1. creativechris76
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    creativechris76 New Member

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    to outline or not to outline?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by creativechris76, Feb 27, 2011.

    OK, so I'm a beginning writer,and when I say beginning, I mean I haven't written one page yet. But I feel I'm ready, I have a ton of ideas that i'm looking forward to start. My dilemma is to outline or not?

    I want my plots to be interesting and to make sense. I've heard several successful authors say they hate outlining and never do. They claim it takes the fun out of writing and that they discover their story and characters as they write it, which to me sounds like fun as well,but also a lot of frustration for an amateur like myself down the road. The reason I want to write is for the fun of it, and sure the dream of being published, but I'm afraid if I outline it will take that away but I'm afraid if i don't I'll get frustrated and give up cause I get lost. And what if i do outline but i feel my characters are taking the story in a different direction?
    I must sound like a babbling idiot lol but this is what keeps me up all night and scares me into starting my writing.
     
  2. zilly
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    zilly Senior Member

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    I come up with my most creative points in the story while writing on the fly. But, my stories don't ever go anywhere if I don't have an outline. So, I write out a very brief outline of the things that need to happen and the order they need to occur and then pretty much wing it from there. Sometimes I even write the stories out of order, but I have a feeling a lot of people do so as well.
     
  3. Spring Gem
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    Spring Gem Member

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    Every writer is different. Experiment to see what works for you. Try writing without an outline. Try writing with one. You don't have to do the formal outline that you had to do in school. There are many types of outlines from very detailed to very loose. Don't get caught up in trying to do it right or perfect the first time you attempt to write a story.

    Good luck.
     
  4. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Its a personal preference.

    I personally don't like outlines. I have never actually done one to behonest. But I love discovering my story as I write. I enjoy realizing that the locked door at the end of a corridor actually leads to a basement where a women was trapped. I had mentioned the door on a whim and only after thinking about it after I wrote it did I realize what I could do with it.

    Also if you do outline don't worry about going off course a bit when new things come to you.
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Like others say it's what works for you. My advice would be don't expect too much or work too hard on getting a perfect first draft. Don't look back keep writing, only read back what you need to remember your place. There is nothing in a first draft that can't be taken out, edited or added to. It is all fixable. Characters may well be a little flat to start with they take time to get to know.

    I personally do not plan - I spew my first draft of a story out onto the page, my aim is to write as quickly as possible. Usually it needs completely rewriting, I will reorder the story etc. For me my first draft is my outline.

    What I do before starting a story is to cast main characters - I like having someone with a presence on youtube usually an actor preferrably one that also sings. I create scrapbooks of images - including things like pictures I think the location will look like, ideas for clothes the MCs will wear etc, and I find theme songs for the story and the characters.
     
  6. creativechris76
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    creativechris76 New Member

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    I appreciated all you input and advice, I'm also new to this site and I'm happy there are so many people in here willing to help. I hope i can do the same for a beginner in the near future.
     
  7. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    People vary. In my opinion, if you're writing a novel some kind of outline is needed.

    For me it was a case of jotting down ideas/brainstorming, coming up with the main characters, and then, as I went along, very roughly outlining what would happen in chapter xx. The latter helped me to have some perspective and 'path' of where things were heading.

    Of course, the 'finished product' is quite different from that initial outline, with lots of things having been added/taken away etc.
     
  8. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Im for outlines too. it doesnt have to kill the fun if you just do a general note about what the scene is going to be about, not specifically but just roughly, you can still let you mind elaborate every detail as you write. i think the risk is if I would write ONLY out of pure flow and inspiration i would end up with a very unstructured story and plenty of loose ends. it helps me get a structure and a meaning to what i write.
    I read a book where the author took this up saying that just because the author himself doesnt know what is going to happen when he starts writing but discover it while working doesnt mean the story cannot be predictable. To me that makes sense. I dont exagerate with the outlining, i do it mostly in my head the days before writing it, but to me that makes it even more fun writing it because i have such a flow while writing, its like it writes itself and its a beautiful feeling. I never sit there staring at the empty document not knowing what to write, so for me its a great tool.
     
  9. Fiona
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    Fiona Member

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    How a person writes is really such an individual thing - what works well for one person might be an awful prospect to another. There is no right or wrong answer. You need to simply start writing, do what comes naturally to you, and go from there. Hopefully you will discover your best way of working.

    For me personally, I don't plan my novels. I have a very basic outline of the sequence of events, but I never plan anything to rigidly - I like my stories to flow naturally and to take even me by surprise. I can't count the amount of times when a character of mine or a story of mine has surprised me by taking on a life of its own and headed into unexpected directions.

    It's a magic feeling to me.
     
  10. Halcyon
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    Halcyon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Frankly, I would be amazed if anybody had ever written a worthwhile novel simply by dreaming up an opening line then making it all up as they went along. A degree of planning is absolutely essential, and it's only that degree that varies.

    It pays to have at least a rough idea of what your novel is about, where it's going and how you intend to take it there, but you can definitely strangle the creativity by planning too rigidly. Always leave the option open to take the story off in a slightly different direction if you get to a place where a great and different idea suddenly presents itself to you. It will always be possible to pull the story back from there to where you want it to be.

    But I would also caution against being too fixed with regard to the ending. As far as the reader is concerned, he/she is like a passenger in a car that you're driving: Yes, the destination is important, but you have to ensure that they enjoy the journey too. :)
     
  11. Silver_Dragon
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    Silver_Dragon Senior Member

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    I agree with Halcyon. I think this is a good idea, especially if you're just starting out. I hate running into dead ends in a story and having to throw out large chunks of my work.

    Generally, I do a general outline for my novel and then do more detailed chapter outlines for each chapter I'm about to begin. There's lots of room for things to change as I'm working.
     
  12. Rexisnotmydog
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    Rexisnotmydog New Member

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    Hi! Great question! And great advice!

    My two cents:

    Write something down before you start writing the story. Brainstorm bullet points. You will want to expand some of those, that becomes your outline.

    Writing an outline need not be "unfun". For me, Getting all those ideas out there about what I want the story to be without sweating the details of diologue, structure, transitions, etc. IS the fun part.

    It helps me to see those statements I made in an outline, such as "Little Red Riding Hood was afraid of the Wolf" and turn it into an action that the reader can visualize, "Little Red Riding Hood shuddered at the sight of the Wolf". Everything you write should be translated into a sensory experience for the reader.

    Organization is the key. Writers need to be creative, but just like a Beethoven symphony, expression must be tempered with structure, or you will lose your audience. Use your outline to keep track of what you've written. Highlight all the points you have made in the narrative to avoid redundancy and contradiction. Click and drag parts of your outline to change the order to make it more interesting.

    Hope this helps.
     
  13. RightBastardWriter
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    RightBastardWriter Member

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    Just remember: your outline is not set in stone.

    It's just a framework on which you build the other parts of your story.

    But if you're missing the framework, your story will fall down.
     
  14. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have yet to have a story fall down - if you are writer that needs plans and outlines they yes sure it will fall down. Not every writer needs that I prefer to write by getting to know my characters - letting them reveal the story as we go along.

    For the OP it looks like it will have some merit to at least try.
     
  15. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    I believe EVERYONE makes an outline - some put it on paper, others (like me) keep it in their heads; some outlines are concise, others are detailed (I guess depends on the complexity of the story). Just try out what works for you.
     
  16. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe we need a thread about what is an outline lol Off to start it - to me it is more than a basis premise - i.e Queen gets kidnapped - Prince becomes king when his father dies - Soc time travels, has three wise ghosts and is headmaster of a school.
     
  17. Vance
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    Vance Member

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    It varies depending on what genre you are writing for. Generally, you need a general outline for any genre at all, even if you don't write it down. You gotta have it somewhat planned, even if you change it as you go.

    But the mystery genre, especially Cozy Mysteries need a very detailed outline. Dialogue, character development, that you can make up as you go along. But the mystery itself and the laying out of the clues needs to be carved into stone.
     
  18. Terry D
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    Terry D Active Member

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    Or, maybe not. A quick web search of the phrase "mystery writers who do not outline" came back with several links to articles written by publishing mystery writers who do only crude outlining. How the words get onto the page is probably the most individual aspect of writing. There are no absolutes (did I just violate the point of this sentence?).
     
  19. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Let you know next month when I finish Stoned Witches first draft - only about 3 chapters in but so far it is laying out nicely, the clues are appearing and the story shapes round them.
     
  20. Vance
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    Vance Member

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    There are writers who can write without outlines, sure. But they are geniuses. Christie wrote her mysteries backwards but she was a freak of nature, in the good way.

    Just because there are exceptions, it doesn't mean that the rule isn't true.

    If you are writing your first novel, especially for a cozy mystery, yeah you definitely need an outline. Even if you can theoretically do it, why risk it? Mysteries are very, very dependent on careful plot management. Until you become sure you can write them without an outline, they are not a good idea. At all.
     
  21. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    See OK admittedly I have only written about 20,000 words of a cosy mystery - however I am finding, as the clues appear I am shaping the story round them.

    I guess I am unsure about how I would go about planning clues before I even knew who the players were - I now have two old Scots ladies that I think are descendents of those that persecuted the witches and one old Scots lady that is a descendent of the witches. Already have my red herring in place with the archaeologist.

    None of those characters existed before the story began so I couldn't have planned it.
     
  22. Vance
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    Vance Member

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    One important thing about cozies is that they are truly fair to the reader in that he can solve the mystery well before the detective. Not only 'guess' but truly solve in the truest sense of the word. Ever read John Dickson Carr's essay, The Grandest Game in the World?

    He makes a great point on what separates a rookie from a true master.

    To sum up, a novel that just "drops" clues around, in my opinion, will never be a masterpiece. You are free to disagree with me, I'm just some guy on the internet, and I hope this doesn't come off as offensive.

    But to me, a mystery that is made up as it's being written is rarely worth of anyone's time. A true masterpiece needs to be carefully prepared and its clues need to be set in a very elaborate way that connects them all to each other.

    Having a red herring or two does not, in my opinion, a true mystery make.
     
  23. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I studied archaeology I was intending to be a forensic anthropologist. Do you know much about Stratigraphy ? peeling back layers to reveal a sequence of events in logical order ? That is the method I do when writing mysteries.

    It's not about 'dropping' anything into a story it is about creating layers within it. I did that with my fantasy - intend as long as it continues to work to do the same with the mystery.

    I have read, watched and listened to mystery stories all my life I know what makes a good one. As I am going to be rewriting the first draft I can jiggle the story and make it work then. Until then I do not see how careful planning is possible without knowing my characters - I only had three MCs at the start not enough to plan a mystery with.

    My antagonists were five large stones lol
     
  24. Paris_Love
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    Paris_Love Member

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    Since you've not writteb anything at all yet, you might try writing a story based on a childhood memory as a good warm up. If you don't have a good memory of your childhood, you could try a dramatic incident that happen in your life and how you over came a challenge.

    Then think about how that incident changed you forever. Make sure you show the "before" picture and the "after" picture to your readers.

    Wah-la! You will have just written your 1st piece. Then you may want to try to deconstruct your own story into outline form and see if you are comfortable with outlining stories.

    I find outlines work best for mystery stories. You can't leave out any clues, and an outline can keep you on track. Romances are a little less structured, and so is the human heart. :)
     

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