in all honesty, because everyone has a different preference and style.
     
  20. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Do you plan a road trip? I don't. I've driven from Florida to California (as well as many other trips), without having a plan. Why would anybody want to make a map? You know you want to go west, so go west. The details just come to you as you go. If I'd planned my trip, I would probably have just stayed on Interstate 10 and I would have missed New Orleans; the Alamo; Roswell, New Mexico; the Grand Canyon; the Meteor Crater; and several other places and sights that made the trip interesting.

    When I write, I just plunge in. I know I'm heading west, but I let ideas come to me as I'm writing and I use them. That's where the depth, the color, the fascination of the story is. I can't stick to a plan, so I don't bother making one. Of course, at the end of the first draft, I have to cut out stuff that doesn't really fit, but I'm always glad I wrote it, and who knows - maybe it'll show up in another story sometime!

    But starting with an outline isn't for me, any more than starting a road trip with a planned out route is. You miss the good stuff, because you don't know it's there until you get there.
     
  21. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    When I go on a roadtrip, I DO plan. I pick a destination and then find all the interesting spots along the way. Last summer, I planned a RV trip for my family, and we were able to stop at the best RV parks. We could have just stopped anywhere, but I found the parks that had trails, served free pancakes every morning, and had "mysteries" in the woods. If we had just driven without a plan, we would have probably passed right by those places and found ones that were no better than Walmart parking lots. We also were able to stop off at some excellent caves, waterfalls, and fun tourist traps that we might not have known about had I not done the google searches first. ADDITIONALLY, we were able to stop off at some other fun places just because we wanted to. We weren't stuck doing an itinerary by any means

    Planning will make for a more enjoyable trip, so long as you remember to have fun. Writing with structure doesn't mean you are CONFINED. You can still take all the detours you want. Planning ahead means you have a better idea what you're getting yourself into, and thus you can maximize your enjoyment.

    In regard to "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way"... You need to build the road first, or else you're in for a bumpy ride.
     
  22. GillySoose
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    GillySoose Member

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    I've got the general plot and major events in my head, but I don't usually write out an outline. However, whenever I've tried to just dive in and go with the flow with no real goal in mind, I ended up completely removing those parts during revision. They just didn't come out right.
     
  23. NeedMoreRage
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    I'm someone who commits to almost nothing, so naturally I don't make any outlines or planning sheets. I'll have a basic idea for a story and a character or two, but the rest I usually will come up with as I write different parts of the story. I find writing with an outline does nothing good. It forces me to commit to what I have written in my outline, instead of having me think and re-think every idea I have and coming up with even better ideas. I might be able to produce a story much more efficiently with an outline, but it definitely won't be of the same quality as when I leave all of my options open. To make up for any inconsistencies that more than likely will occur, I simply edit as I go.

    This isn't to say I just sit down and write, I just don't make notes and outlines because I think they are almost useless for my methods. I like to meditate with ideas for stories and brainstorm, and when I'm tapped out of ideas I reflect over the things that I remember, and then implement them. But even still, I'm not coming up with exact scenes, I am only coming up with basic concepts, like a large subplot. I implement a whole different method of thinking when it comes to the actual writing process that makes up for what I didn't come up with in my brainstorming session.
     
  24. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Brilliant comparison. That is exactly what it's like to me. I never feel planning is a limitation, on the contrary, it makes me get so much more out of it. Plus I'm free to explore thoughts and ideas i might have during the process.
     
  25. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I DO plan a road trip. I DON'T plan a novel. Personally, I always thought it was a dumb comparison. When I write my novel I am sat in a comfy chair, in my house and when I stop writing that night I will still be at home or in a venue I chose with an easy route home.

    If I make a mess of the road trip I don't get home.
     

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