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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » outlining

Author Topic: outlining
Member # 9798

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Just curious what people do when they outline. I got a process but I am constantly trying to change it. I'm working on a story where I completely abandoned my outlining process and it went well until I hit a snag. Next part in the story, no idea how to push it forth. Do people outline every little possible plot twist? Every action the characters take, or do they wing it sometimes? I read an article by Chuck Palhiniuk where he said that sometimes he doesn't know whats gonna happen next. If he did, it wouldn't be fun to write. Anyway, just hoping for some insure here. Anybody wanna share I would appreciate it very much.
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Member # 8991

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This won't help you a bit.

I don't outline.

When my story fails - I rewrite it.

This is why I currently have only three stories on the market...

Sorry. =(


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Member # 9218

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I outline. I write a brief blurb to start with then expand on that, then expand a bit more until I have a list of scenes then expand each scene until I have a story.
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Member # 8501

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I do some outlining, generally writing a summary of each scene. When a novel takes a twist all on its own, I've been known to go to the point of divergence and re-outline, going in the new direction. I find it easier to outline (summary scenes) than try and write my way out of an issue without having any idea where the ultimate endpoint is.

I find that process can keep the creative process going, but restores control over the direction of your work.

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Member # 9798

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Ok. How about this: what do you do when your not sure how to develope a scene? You have a general idea, but not sure how to go about it.
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Member # 9236

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I completely outline the major details and I usually let the small details fill themselves in. The thing I outline the most would be the worldbuilding.
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Member # 9745

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I don't outline per se, but I do use a graphic organizer called a concept map. As the plot starts taking shape, I write a concept in one of the circles and link each circle as it relates to another. This gives me more freedom to move stuff around and change ideas as I go. I like flexibility, whereas, a traditional outline is too linear for me.

By the time my concept map is "complete" (it never really gets complete because by the time the story gets that concrete, I stop using it.) Once I finish a story, it never matches the concept map anymore. Anywho, by that time I have a decent idea of who my characters are too, enough to start writing anyway. So, I write.

As I write I make all sorts of changes and write scenes that weren't included in my concept map, but the general story stays the same. When I hit a snag in the writing I skip that part and write the rest and do that as many times as is necessary. I really hate to interrupt my flow if it's happening. If it isn't I take a break and create word docs for all my characters. I write everything I know about them based on my story up to that point and then start imagining more. Sometimes this means I have to go back and make changes, but I don't mind that. It's impossible for me to do all of this upfront because my mind just doesn't work that way. If necessary, I put it away for a month or so and read like a madwoman and listen to music and get lost in other people's art. Usually after a month or so of that I feel refreshed enough to take another crack at it.

The biggest thing for me though is not letting those snags slow me down. I just skip it and move on knowing I can always come back to it later.

Don't know if that's helpful, its definitely not a very linear way of doing things and some people prefer that, but we all do what works best for us. [Smile]

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Member # 9798

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@ Babygears. Simply Awsome. I love that you can put something away like that. Can you see the awe in my words? LOL anyway, maybe that's my problem, pushing it too hard. Maybe i NEED to take a break from it. The problem is, if I take a break from writing I feel lazy. I write 1000 words a day as per Stephen Kings advice. You think its ok to take breaks from writing? Like complete breaks?
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Member # 9196

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I'm an outline-a-holic. I experiment with outlines, so I don't always do it the same way.

I first figure out my first and last scene. Those are my book ends. Then I figure out what all my characters want, and then see how they clash.

For larger works, like novels, I'll sometimes outline in an excel spreadsheet, creating a map of where plot threads begin and end, making sure I weave in plot threads that begin and end in different locations. It ends up looking like one of those mosaic tile backsplashes, with pieces overlapping so that if one hook is resolved, another's been begun.

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Member # 9745

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@Jack. LOL. Stephen King is very prolific. To me, being prolific is not as important as being good. If I tried to write a 1,000 pages per day, I would write 1,000 pages of crap per day. Now, I could write 1,000 pages per day for 10 days, but after that I'd need to take a day or two off and edit or flesh out characters or something, or just watch TV. [Wink] If you can be both prolific and good, more power to you, but a lot of people can't and I am one of them.

Toni Morrison, my favorite author, spends years thinking about her novels before she ever sits down to write them. When she finally starts writing, by hand mind you, she really doesn't have to do much cutting or editing because she already has the story so perfectly formed in her head.

That being said, I feel EXTREMELY lazy when I stop writing, if I am in the middle of something. I HATE doing it. HATE it. But I find that if I absolutely can't go anywhere, then I can't go anywhere and beating my head against a wall won't help either. That is why I immerse myself in so many other things. Even when I stop I'm always thinking about the problems and trying to find a solution. I try to keep it at bay as much as possible and just let my subconcious do the work. It's like when you are trying to remember something and can't, so you let it go. Then, days later, out of nowhere, BAM! there it is, when you weren't even trying.

That is also why if it is just a snag I try skipping it and writing the rest first. It's a rare occassion if I have to stop completely. Creativity is a discipline and it took realizing that to get me to even try writing in the first place. But not everybody needs the same type of discipline ya know? I would suggest experimenting. Give yourself some time off. Start small. Take a day off or two and see what effect it has. [Smile]

Also, I have to remind myself that just because I'm taking a break from writing doesn't mean I'm not doing things to further the story like developing characters, doing more research, etc. Except when I'm watching TV, then I just have to slap myself on the wrist for being lazy. [Razz] But really, what fantasy writer doesn't take time off to watch Game of Thrones?

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Member # 5512

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I used to outline but the story got tedious after a time. Next project I try I will try to improvize more, using only a rough outline.
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Member # 9331

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I'm guessing from the unpublished manuscripts I've read that most unpublished novelists would benefit from outlining at some point in the writing process, although not necessarily at the outset.

I'd say if you hit the 80K word mark and the story doesn't feel substantially finished, it's worth doing an outline with word counts to see what's up with that. That can prevent you from laboring for years and ending up with an unpublishable 300K word first novel. Even shorter novels can also meander until the plot collapses under the weight of extraneous scenes.

You don't necessarily have to have an outline before you start writing scenes. You don't necessarily have to have a complete outline before you write quite a few scenes. You don't even have to stick to your outline if the muse favors you with inspiration. Outlining is not about putting your story in a straight jacket; it's about obtaining insight.

There's no getting around that writing an outline or synopsis is dull, dull, dull work, but if you stick it out, what you get is a better idea of which details are more important and which are less. Outlining helps you close logical holes in the story, and find places you ought to foreshadow future events or refer back to past ones. It might also help you avoid common blunders like starting the novel in the wrong place.

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Member # 9213

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I'm still new (or re-new) at this, but I'm more like pdblake above. I draft a general, not overly detailed, outline. However, it may be a beginning, ending, character, plot twist, theme, image, or (in my recent WIP) setting that germinates the story.

The outline is usually a set of sequential plot points like goal posts that I perceive clearly, but the magic is the writing that occurs between them. To various degrees, this is unknown to me until I write--and I find this fascinating and wonderful. The outline is fluid and may change as I write, but it does provide continued guidance.

I've gone free-ranging (i.e. without an outline) on a number of story ideas but completed too few of them. For me, therefore, outlining is definitely a more successful writing method.

Dr. Bob

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Member # 9798

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Ok then, I acctualy get Awsome (in my egotistical opinion) work done with that 1000 word goal. After that, if i push too hard, it does start to turn to drivel. Although, that 1000 words only takes me an hour and a half. I DID take five days off the other day, and when I came back I smashed through the areas where i was having trouble and came back with an idea for a new story. Anyway, if I don't get that 1000 words, I feel like I should be grounded or something. (thanks Stephen king!) But you are tight. I usually go hard for a week and slow down. Anyway tho, you guys gave me a lot of insight, especially you there babygears. I guess that's all part of the process, learning as you go along. This is my first dive into the writing community tho have been writing, sporadically, for years and this is simply Awsome
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Member # 9798

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@ babygears. Do you write just novels? Or short stories as well. I read that to start a novel too soon can be detrimental as a becoming writer as your craft will evolve into an entirely different form by the time its finished. As of right now, I have a fat chunk of a book done, but stopped as to try and get short stories published to build up my credentials (as if now I have none) and then finish the novel. Do you have to edit the crap out of a short story before submission or just have it generally look good and the editors of the magazine take care of it?
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Member # 4849

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When I actually have time to write nowadays, I usually try to find the end first. A conflict which can be resolved, and important enough to carry a story on. Then, I try and find the beginning. The middle used to be the easiest part, but has been getting more difficult, lately.
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Robert Nowall
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Well, for something relatively long, usually I write out some scene-by-scene stuff, usually no more than a page long---my characters usually don't have names at this stage---and then write it up, start to finish.

Often, though, something comes us as I write, and I make changes and add (or delete) a scene.

One thing, though...writing up an outline sometimes kills the story for me---it's like I've told it once, and don't want to bother to write any more of it. And the longer the work is intended to be, the more likely this is to happen.

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Member # 9745

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@Jack-I haven't been writing for very long either. Well, creatively anyway. I finished my thesis about 1 year ago, does that count? [Razz] Anyway, I've only ever published two things. Granted, they are the only two things I have ever submitted for publication, but still, that's not much. But in both cases, in order to be selected over other candidates, my story had to be top notch before I submitted it. That being said, even my top notch submission needed changes as suggested by the editor. There are other writers on here who have more experience than I do with that, I'm sure.

As far as what you should write first, I personally don't take advice from anybody about that. I write what I KNOW I should be writing. I needed a break from my novel about two months ago, so I took a break. For a month, I started another project. When I got a certain way into it, I realized I wasn't ready to write it. Even though I planned to make it a novella and it was much shorter in length than my novel, it required a level of skill I have not yet acquired, so I went back to my novel.

Plenty of first time writers started with a novel and were successful, but again, that doesn't necessarily mean it's right for you. I would say that chances are, you KNOW what you should be writing, you're just not listening. [Smile] No matter where you are as a writer, you will probably almost always look back at your older works and think, man I sure could have done that better. That is the nature of any trade, if the individual cares about their work and continues to grow.

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Member # 5137

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I'm a pantser (seat of the pantser.) I let a story idea steep for a while. I jot down notes about some of the problems I think should arise in the story. I usually have a clear idea of what makes the MC unique.

But then I basically just do the Character in a Setting with a Problem bit. And as I write, I try to keep the MC from progressing on too straight a line. I ask myself what would make the situation worse/more problematic for the MC (what would make that Problem persist...which sometimes means introducing sub-problems, or sub goals required to reach the ultimate goal of solving the Story Problem.)

But for me, I find that over planning often backfires on me, so I try not to over plan.

The reality is, every writer has to find his or her method. And for some books, I find I need to do more sketching out than others. Sometimes I don't quite have my hands on the real PROBLEM, or I have the characters chasing problem A when I realize that problem B is really the issue. I call those "unfinished stories" lol, because it often derails me. I have two on the shelf right now that I think I've figured out how to fix, but I need to sit down and do the work to fix.

I am sometimes an every day writer, but more often I'm a burst writer. I'll write every day when working on a project, but then I'll not write for a while. When I'm editing I am usually not writing. This is particularly true when the thing I'm editing is in a different POV than what I want to be writing (my recent challenge was to start a new story in 3rd close when I was editing a 1st person book. Just couldn't do it. Now that I'm done editing I should just start that 3rd person one... [Wink]

My main suggestion to those of you new to the writer's journey is to just FINISH what you write. The two unfinished projects I have bother me quite a lot. I'm glad they were not my first two projects or I think I would be more uncertain about my ability to get a project finished. Having those finished projects under your belt, even if they aren't the world's answer to great fiction, still - it's important. So finish what you write. And do as much planning as feels right. [Wink]

Good luck!

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