1. Christine Ralston
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    Christine Ralston Active Member

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    To outline or not?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Christine Ralston, Oct 14, 2014.

    When you plan a novel, do you write up an outline first? Or do you feel an outline stifles your creativity? Personally, I think I would be lost without an outline. It is my road map. But at what point should a writer call the outline good enough and begin the book? I've read that some authors such as James Patterson and Jeffery Deaver write very detailed outlines, but other famous authors don't outline at all. How do you keep your novel on track?
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't outline at all. I keep the novel 'on track' by paying attention to what's already written, and not going off on some tangent that makes no sense.
     
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  3. jonahmann
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    jonahmann Active Member

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    I'm a planner. Once I've got the events and logic planned out I begin writing.

    And planning doesn't "stifle creativity." You're being creative while planning.
     
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  4. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    And just because you've written a plan (even a detailed plan) doesn't stop you from changing it if, being creative whilst writing, the plan no longer works for you.
     
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  5. Empty Bird
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    Empty Bird Member

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    I used to think I could write without planning. I'd start, pen in hand, get a good ten chapters in and then get hopelessly lost.

    Yes. I plan.

    Planning allows me to see where my story's meant to be going, it shows me how much it's been changed and it means I never have to dump an idea, I can always flip through my book of plans and find it again and perhaps resurrect it if it deserves to be alive again.

    I used to think plans were terribly boring and stifling, but seriously, they are such a big help. I don't plan each chapter out in pinpoint accuracy, but I do like to know exactly step by step what's going to happen. Planning makes it easier to change, too.
     
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  6. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    Outlines are well and good for people who need them, but with my creative writing I never touch them. (I did enough of that getting my degrees.) I find it stifles the process. I do keep a timeline and maps, however.
     
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  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Short stories never. Novels I use a very rough, loose storyline. I usually have a pile of happening that I arrange in a reasonable order but not always - for instance one of my novels - Tinsel - features a group of teenagers that run away from home. I don't have much in the outline but I do have a goal for them. Other novels the opposite happens I have lots of happenings but no big goal for the end. I play it by ear mostly for the first draft. I don't go too off the rails even when I change things or come up with new ideas. Daydreaming is the key for me - as long as I can keep one step ahead of the writing in my thoughts, everything works out.
     
  8. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I use a tight outline, because it keeps me on track, and foreshadowing is so important.

    Before outlining, I found that I got 'blocked or simply gave up on projects when I realised it all didn't really make sense. Planning fixes that. I haven't gotten stuck in my new project yet; I'm actually making good progress.
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't outline. I've tried it, but after writing the outline, I feel like I've told the story, and I lose interest in writing it.

    Besides, I start with characters in situations, and I can't force them to fit into a plot. They define the plot. If I start making them conform to a previously-ascertained outline, they crumble. They become puppets and I feel terrible about destroying them.

    I start with a character in a situation. I start writing my first draft from there. I might have an ending in mind, but the characters (meaning me, of course, when I encounter the scene in question) will usually take me in another direction.

    The upshot of all this is that my first draft is my outline, or as close as I ever get to it. Some famous writer said your first draft is for finding out what your book is about. I agree with that. You learn about your characters as you write your first draft. You get better ideas as you write your first draft. When I am actually writing, I am far more immersed into my world and my characters than I could ever be if I'm just writing an outline. That immersion makes me more creative and that's when the ideas flow. I would hate to be tied down to what my un-immersed mind came up with in an outline-writing session.

    In my opinion, the writing brings the ideas. The outline is shallow trash.
     
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  10. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes, this is what I do - I need to write the first draft to find the character's goal. I might have places or events but usually never a goal - the whys ( more location - the where's.)
     
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  11. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I wrote chapter summaries of the base plot first. But, I still changed things during the first and second draft. (Possibly will the third, too, but I'm not there yet. )
     
  12. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    My outline is a list of section titles, with perhaps a word or two (literally) to remind me of what's significant in that section. I develop this list as I go along and it's never 'set in stone'. I add text to each section as I please, so the novel isn't written in order but as I have ideas for it. The sections allow me to easily rearrange the order of events if I think an alternative makes more sense.

    I'm using 'Word' to write which allows me to make a contents table of the section titles. This gives an overview of the whole story.

    Having a list of sections helps in estimating the final word count, even at an early stage. I write about 500 words in each section (give or take about 400 words) so I need about 160 titles to realistically make an 80k target. I don't have all those titles at the beginning but at least I know I'm going to have to think of them and falling well short of the word count target comes as no surprise.
     
  13. Superbean
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    Superbean Member

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    I have written a novel using a rather tight outline. Didn't mind using it, as it is perfectly possible to change things along the way. Nowadays I simply keep some sort of an outline in the back of my head as I write. It doesn't show me the story, but rather guide me towards the ending. It is as much about the journey as it is about the destination for me. Getting to know my characters, laugh with them or cry with them, wondering what they will do next and hoping they will eventually make the right choices.
     
  14. Christine Ralston
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    Christine Ralston Active Member

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    This is exactly why I outline first. I jot down stuff as I think of it and can rearrange events easily during the planning stage. Of course, as I write drafts, new ideas emerge and the story evolves. But that's okay. The outline helped me get to that point.
     
  15. Wynter
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    Wynter Active Member

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    Personally I cannot make an Outline, with what I've been working on I first tried an outline and I encountered two things.

    Doing an Outline took the joy out of writing it. Because I created these ideas for scenes and writing to get to those scenes just seemed torturous to me, and as a result, I really disliked writing anything outside of my major moments because I knew it was filler and I was wondering "Why can't I just get to here?"

    When I wing it I find the writing more frustrating in the sense that I go back look at my sentences and have the urge to change them constantly, but as I'm going something else can come to mind and I have a lot more freedom to write that idea in than in comparison to when everything has a rigid structure.

    No Outline is more Frustrating and yet it is just so much better in my opinion. Partly because I'm a very chaotic person, as in I look at something and I have to do it differently. An outline makes me want to switch up what I do even more.
     
  16. Logik
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    Logik Member

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    I like to outline to the first major turning point in the story. From there it becomes more organic and the rest of the story flows from the interactions of the characters and the situation.
     
  17. elynne
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    elynne Active Member

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    generally, if I use an "outline," it's more like an assortment of scenes arranged more or less in sequence. I like using index cards--put a few words for a scene on a card, and shuffle them around until I get them in a chronology that works for me. currently, I have an "outline" document, but it's very jumbled and full of weird notes to myself. for keeping track of characters/terminology/whatever, I've made a "cast of characters/glossary" which I add to as I go along, and which has been amazingly helpful in my current project.
     
  18. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Hmmm. I suppose I do plan, but, actually, maybe not. LOL.

    I write my story out of sequence as I like to fly by the seat of my pants. I do have timelines, notes and bits of research which I guess, serves as a plan but it's only small one-liners on the time line that remind me which direction the story is going. For example, the story takes place over a few years so on the calendar it might say "January, A meets B" and then in February, "C turns up," and then further into the calendar, "October, B's birthday and plane crash". Then, in my journal, is a tabbed page called 'Crash' which is where I will jot down more details of the crash and any technical stuff I manage to find out. I do all this in pencil so I can erase and change stuff around as and when I need to.

    I recently had a conversation with a couple of author friends who favour the post-it note method. They both use one colour note per character and map out the main plot and sub-plots on these notes and stick them on the wall where they can see the overall story and move notes around to make changes. It works well for them but not for me. The trick, is to find a method that works for you.

    (p.s. there's no plane crash in my book, I was using that as an example)
     
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  19. like*mother~like*daughter
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    like*mother~like*daughter New Member

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    I've tried to write without outlines previously, but I always seem to end up lost. I really want this idea to pan out though, so I think I'm gonna try to outline. I'm just nervous because normally I follow the story, not the other way around.
     
  20. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you are unsure about whether or not you want to outline, don't outline. If you're on the border, you probably haven't done it before, which means its untested for you. Some writers do really well with it, others do not. If you are a 'do not' you could ruin your story and your love of it by outlining. So if you're unsure, don't risk ruining the story with it.

    Outlining is great for saying "I'm at point X and I want to be at point Z. I know how I want to get there, I'm going to scribble it down now." But if you are at point X and you don't even know if there is a point Z yet, don't outline. You could kill the project for yourself.
     
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  21. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I think some of us refer to 'outline' but really mean 'timeline'.

    What I do is create a order-of-events so I don't get lost about what needs to happen and when. Example: protagonist finds a gun and hides it. Protagonist finds a box of shells and loads the gun. Does this happen when the gun is found, before or after it is hidden, etc? To assure proper continuity in the story I need to have some sort of written order-of-events to keep my details straight.

    What I don't do is micro-plan things in the outline as to how the characters feel or even where they may go from scene to scene. There are high points I need to hit (character A meets character C) but I won't specify what their reaction to each other will be or the conversation they may have. That's left to the creative process.

    I've had certain exchanges of dialogue come to me when I'm not writing and jot them down for probable use. I then take those exchanges and plot them into the outline where I think they will go but don't necessarily stick to it. Not everything I conjure up even makes it into print (and sometimes actually feels forced if I try to use it). There simply has to be some process for maintaining order in the creation of a story, but without curbing the natural flow of the creative process. For myself, I don't find it a difficult thing to balance.
     
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  22. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    Timelines are practical, feasible. Outlines are death warmed over to the creative process. The journey is what writing is about, not John Q. has to be at point 2.4 by the seventh sentence of paragraph R. Believe me, I have run into a few folks who are just that obsessed with their outlines.

    Follow your instincts. Listen to the characters. If they go off tangent, follow them. Type. Scribble. Do what you must, but follow your inner voice.
     
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  23. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I outline but I'm not married to the outline. If I go off course, I run with it to see where it goes. Sometimes I get awesome things, sometimes what I get makes exactly 0 sense in the piece.
     
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  24. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I want to like this fifty times! :)
     
  25. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with Darkkin, but have to add that some writers work better by laying down a minutely detailed outline. Me, I work best with nothing more than a few key intermediate points/scenes in mind. I depend heavily on spontaneity.

    But everyone's process, everyone's ideal process, is different. The only way to know what works best for you is to try different approaches.
     
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