1. TurtleWriter
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    TurtleWriter Member

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    Outlining your story

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by TurtleWriter, Jan 29, 2013.

    Right now, I'm working on a story as practice for a "bigger" book. I want to eventually publish it as well. So I want my "practice" book to be good too. Some of the things I'm doing are: jotting down ideas in brainstorming files, making a very generic character sheet, and creating an outline. I want to use the outline to help develop the plot (and the outline will be based on my brain storming ideas). What are some of your thoughts on using an outline to develop your story?

    Here's my thought on an outline: when I was in college, I used to have to write several essays. I found that when I had a detailed outline, I wrote way better. For some reason, if I don't need to know the skeleton as much when I'm writing, I can build the muscles and skin way better. It seems to take away a bit of anxiety for me. Has anyone had this experience?
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    You'll find a kazillion threads about outlining/not outlining. I don't, but that's what works best for me. Others do, because that's what works best for them.
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm another who doesn't outline. I like what Isaac Asimov said about writing from an outline: "Like playing the piano from inside a straitjacket."

    I also think too many people believe they're actually writing when they're merely outlining, making character sheets, world-building, and so on. They spend hour after happy hour doing this kind of thing and never seem to get any actual writing done. I have no objection to taking notes when I have an idea I want to remember, but that's pretty much it for me. All the other work I do on my stories is actually writing.

    And if I spend time developing an outline, I find the actual writing rather boring. I feel like the story has already been told and I'm just telling it again, only this time it's longer and more tedious. I'd be much more likely to abandon a story if I've outlined it first, because the excitement of creation and discovery isn't there while I'm writing. In effect, my first draft is my real outline.

    I know there are writers out there who can't seem to remember their characters without character sheets and can't seem to make sense of their plots without outlines. I'm sorry if that sounds offensive; I don't mean it to. But if you don't need an outline, why make one? If you don't need character sheets, why create them? Why not simply write your story?
     
  4. Dragoon119
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    Dragoon119 Member

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    I outline every novel I've ever written. If I don't outline my plot I fear I will run the risk of straying off the plot completely into unknown territory and eventually a failed novel manuscript attempt. Rarely have I written anything without a detailed outline.
     
  5. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    If I have an plot goal I'm trying to work towards I tend to outline how I want to get there, if only because I have a tendency to meander if I don't: Pacing the narrative out correctly is important and you don't want to get to your endpoint to early or too late.

    Having said that, if I don't have a climax solidly fixed in my mind, I usually just write until one occurs to me. At that point I usually have to go back and chop off 3/4 of fluff, but that kind of thing happens.
     
  6. Islandwriter
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    Islandwriter Member

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    I outline in my mind, never on paper. I have an idea for a chapter, but when i write it what usualy happens is that at some point the characters take on there own idea, meaning, i come up with something i think is more intresting, or cooler etc from my original mental outline. Works for me :)
     
  7. PenTrotter
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    PenTrotter Member

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    Honestly, all I ever do is maybe jot down a few ideas, some basic character sheets, and sleep on it. I never truly outline. No better time than now is what I say! But really, do whatever floats your boat.
     
  8. Solitude
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    Solitude Member

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    I list the major events that each part of the story will have, and I detail the transitional phases in great detail. When I'm writing the chapters themselves, I usually write a one sentence summary about what I want the chapter to accomplish. I also build my characters completely before I begin. I find that it helps progress the story when you know how the characters would react to a particular situation.
     
  9. Salamander
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    Salamander Member

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    I outline everything. It's critical for me, and it helps me get a rough idea of the scene in my brain. From there though, I leave it up to me to follow or deviate from it. Often I have veered off and disobeyed the outline (usually on longer stories that are episodic) and the story ends up going in a different and much better direction. I like having possibilities right below my cursor in case I get stuck, though.

    Outlines are more like guidelines than actual rules. The nuances of dialogue and motion work themselves out when I'm actually putting down the words.
     
  10. TurtleWriter
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    TurtleWriter Member

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    Thank you all for your posts. I have a similar mind where if I don't, then I could wander. I also understand that wandering can be a good thing. I only use an outline as a loose basis.
     
  11. Revenant
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    Revenant Member

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    I do outline a bit. I need to do it to figure out where everything fits in, because I have a habit of getting ahead of myself and getting inspiration for another event further on in my story, writing it down and going, "now, where the heck does this fit in?" So I need to think about what events I want to happen in my story and link them together, so I know what's going to happen and can focus on getting there.
     
  12. Roxie
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    Roxie Active Member

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    I don't have the patience for outlining. When an idea sparks I run with it and see where it takes me. I remember in college my professors wanted to see my outlines and they never panned out. I gave up on the whole outlining institution. It doesn't fit with my spur of the moment; need to write now thing that I seem to have going on. Whatever you chose outline or not it needs to fit into your writing mojo. Best of luck!
     
  13. TurtleWriter
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    TurtleWriter Member

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    Revenant, I know exactly what you're talking about. I feel like any time I see a good show or book, it seems like the planned their stories out specifically. So they thought about it before hand and then wrote it down.

    Roxie, I have friends from my college days who were the same way. It seemed like they made an outline in their head. I think that's awesome, but I can't do it. I have too many things going on in my brain at any given time.
     
  14. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some kind of outline is essential in my novels because I write crime fiction. It relies on carefully placed clues, comparative timelines (who was doing what at or around time of murder) and each significant character has to be a suspect at some time. I need to work out details of personal history, and for some characters backstory is very detailed because it gives motivation for the crime. So even if I don't actually put most of that in, I need to outline it.

    I also write all the time. I get inspired and I write scenes or dialogue, or parts of scenes, or description. It gets slotted under an appropriate chapter heading, so by the time I go to write it, I already have quite a bit done.

    Crime fiction relies on tight prose and controlled pace. The story's been already told by the time I sit to write it because I have to work back to front anyway. But it doesn't ruin my creative experience. I end up with a list of scenes, and what needs to happen in order to move the story forward. It's like in school when we get the prompt and have to write a creative piece based on it. I can write a scene that's not only written with a spark of creativity, but also fits the plot.

    The alternative to this is to write tens of thousands of words and then try to fix "the issues" in editing. But if you missed a thread a third of the way through and you wrote the rest based on that, your whole story ends up needing a massive re-write and for me that's a waste of time.
     
  15. NellaFantasia
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    NellaFantasia Member

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    I'm sort of weird when it comes to outlining in that I write more consistently when I outline chapter after chapter, but I always feel like I'm missing key points I hadn't thought of beforehand, usually in character development, and so I hate doing it. Instead, after I finish a scene or chapter, I sit down and think, "What would my character(s) do next?" and go from there. A lot of it is potentially fluff I'll need to edit out later, but I feel more relaxed in knowing I didn't miss anything that might have been important.

    I still do some planning, however. I write fantasy so a lot of my "outlining" is world-building. I need to know the sort of world my characters are in before I can begin; the cultures and races, religions, crime and punishment, holidays and celebrations, rituals, magic and how it works and who can use it, how magic affects the rest of society, etc. Aside from the world-building, I also do character sheets. It's my belief I should know more information about the character than the reader ever will. All of our hobbies, likes and dislikes, dreams and fears, past and present experiences, family and friends, jobs, etc. define who we are and why we act the way we do. I feel it should be the same way for my characters. How can I have them react to something if I don't understand the reason behind it?

    But that's all me, of course. Obviously other writers will feel differently and write better the way they do it.
     
  16. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Here's where you and I differ. I welcome that process! For me, the first draft is for finding out what the story is about. In effect, the first draft serves as a very imperfect outline. The second draft (and any subsequent drafts) is where the story actually gets written. Rewriting is even more fun than writing for me. It has a greater urgency because I see the whole story through properly.

    Because I edit as I go, what remains of my first draft doesn't change much, if at all, in the rewrite. But big chunks of the first draft get dumped and replaced, and that's the fun part.
     
  17. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @minstrel: How long are your first drafts? And do you write it out in dialogue and description, like proper scenes or is it just writing about what should happen, like exposition? When I get the idea, I write about 3-4k word story, all in exposition, which is the bare bones of the storyline. Then I identify issues, themes, characters, plot, subplots, pov's etc. By the time I'm finished with the scenes outline I usually already have about 10k words written, plus a solid plan for the middle. I suppose the first story could be first draft, outline the second and then actual writing the third draft.
     
  18. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The first draft of my novel was 78,000 words. About half that will be gone in the second draft, and I'll likely write about 50,000 words or so to replace it.

    I have another novel on the back burner that's a bit unusual for me, because the first draft was actually a movie script I wrote for Script Frenzy. I found I don't like the script format (besides, I haven't got a prayer of ever seeing the movie made), so I'm rewriting it as a novel.

    I have the first of a series of novellas on the go, too, and the first draft of that is 25,000 words. It will probably end up at about 30,000 words. I knew the story pretty well before I started writing it, so I won't be dumping large chunks of it. I just have to rework most of the prose. (It was an experiment for me - the only time I DIDN'T edit as I went on, and it's embarrassing to read. Never again!)

    My current projects are short stories. I'm almost finished the first draft of my current story at 6,600 words, and I want to have it all revised and finished before the 25th, because I have to take a business trip then. I have five other short stories finished, ranging from 3,300 words to 5,400 words. I have two more short stories in mind right now (they, along with my current story, are all part of a series), and when they're done, I plan to return to novelizing that script.

    EDIT: To answer your question, my first drafts are completely written out - they aren't summaries, short versions, all exposition, or anything like that. They're fully narrated, complete with dialogue, description, and everything else you see in published novels.
     
  19. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wow, that's loads of different projects at the same time! I only ever can concentrate on one at the time. I am not a fan of script format either, I figure I can write a bestseller and someone else can adapt it :D

    I only have one novel on the go. Planning for it to be about 100k. I have another on the back burner, but I want to get more experience before I tackle it. Other than that, collection of short stories about 25k words, and a novella at 55k and about 50k words of philosophy/sociology essays which aren't in English. I would like to translate them one day because they aren't half bad, but translation doesn't excite me, I wrote it once, the creative process is over.
    But I completely agree, must edit as I write otherwise it's just embarrassing to read afterwards :D
     
  20. TurtleWriter
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    TurtleWriter Member

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    Jazzabel- I feel like we have similar ways in which we write. I feel like all the good stories and/or movies I've read/seen have a planned out plot. The ones with good twists seem like they thought the scene out in advanced. So I feel like in order to have a good story and flow, you need to know what's going to happen in advanced. I am a big fan of foreshadowing, but I want to mislead the reader too. I don't want them to know exactly what's going on and make them keep reading to find out. I'm also the same way with re-writing. I know it's foolish, but I'd rather write it well the first time, then have to change it several times afterwards.

    Ministrel- I can see your points too. It sounds like a lot of work, but rewriting your first drafts like that could bare great fruit. So, if I may ask, what do you do to prepare? Do you at least brain storm/jot ideas down? I feel like a hybrid method would best suit me. I think I'm going to use an outline, but only for the major events in the book. I think I'm going to use them as reference points so I don't get way sidetracked from the main story. However, at the same time, I can allow myself room to be more creative and/or effect the major events. I might even change them in the process of writing because I won't be so bound by minute details of an outline. What do you think?
     
  21. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I start with a character and a situation he's in. Usually I see the character and his setting in one flash, like a snapshot in my head. I start wondering who he is, so I give him a name and start writing little scenes about him. These scenes aren't intended to make it into the final book; they're just there to help me understand the character. During that process I'll usually get a vague idea for a plot - what the character's motivation is, what problem he needs to solve, and how he goes about it. I think for a while about what the ending should be. When I have an idea for an ending, I'll generally make a note of it along with why I think it's a good ending. So, now I have a character, a situation he has to deal with, and an ending to aim for. That's enough for me to start writing.

    The ending I'm aiming for will very likely not be the actual ending of the story. During the writing, I'll get tons of new ideas (I'll make notes of them all), many of which will be better than those I originally had. I'll be thinking throughout the writing process about theme, emotion, philosophy - what I want this story to say, and how I can make it say it. I'll make notes of all that stuff, too. About half, or even less, of these ideas will get into the final work. If I tried to include all of them, it would be a huge formless mess.

    By the time I get to the end of the first draft I'll be able to see the strongest story line - the strongest way to get from beginning to end. That will tell me what the story is really about, and I'll cut out all those ideas I had that don't fit, and all the scenes, etc. that only existed to support those ideas. I'll save those ideas for a possible future story. Of course, when I cut that stuff out, I wind up with big gaps in the story that have to be filled, to be bridged over, and I come up with more ideas for that. These new ideas not only fill in the gaps, but they strengthen the theme I've finally found and settled on. This results in my second draft.

    Ideally, my second draft should be the finished work. Because I've revised and rewritten as I've worked, I'm confident the prose is solid. I set it aside for a while and take a fresh look at it, fixing anything that needs it. Because of the way I work, there shouldn't be much of that.

    Then it's done.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The reason I don't outline extensively is that I allow my story to evolve as I write, connecting only general milestones en route to the conclusion. An outline would constrain this process too much, or I would have to constantly revise the outline to fit the current state of the story.
     
  23. TurtleWriter
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    TurtleWriter Member

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    Thank you guys! Ministrel, I understand how your process works. I think I'll use general ideas like I said. I have decided to not make an extensive outline, just "critical" points in the story in an "ideal" sequence. This outline will not be set in stone so I'll be able to change as the story changes. I'm going to take the advice I got from here to start writing my story.
     
  24. Quille
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    Quille Senior Member

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    I accidentally wrote the outline for my book. I was reworking an old short story that I always knew was part of something bigger and decided I needed to check the chronology. By the time I was finished, I had a 20k word outline and was writing my first novel. During the first draft, some of my characters did stuff that wasn't in the outline and didn't do things that were, so I didn't lose any of the fun and discovery by creating the outline.
    Don't know if I will outline in the future, need to finish this one first.
     

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