1. John Carlo
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    John Carlo Active Member

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    Outlining or not

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by John Carlo, Dec 20, 2010.

    Okay, I've tried it both ways. I wrote thirty-thousand words into a novel that had an extremely detailed outline prior to the actual writing. The outline was helpful, as far as direction, but felt a bit constraining. I eventually got bored with the story and shelved it for another day. Recently, I completed my first draft of a novella without any type of outline at all (just some random notes in a notepad). This was also about thirty-thousand words, more or less. The problem I have now, is that the draft must be completely mutilated and restructured. And I'm afraid so much has to be cut that it will be nothing more than a short story by the time I'm done with it (which I won't mind if it's really good). My first draft is seemingly a glorified outline that doesn't really stand on its own.

    What are everyone's thoughts on outlining? I can't seem to win.
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally my stories would be OK if I followed a plan. They are much, much better, more vibrant interesting, twist and turn when I don't. The reader is constantly being surprised because I was whilst writing it.

    However yes my first draft is usually rubbish - I tend to find completely rewriting it is quicker than any other method. Often it contains too much filler, sex, magic and talking to dead people. I use a story fairy to transport them round. I will want the story to happen in a different order, take chunks out add things.

    For me the first draft takes usually between 2-3 weeks to write a 50-90K novel - however the rewriting and editing takes months.
     
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  3. John Carlo
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    John Carlo Active Member

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    2-3 weeks for a first draft? Wow! It took me months just to write my 30k piece of garbage. Okay, maybe I wasn't writing as much as I should. Quick question, Elga: is your first draft actually 50-90k in word count?

    So it seems, your first draft serves as a sort of outline as well. Something to think about. Thanks for the response.
     
  4. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    no you are writing at your own pace - everyone writes differently and at different paces the end result is the important thing. I sort of have a day organised so I can spend a fair chunk writing not everyone can do that. Also i learned my lesson with my first one that most of the first draft would be changed so no need to be careful with it. If anything first drafts have become more rubbish lol

    My first drafts are usually between 50-95K ish. Depends on the story. My current one was 75K but needs to be extended as it is an adult story. Yes it is more of an outline it is how the story will begin and end - then I tinker with the middle to cut out characters and pull out lazy plot devices which is much easier to do when you can see the story. For example in my current one Merlin was introduced in chapter one now it is chapter four and he comes in a different manner -my main character now has a birthday in the opening chapter he didn't in the book. It is also now set over a year not a few weeks,
     
  5. Noya Desherbanté
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    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

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    John Carlo, I am in the exact same boat as you. I recently shelved a novel because I'd outlined it to death... I'm only just now feeling fresh inspiration towards it... :/ As for not outlining, I'm trying that at the moment, having a few vague plot points in my head to drive towards, but I'm finding that even harder.

    I wish I could get the first, vague imprint of an entire book down on paper... then slowly work on each part, bringing it into focus like a photograph... but writing is too detailed a process to give me the vague outline I want. Arrgh, unwinnable situations!! :(
     
  6. Pook
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    Pook Member

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    Its your creation and to stray from your outline is part and parcel surely?

    For it to be interesting it needs to develop past an original idea, and that is achieved more and more as you immerse yourself in your writing.
     
  7. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    You know, for years I thought that outlines were an utter waste of time. This conclusion came from high school, mostly, where my teachers used to make me outline my essays in only the formats they wanted. It annoyed me because I like to explore a bit when I write. I don't like rigidity, and I find that outlines don't always translate to essays.

    But after leaving high school and starting college, I realized that I needed some means of organization. I turned back to outlining, but I developed it in my own way. I wrote a novella also, around 28,000 words. But I didn't actually start to plan it until I had around 30 or 40 pages written and I decided that unless I had a general direction, I was going to wind up stuck in the middle. By then, I knew who my characters were and what the general scenario was; it was just a matter of where to go from there and how to end it.

    This was the basic process I went through:

    1) Synopsis- in paragraph form, I told the general story of what had already happened and what I thought was going to happen when I wrote.

    2) Outline- I write everything in very short, choppy scenes. So what I did here was I wrote out a really quick description of the scenes I had already written in order, and then speculated on what kinds of scenes would help me achieve the end I wanted.

    3) I did character profiles of the two main characters just to make sure I knew them as well as I possibly could. It turns out I was missing a few vital facts, and the character-building exercises helped to solidify who everyone was and why they acted the way they did.

    4) I finished it. And, you know, my synopsis completely changed as I wrote, but in a way that made sense. Through virtue of knowing who my characters were and what I was trying to achieve by writing my story, I let myself be flexible and face the fact that my original idea for an ending wouldn't work.

    So my suggestion is to outline "loosely". Have a plan, but be prepared for it to fail, because everything you plan does not always work. And don't necessarily have a plan from the outset; I like to write for a while and see where it gets me. Then, when I come to that metaphorical fork in the road, I can decide where I want tothe more you write. go by outlining.

    Oh, and writing a novella took me 3 months, so I don't think you should be worried about the pace. Elgaisma is right, we all write at our own speeds, and it's not really cause for concern. Anyway, I get the impression from writers that I've talked to that you get faster at it the more you write. Hence people like Dean Koontz who write about a book a year!
     
  8. Ruth Jacobs
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    Ruth Jacobs Member

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    I like to have a plan/outline of sorts but I don't let it constrict me and if the characters take me somewhere else then I follow them and not the plan.

    The novel I have just completed the first draft of, is not the novel I began writing. I developed the plot, created the characters and structured it scene by scene (a few sentences describing what would happen/where/with whom etc.) but as I started writing, from about 12K words or so, the characters took me off into a totally different story and I now believe it was the story I was meant to write.

    When the characters led me in the new direction, I saved the original plot in another file, for another day, and wrote a new plot (what would happen in each scene etc.) And as I wrote on, again the characters led me off track in new directions and unexpected events took place, but I let it happen and changed my plot to fit the characters.

    Having finishing the first draft of this novel, I am now left with two other story lines and enough scenes to create two more novels with the same characters. However, knowing them, when I write the novels, they may well take me somewhere completely different.
     
  9. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    I like to summarise every chapter of my novel because it makes me not have to think of what's going to happen while I'm writing it. But yeah, it usually fails because I think of new ideas while writing and it ends up being nothing like the Summary.
     
  10. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    ----
     
  11. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally, I don't like outlining. If I outline, my writing comes out more as a list, as in 's/he said.. then s/he did this..', because I'm following my outline. Whereas if I just see where my writing takes me, it comes out a lot better. The only vague outlining I do is noting down things I want to happen or any ideas I have for it, but I keep it as open as possible so I don't feel restrained to follow a strict list of things.
     
  12. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    My plan is in my head. If I outlined beyond that, it'd kill my story.
     
  13. Evinus
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    Evinus New Member

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    I have the exact same problem. I just wrote without an outline, then halfway through started to make one, and now I've got a 65k monster to fix.

    I think the best thing is to have a very lax outline. I think an outline really is necessary to make sure things are going somewhere and to establish structure. But at the same time a detailed outline can really take away the sort of 'magic' of spontaneous writing and make it seem really chore-like I find.

    So a lax outline that says "this is what is going to happen in this order". Basically only discussing plot and the progression of the narrative.

    I don't see much point in character profiles because I tend to know my characters very well, though you may want to list all characters with a small blurb so that if you have minor characters you remember what they're all supposed to be doing.
     
  14. BruceBeckett
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    BruceBeckett New Member

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    Outlining works brilliantly for some and not so well for others.

    I'm one of those who finds it very helpful. It just saves so much time and hassle. I can't imagine how I functioned before I discovered it.

    The reason it works for me is because it breaks writing into its three main parts: the ideas, the sequencing of those ideas, the turning of those well sequenced ideas into readable prose.

    Why try to do all three things at once, when you can do them separately and each demands a different type of skill.

    I strongly recoomend that people at least give outlining a try. It is actually one of the greatest aids to creativity I know.
     
  15. Samurai Jack
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    Samurai Jack Active Member

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    I outline out of necessity.

    If I leave my keys on the coffee table and walk away they're immediately lost.

    If I tried to keep plot lines and characters straight in my head tomorrow I'd forget I was working on a story. I try to keep my outlines fluid just as I try to keep the story fluid, letting the characters do most of the storytelling. But outlining lets me remember where I've been and the different ways I'd like to try and go.
     
  16. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I did try it for NaNo this year - however a character I hadn't expected showed up in the first line. He was supposed to be dead. Changed the whole book before I had reached the second fullstop.
     
  17. Sentry1157
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    Sentry1157 Member

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    I'm the exact opposite. If I don't have an outline I can't seem to finish. I actually get bored with the story and never go back to it.

    For me, I spend a lot of time on the outline(a month or so). I usually let things simmer in my mind until it flows right.

    I finished a 35k first draft in 1 week. I have re-written a few chapters, but mostly that was because I decided to change this one particular character's job. Most of what's in the first draft will stay, but I will make some modifications.

    Anyway, if I don't outline I feel like I'm in the dark.
     

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