1. TheWriteWitch
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    TheWriteWitch Senior Member

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    Outlining: too much of a good thing?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by TheWriteWitch, Sep 29, 2016.

    As a ghostwriter, I cannot hit a deadline without a detailed outline. It saves me when inspiration wanders off into other rooms. Detailed outlines help reassure me that at one point the whole story line made sense. On larger projects (80k words or more), I outline down to the scene, therefore giving myself guideposts every 200 words or so. It helps to hit the word count but I'm not sure it helps the project overall.

    When I turn to my own writing, I am now conflicted about how to plan, plot, and develop my projects. Maybe my ghostwriting outlines are a good process to get a first draft on the page?

    I realize that I am slightly warped by my day job at this point and I would love to hear what other people think about outlining. Thank you!
     
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  2. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't start without one.

    Very rarely stick to it, but if I don't have a destination in mind, I can't take the first step.
     
  3. Malisky
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    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    Sometimes they come in handy, some others they aren't needed. I work on 3 projects simultaneously, but I am not a pro and I don't have deadlines. In two of my projects, written down outlining turned out to be essential. Too complicated plots need a plan ahead. How are you gonna commit the perfect murder without outlining the hell out of it? It's like trying to put a puzzle together. Victims, witnesses, suspects, killers, hidden agendas, lies, truths, dirty cops, mob bosses, politicians, scientific patents, high society, underground cartels, poor, industrial inhabitants, red herrings, side stories that are relevant, psychiatrists, evidence, detectives, moles, betrayals, friends and foes, are just a snap shot of elements of what I'm trying to connect. Yep. I'd better spend 3/4 of this project in outlining. It's a love story in case you are wondering. :p
    If you are writing a mind bender I think it's absolutely needed. In the other one I'm writing, which is an adventure, fantasy of sorts, I just move on intuitively. Outlining always takes place at some point, but it's fast and unwritten. Something that only happens in my mind and it's easy enough to make sense out of it and remember it.

    In the beginning, my outlining was a very simple line of logical progressions. Ex:
    Chapter 1.
    1) 2 masked burglars get in
    2) One burg. finds a dead body in the living room
    3) One burg. gets shot at the head. Boom! Dead. Blood in the scene!
    4) The other runs around the house for cover and jumps out the window
    5) Runs at car
    6) Driver is dead/ car keys nowhere
    7) Killer shoots him. Blood on the street!
    8) Burg. runs
    9) Get's hit by car. More blood!
    10) Car stops
    11) Driver out
    12) Killer shoots driver. R.I.P.
    13) Killer get's shot by someone. It's a cop!
    14) While shoot out, burg. get's in car and steps on the pedal.
    15) Girl in the passengers seat.

    This might not seem much (or it might only make sense to me) but it took me ages to decipher, because in each one of these scenes lies a key element that will play a huge role in the continuation of this story. I plotted this a number of completely different ways, in order to find a way and keep everything tight, since it's the kick start that makes the whole story fall into place. Even the driver that just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and got killed is important.

    As the story goes on and we get a number of characters reacting with each other, everyone with a different ambition in mind, things get much more complicated. I won't even try to post an example of a chapter outline, because it's written and designed in a manner I alone can understand. :p
    But it's much bigger and more detailed, because names, side stories and background stories keep piling up as one lead progresses to another. It's not 1, 2, 3 in a straight line anymore. It's a Chapter X, scene 7 with a pointed line in Chapter F, scene 3 and 4 and another pointed line to a name. It's like a display board you see in the movies but much more... rough and chaotic. That's why I explain them more. So I won't forget what's going on of course! (I also drop a sketch in from time to time, to make it cuter. I like to see my scum). :p

    I hope this helps you for some reason. What are you writing?
     
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  4. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    You're not warped by your day job. You have a process that works for you and you shouldn't feel like you need to change it.

    I'm a planner. I plan every scene, write notes to myself, flag moments, "This is foreshadowing that thing!" and so on. Planning gives you a good overview of how everything is going to work together to make a coherent narrative that progresses logically. Some people prefer to write without a plan.

    Some people do a bit of both. They have a rough idea and start writing, but carry a notebook around with them to jot down ideas as they come. They also keep the notebook on the bed stand so they can write down those ideas that come like phantoms in the night.
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @TheWriteWitch - I take it from what you say that you're just starting out writing fiction, for yourself? If you have a method of writing developed that includes outlining, I'd suggest you stick with it, and see if you can shape it into writing for yourself. No reason why it won't work to get you started, anyway.

    It's what you want to say with your writing that really matters, in the long run. How you organise it is a personal preference.

    The one thing I would guard against, though, is trying to stick too closely to a formal writing style. Break a few rules, just to see what happens. Try using incomplete sentences now and again. Break away from the notion that everything needs to be set up like a Masters Thesis, with a summary of what you're going to prove, the proof, followed by the conclusion. Don't be afraid to experiment with style—maybe make it less formal. Try using different points of view. Aim for emotional involvement. Tease the reader a bit.

    Write what you would enjoy reading yourself. You're pleasing yourself with your creative writing, not some client who has paid you to write a certain thing in a certain way. And there are no deadlines.

    I'd say don't study too much. Just write something freely, and analyze it later on, to discover what your strengths and weaknesses are. And above all, have fun. This kind of writing is fun.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2016
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  6. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    I don't know if 'warped' applies but 'day jobs' have a whole lot to do with everything. I immediately was drawn to that statement in the original post. And understand it - or the quandary/ies that surround it.

    I think if I was paid to write and that's all I had to do to live I'd be completely useless. :) That's me though. A more disciplined person might do very well.

    Sorry if my reply is off topic. Just something I thought about when I read your concerns.
     
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  7. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    So, you're going to get different answers from everyone here because there are so many ways to do this depending on taste. And if you ghostwrite you're definitely ahead of me on the overall writing-books experience curve, but I'll at least share my experience.

    I've heard of all sorts of techniques along the curve - from people who slowly massage outlines into more and more detailed paragraphs, all the way to people who sit down knowing nothing and just write straight through (Steven King).

    I've personally played with two ways, and I've found that for me different kinds of stories require different methods and different headspace. My main project, which is a pretty hefty large-cast sci-fi piece, I have a really loose mental outline but I have to discovery write it at some level. It doesn't feel right not experiencing it along with the characters, and I have too many pieces on the board to keep track of them in an outline document, because at the end of the day the plot has to make sense, and with a big sprawling plot I have to string pieces together one at a time to make sure they all fit together (and the project can grow organically). This, by the way, leads me to a long draft that has too much stuff an that I'll need to edit.

    I've played with a side project that I purposefully want to take in the opposite direction - small cast, action plotting, single point of view, low word count target. For that one I tried starting with a more formal outline, and I think it's definitely the right choice for that story. It keeps me on track and keeps the story in focus (it also leads me to the opposite problem of the first one, which is that it moves too fast). But I definitely think that, for that story, lashing myself to a firm outline is better.

    I may try outlining the sequel to the first one in advance - at least a loose structure - to see if it helps me. But at the end of the day, I think it depends both on the writer AND on the type of story. (By the way, if you do try to use a less-outlined "discovery writing" method, I'd definitely look at resources on how to do that properly rather than going off and just writing - "Writing Excuses" did a few episodes on that - and basically they came to the conclusion that discovery writers are really just writing a very long, disorganized, overly detailed outline to get a feel for the shape of the story - which then requires more intensive editing than a pre-outlined story would - basically you have to reverse engineer an outline at the end, then prune the story so that it fits into proper story structure based on that).
     
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  8. TheWriteWitch
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    TheWriteWitch Senior Member

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    This is definitely helpful. I'm glad that other people use multiple methods, mix them together, and then let them morph.

    Why do I always think there's one perfect outline template out there that will solve all my problems? Ah, yes, it's good procrastination. :rolleyes:
     
  9. TheWriteWitch
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    TheWriteWitch Senior Member

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    This is great advice - thank you. It also makes me think maybe I should try letting organization come second and see what happens.

    I've been writing for what seems like forever but a few short years of ghostwriting has really affected my writing - hopefully in a positive manner!
     
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  10. TheWriteWitch
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    TheWriteWitch Senior Member

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    This is a great heads up - thank you! I was trying to wrap my head around discovery writing and it seemed a lot like what happens in my head before I sit down to form an outline. You may have just saved me a very long step.

    I like that the general thought on outlining is that the method depends on the book. Add day of the week, time of the day, and phase of the moon and maybe there's a pattern or maybe not.

    Ah, writing. Why couldn't I have picked something simple to occupy myself? :p
     
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  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, what it will certainly mean is that you've mastered grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure, etc. You're streets ahead of many who are just getting started.

    I was never a ghostwriter, but I have a BA in English, and had done years of successful expository writing on many topics before I started writing fiction. I did find my academic training difficult to overcome, at first. However, I am also a voracious reader, so I kind of knew what I wanted my end result to look like. So I picked up pointers and relaxed a bit. It was really fun.

    My husband is a (retired) journalist—not a reporter, but a sub-editor. His job, while he was working, was to take the stories reporters gave him and re-write them to fit the required space in the newspaper column ...plus check facts, etc. So he's an expert on doing that kind of writing for hire. He showed me that you don't need to write long sentences all the time, and that breaking up sentence rhythm makes reading easier. He was instrumental in getting me to stop creating massive 'themed' paragraphs for the same reason. He said I should not be afraid to break them up considerably, and he was right.

    I had another mentor point out (and rewrite for me) several places in my story where I was over-using passive voice. Passive voice exists to be used when needed, but an academically-minded person can be tempted to use it far more often than is good for the story. I got my eyes well and truly opened when I read what he'd re-written for me. The passages went from dull to lively in a couple of short hops.

    Little things like these kinds of tips can certainly help an academic writer shake off their 'old' style and forge a new one. I don't know from what you've said whether or not your ghostwriting was academic or not. If not, you're probably way ahead of where I began.

    Have you got a strong story in mind? Something you really really want to write? That will also help. I've always maintained that thinking and daydreaming is just as important to writing as churning out words on the computer screen. The more you can visualise (and hear) your story unfolding, the richer it will be when you go to write it.
     
  12. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    Personally I very rarely outline anything in fiction - i generally pants and only outline rough events in my head about a chapter or so ahead... that said i write an outline down afterwards to help me map where I've been and pick up any plot holes or room for inserting more content.

    my writing process is described by the line for dire straits, tunnel of love "And I don't know where I'll be tonight but I'd always tell you where I am"
     
  13. TheWriteWitch
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    TheWriteWitch Senior Member

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    This sums up my favorite part of writing. I love the daydreaming, the telling and retelling the story to myself. The writing it on the page part is harder, but it's very rewarding.
     
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