Limbless K9's picture
Limbless K9 from Oregon is reading Wraeththu October 20, 2011 - 6:50am

I was wondering what outlining process works for you, or do you not outline at all? 

 

I admit that I struggle with outlining but I'm trying to work on my outlining skills. For me, I always just used writing as a way to get my ideas out on the paper and the plots or characters would develop as I write. It isn't the best method, but I'm also pretty new to writing. So, how do you outline? 

Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break October 20, 2011 - 7:11am

-First I outline what happens.  This is more or less a brainstorming process that includes lines of dialogue, major and minor plot points, character traits, etc.

It reads like a series of promps essentially.

-Step 2 is organizing all that (in chronological order, if possible), and then I have a basic map of the story.

 

CJ Roberts's picture
CJ Roberts from Salem, MA is reading goodreads.com/cjroberts_dmm October 20, 2011 - 7:44am

I actually created a web form I use that includes all the major information I need to get started. I made it with a catch that unless every field is filled it won't save so I HAVE to come up with something however stupid for every hole. I even put pieces in there that include the goal of the book, the audience I want to reach, and how it stacks against the 17 parts of the monomyth.

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. October 20, 2011 - 8:00am

This is something I have been thinking about a fair bit.

As it stands I do very little in the way of outlining. Sometimes it's a few notes scribbled on scrap paper when I'm away from my computer, usually when I have an idea I want to make sure I don't forget. Most of it gets kept in my head and when it comes to the actual writing I usually just dive in.

The problem I am having is that I end up with a lot of false starts. A bunch of times I have discarded something because the idea or inspiration seemed more exciting in my meandering thoughts than it actually turned out. Occasionally I manage to salvage key parts and use them elsewhere, but it does seem like I end up wasting time in this fashion.

So the conclusion I have come to is that I need to be more organised. I intend to be a little more methodical about my next few efforts - see if it gets any easier. Worth a try, right?

 

CJ Roberts's picture
CJ Roberts from Salem, MA is reading goodreads.com/cjroberts_dmm October 20, 2011 - 8:06am

Organized for me is both a trap and its own reward. I used to just fill up notebook after notebook with the tangential explosion of ideas and some of my best writing came out of that but it never "went" anywhere. Now I have an Evernote account for a notebook, Scrivener, google docs and all manner of "organized" stations to track and use whatever I need. Sometimes it feels like my creativity has suffered under the weight of all that tedium but most of the time it just feels good to have a well planned strategy.

misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind October 20, 2011 - 10:47am

I use cards. Digital cards. In Scrivener.

I also keep all my notes in the program. I have my files saved to Dropbox, and every computer I use on a daily basis as both Scrivener and Dropbox, so I can work on it wherever I am. 

I'm not that great at outlining, though. I know how many pages I want to aim for in this draft, and how long I'd like each chapter, give or take a few hundred words. I write out my notes a few chapters in advance, and I know the main points of the beginning, middle, and end. but I can't outline each chapter through the whole novel before I write it--too many things change as I go along!

However, I am obsessive about notes. In my binder in Scrivener, I have a list of every character, their backstory, their sign, their looks, and their accessories/wardrobe. For the more important characters I add on likes, dislikes, situations, beliefs, etc. For all of them I have a list of keywords.

I have monsters listed, what myths they're based on, weaknesses and strengths, and keywords. I have places, too, cities and shopping centers and the like, with blueprints and maps of real places they're based on. Sometimes I spend more time building notes than I do writing.

Brian Lee O'malley put it nicely: "Living in this world for years so you can read about it for a couple of hours!"

But as far as outlining, well, I'm a combination of both a write-as-you-go and a must-know-the-details sort of gal.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 20, 2011 - 11:04am

@Brandon - how do you develop the ideas to get to the point of creating such an outline? That's pretty cool.

I have ideas for characters, setting, plot, etc... but have to write to have them develop. Then I sift through the mess and pull out the themes that seem common enough to tie the whole mess together. Then figure out which characters follow which arcs and sub-arcs. then figure out the ending.

that's when the outline happens.

physically, it's a combination of mapping character locations (where there's lots of movement/settings), timeframe (in the context of the story) and finally chronology (the sequence the moments appear in the narrative).

 

Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break October 20, 2011 - 11:35am

Good question: there's kind of a formula to it.

A while ago I wrote a piece called Gourmet which is about a restaurant that serves pretentious food.  The idea came when I read an article about a restaurant that talked about the decor and chefs for about 90% of the piece and the actual food part very little, almost like an afterthought.  So the idea is to basically to take a garish restaurant, the chef, the setting, and hyper-exageratte it.

You break this down into components:

-Possible setting and set pieces

-Possible dishes

-Possible character traits of the chef

-Possible consequences

You make a list of these and then introduce a control element, something to keep the piece grounded so that the reader doesn't completely slip into a place of total disbelief.  In this case, it's an interviewer.

So the outline is basically every possible thing the restaurant can do/serve and how the grounding element reacts to that.  You then have to flesh these items out into something readable.

Example 1: menu item descriptions.

Normal: Fresh, meaty shrimp delicately fried to a golden-brown to deliver a perfect crunch and tossed lightly in our homemade sweet-and-sassy chile sauce to add just the right balance of tang and bite. These juicy shrimp will dance deliciously on your taste buds.

Satired: Half-Rack Baby Lamb & Peppercorn Cranberry Chutney: A beautifully tragic dish.  The lamb was read “Oliver Twist” by a Canadian Laureate and marinated in Susan Boyle’s tears as she sang, “I Dreamed a Dream.”  The lamb then invites you to dine on the carcass as stated in its Last Will & Testament, delivered in a wax-sealed envelope by a half-Catholic altar boy.

Example 2: flatware

Normal: knives, spoons, forks

Satired: All Artisan dishes are accompanied by specialty flatware hand-selected by Chef Tairy Livingston.  Savor our Fondue with a Mont Blanc pen or eat beef & pepper kabobs off a power drill.  The possibilities are endless!

So essentially you list out all the things you could possibly do to your protagonist, cut them down to your best ones, and then present them to your protag.  If you go from least affecting to most affecting, an order should present itself, as would a climax.

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. October 20, 2011 - 11:42am

@ Brandon - nice post, makes a lot of sense. Every lesson works better with examples.

And the lamb sound delicious. How much per head for that bad boy?

 

Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break October 20, 2011 - 11:46am

Oh, I didn't price that one.  The scallops are listed for $187.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 20, 2011 - 2:13pm

@Brandon: thanks for the breakdown & illustration. those exaples are eerily along the lines of one of my first attempts at writing (many of my attempts fizzled for lack of something - an ending usually, a point sometimes).

 

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin October 20, 2011 - 2:18pm

I write a few scenes, I get the idea of what happens on paper, then I outline. I figure out what I have, where it goes, and what I need. 

I would not outline something with less than 10k words ever. Unless a certain professor was on my ass about that outline being due, worth 20% of my grade, and how important it is to outline research projects on the policies of Lula in Brazil.

I understand all of the fancy technology getting employed for the process, I bet it has its advantages, but I do all of my outlining by hand in my notebook because it helps me think better. If you are already thinking this is a suboptimal practice then I will compound it by admitting that I do it in pen as well.

Usually I start every revision by writing a new outline of what I think is going on and how it flows.

I like to chart out my plots on a separate sheet of paper, where the climax and rising action are clearly indicated. I do not re-do this as often as I re-do my outline.

-
Brandon, that is a very interesting process.

Bekanator's picture
Bekanator from Kamloops, British Columbia is reading Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter October 20, 2011 - 3:08pm

I tried outlining, but eventually learned that it wasn't for me.  I could never finish any story I outlined because I just got bored.  Outlining doesn't work for me, which in turn makes me a slower writer, but I'm alright with that.  Usually when I come up with an idea, I start writing what I can until I get stuck, and then I'll spend those free moments of my day (cooking, cleaning, walking to work, working, taking the bus home) thinking about the characters and the plot.  I'll write more, somtimes chunks of story and piece them where they need to go, doing whatever research I need in between.  I like to "discover" stories and characters, learn about them as I write about them.

It's only in the rare case when I have a ton of scenes I'm not sure what to do with that I'll make a rough outline and structure the plot a bit more.  Sometimes I'll outline what I need to extend on.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs October 20, 2011 - 4:05pm

Outlines are fantastic because it has totally eliminated writer's block for me. Sometimes I may get stuck while I'm outlining, but before when I didn't use them, my writer's block lasted a lot longer than my "outlining block" because I simultanously focused on the writing style and the content; while with an outline, I only focus on the content, and it doesn't matter how incredibly shitty my outline's prose is as long as the content is great.

But overall, the biggest advantage is the ability to go back and rewrite scenes in an outline when I've reached a certain point in the story when I've realized that changing an earlier scene will improve the book. If the same thing happened back when I didn't outline (although honestly plot construction wasn't that important to me back then anyway), I would have to completely rewrite a scene and it would be a big waste of time.

Also, while I'm working on a book, I occasionally don't follow the outline exactly because there are moments when I can only determine whether or not something is effective while I'm writing the actual scene. So when I follow the outline, I occasionally stray away from it rather than use every single detail.

Also, before outlining, I write extensive bios about the lives of the book's main characters, much of which doesn't get revealed in the actual book.

Limbless K9's picture
Limbless K9 from Oregon is reading Wraeththu October 20, 2011 - 4:33pm

It's really interesting to see everybody's take on this subject and I'm glad to see that I'm not alone in my preference for no outlining. All of these outlining ideas and methods are great though! I will have to try some of them out sometime. 

misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind October 20, 2011 - 5:12pm

@Bradley I do the same with my characters. I like having the information on hand because it dictates how they'll act to a certain situation, but I rarely drop in that information. Ah, the joys of having secrets!

 

David Welsh's picture
David Welsh from New Hampshire is reading The Shining October 20, 2011 - 6:51pm

I'm glad this post came up because I had the same questions.

Like many people here, I use the notebook too. Once I have some notes, then I do some rough outlines, but really, those are just notes too. I constantly redo the outline as I write, and it's mostly to keep track of what I've done, and where I'd like to go. Sometimes that destination changes.

Chorlie's picture
Chorlie from Philadelphia, PA is reading The Rules of the Tunnel October 20, 2011 - 6:54pm

Sadly I never outlined a story. I've done free writes, that I edit as I write, but I never take it further than that. That's my weak point.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 20, 2011 - 7:37pm

I guess it really depends on the size of the story, and the number of characters. The larger the work, the greater the number of characters, the greater the need for an outline to keep track of who's who, and doing what behind who else's back when that other thing is happening, and where did so-and-so leave that suitcase at the end of chapter 3?

lynx_child's picture
lynx_child from Seattle is reading The Dresden Files series October 21, 2011 - 12:12am

First I make a very rough relative timeline of major events in the novel, and map out the emotions/themes for each section.  Then I go through and write out what happens in each chapter, keeping track of characters in each one.

I'm also going to be trying something new where I bought a bunch of heavy-duty post-it notes and I'm going to cover one of my bedroom walls with them, so I can write on my bed and just look up at the outline.

Limbless K9's picture
Limbless K9 from Oregon is reading Wraeththu October 21, 2011 - 1:44am

@Lynx

That is an awesome idea. It reminds me of a storyboard or something akin to that. Please let me know if that works! That sounds like a fun thing to try out. 

simon morris's picture
simon morris from Originally, Philadelphia, PA; presently Miami Beach, FL is reading This Body of Death, by Elizabeth George October 21, 2011 - 4:31am

I use the power of the word processor instead of an outline. With "search and destroy" as I like to call it, you can find any reference point within a millisecond. I do keep a list of the names of characters on a sheet of paper but I have a good enough memory to recall who each are and what they are about. I can trace the story as a process without resorting to notes by using the search feature.

I use the search feature to make sure I haven't left loose ends. The stories I am writing evolve on their own and I have no idea where they are going until they get there. They are character driven so that the interactions and desires of the characters carry the stories from genesis to revelation.

I have been a published nonfiction writer for some time so the process of writing is not new to me. I am new at fiction. I've written some short stories and I am assaying a novel in the psychological mystery realm and everything flows easily. The big BUT is, will I be able to produce anything worthy of paid publication? That is why I am here. I began writing nonfiction with the aid of a good critique group and found success. I need feedback and the act of critiquing others to discover if what I have translates into fiction writing at a professional level. No matter the outcome, I expect the journey to be fun.

To me, nonfiction is a well-presented distilation of facts, sometimes using the same techniques as fiction which includes the use of exciting dialogue, narrative and exposition. The responsibility to choose the best words of action instead of a passive presentation is likewise an obligation a writer has to his readers. Fiction, on the other hand, is a well-concealed rendiiton of truths that are best concealed in the guise of fictions.

I am already using the following disclaimer on all my fiction pieces: Every word you will read is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth...only it didn't happen in quite this way or to quite the representatives I call characters whose purpose it is to expose the truth without exposing either the guilty or innocent people whose truths I present.

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin October 21, 2011 - 9:34am

I like your disclaimer simon.

-

I used to have a lot of the problems with outlining being described here, it was always this structure to organize thoughts I hadn't had yet so I didn't really understand how to use it.

But when I started outlining after I wrote, while I edited, all of the sudden outlining became immensely useful for me.

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin October 21, 2011 - 9:35am

I like your disclaimer simon.

-

I used to have a lot of the problems with outlining being described here, it was always this structure to organize thoughts I hadn't had yet so I didn't really understand how to use it.

But when I started outlining after I wrote, while I edited, all of the sudden outlining became an immensely useful tool for me.

I even do it with my songs now. I listen to takes and try to determine how they can be improved, rewrite lyrics, all with a nifty little outline.

Dave McCary's picture
Dave McCary from Santa Barbara, CA is reading A Dance of Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire series) October 21, 2011 - 9:38am

I'm sure my method is a bit of an oldschool mess. Proper outlining has never been easy for me. Part of me goes the way of Limbless K9, who started this thread, developing as I go and letting certain aspects of my story write themselves.

As far as actual organization goes, I am a fan of the Post-It method. My PC and desk are covered in Post-Its. I rearrange and edit them as I go, resticking them as I please. I just LOVE Post-Its!

I have a good feeling that I should really begin to evaluate other methods that would prove more useful. There are some great ideas and points of advice in this thread. Thanks, all.

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones October 21, 2011 - 2:30pm

normally i dont. and this isnt something im super proud of, in fact i think it is often a hinderance to my creative process to "channel" character voices onto paper for seven to ten pages. but then the short story i've farted out serves as a pretty detailed character sketch of two people (generally i write a narrator, and a person the narrator follows/interacts with....) all this is to say, later when im without much inspiration, i have a folder full of not very developped characters, settings, and occasionally backstory that *could* be used later in a larger piece.

i have been meaning for a couple years to make myself work on a similar system to brandon's, but i seem to lack any motivation to that end. every time i start it feels confining, like those characters aren't leading me (which it feels like in my non-outlined work, mentioned above) to me throwing people into situations that im not sure they could handle.

Howard_Rue's picture
Howard_Rue from Mount Dora, Florida is reading Heart-Shaped Box October 22, 2011 - 5:39am

As I'm still learning how to write longer and longer fiction--I'm torn on the issue. I've aced the concepts for shorter fiction. I pretty much know the details I need. However, thank you for this thread. I have a week to prepare for National Novel Writing Month, and I'm wondering if I should hash out a brief (?!) outline to help keep the keys moving, as it were.

For myself, no, I don't use an outline. And the last book I wrote I didn't use one, and it was, well, terrible. I found things to write, I knew vague where I was going with the topic, but I found it was sometimes great writing, sometimes not.

It is, truly a process. Thanks for this discussion.

Peace,

Rue

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 22, 2011 - 6:05am

with an ending in mind, writing is easier. Without one, it can meander (mine certainly does).

The outline, for me, helps to establish the points between the introduction of characters/situations and the invariable ending.

Although, outlining can be as big a distraction from writing as Internet message boards...

missesdash's picture
missesdash from Paris is reading The Informers October 22, 2011 - 11:26am

I just scribble one word summaries of scenes all over a sheet of paper, careful to makr it with a number so I know what order they go in.

 

Occasionally, if it's a very involved plot, I'll use StoryBook. Great program.