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  1. CGB

    CGB Active Member

    May 15, 2014
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    Outlining: characters or plot?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by CGB, Nov 10, 2014.

    I am using the so-called "snowflake" method to outline my first novel. I find it is nice to have a very easy and straight-forward step-by-step list of things to do when outlining, which is why I went with it. Anyway, one problem I am having is figuring out which I should place more emphasis on initially - the plot or the characters.

    The way the "method" works is you switch between working on your plot and character outlines. Basically you first do a one-sentence outline of your story, then a one-paragraph outline, then a very general overview of the main characters, then a one-page outline of the story, then a more in-depth outline of the characters, etc. You just simply alternate expanding each side.

    I've found after a good 40-50 hours of this, that I am ready to really get into the details of my plot points but I am worried about doing that before I really figure out my characters. Otherwise, I'm afraid I'll create a plot that is incongruent with the characters I've created.

    My guess I should focus the characters since I've heard a lot of newbies don't develop their characters well enough?
    I don't know, I probably sound like an idiot at this point. Just looking for advice...
  2. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Aug 27, 2014
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    Hi, CGB,

    I've just started my NaNoWriMo by writing out Chapter 1...to Chapter 12, then put in "Character X does this" for each chapter...and then started writing. I've got a one-page summary of what happens, who's related to whom, and every time I add a detail about somebody, I add that to the one-page summary.

    The plot and the characters will interact...you're not creating plot and character in two separate environments and then throwing them together to see if fish can survive out of water.

    I looked at the snowflake, and what I took from it was that it was a way of writing a whole novel in 50 hours, not a way to procrastinate for 50 hours!

    Just go for it - you'll only learn to write by writing, and - I'm quoting another thread on this site - you can consider your first million words as your apprenticeship. If ANY of those are published, that's a bonus.
    Tesoro and CGB like this.
  3. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Jun 13, 2010
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    Queens, NY
    Regardless of the particular method of outlining you use, the most important thing to remember is that as you write, new ideas will occur to you. Your story will evolve in ways that change your characters and your characters will evolve in ways that change the story. Therefore, your outlining should be basic, enough to provide a rough sketch of what you want to do - where you start, where you finish and roughly what happens - but not so rigid that it constricts you from exploring these new ideas as they emerge.

    My current project was carefully planned. It was to have twelve well-defined chapters. By the time I finished the first draft, it was twenty chapters, and the revision process has led to twenty-one. A lot of other things have also changed in the process.

    Good luck.
    minstrel, peachalulu and CGB like this.
  4. NinaW

    NinaW Member

    Nov 15, 2014
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    I've always found a loose outline to work best. One with enough flex for when characters are being awkward and not growing up the way you expected them to. The more you write, the more you think about what you're doing and the more words on the page the more solid the characters become. Well written, complex and interesting characters can carry a sucky plot, but boring, trite and inconsistent characters can kill a brilliant plot. Saying that, every writer is different, what works for one person won't work for another. Some people outline something to death and others just start writing and see what happens. The key is to play around and fine a way that works for you and plays to your strengths.

    As for getting to know your characters, one method I've heard of working pretty well for a lot of people is to write little everyday scenes with them. Just short things, only a few hundred words just to get into their head and see how they think and to learn their voice. It might be worth trying out.
    CGB and peachalulu like this.
  5. J Faceless

    J Faceless Active Member

    Jul 10, 2014
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    New England
    I use an excel document for character development and terms. A binder for research, geography and technology. Also a notebook for subplots, important scenes/events and anything specific i want to change or include. All in all it looks like a wild jumble to somebody else but for me its easy to have all my ideas like that. Its based off of how i would take notes in school, incredibly confusing to other people but simple for me.
    As some other people on this thread said you have to be flexible. I've been writing and decided to go a different way that was quite opposite of my outline. You have to be able to adapt and change.
    CGB likes this.
  6. James Random

    James Random Member

    Nov 7, 2014
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    I personally think you should always hammer out the details of the plot first, that way you will better know what kind of characters will be required and at which points.
    CGB likes this.
  7. Lancie

    Lancie Contributing Member

    Oct 20, 2014
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    I tend to go with plot although I don't outline too much, basic ideas and flash points. I try and be as flexible as possible which helps if I end up digging myself a hole or disliking something. For me personally, the characters evolve as the writing does. The only time I do seriously plan is if I need to do specific research.
    CGB likes this.
  8. ChaosReigns

    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

    Mar 20, 2013
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    Canterbury, Kent, United Kingdom
    i tend to work on the characters, do a rough written sketch of them in their current state then bulk it out a little with some background. i admit this kinda neglects their past, (ive the inconsistencies to prove it) and it can be annoying, but thats where the editing comes in when i have finished the series.

    ok you may wonder why im editing after i finish the series, but i find that i need to get it all out my system before i go about editing it all. and i have the necessary details for the editing in place.

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