I’m trying to get a story idea onto “paper” and I’m wondering from other writers:
Do you use outlines or not?
If you do:
Are they structured and something you could post as an example or are they just ideas for listed with a direction you want to go?
What happens when the story seems to go off track, do you go with it or stick to your original outline?
If you do not:
Then how do you keep your story on track? Does it just come to you or are you working off an idea in your head?
BTW: I’m new here. I’ve checked for this topic and haven’t seen it so forgive me if it’s already been asked. This is my first posting on LIt!
When I do not...
I often don't keep the story on track. Especially first draft. It just happens. It's really rough and often ridiculous. And, actually, it has yet to ever reach the ending being pure discovery. The key to this method is being a really good reviser. Sometimes it works out wonderfully, usually it doesn't. But for me, having something down on paper to work with usually is enough.
When I do...
Being a sort of panster, it's loose. And it's to fix the thing I already have going that started by not being outlined. It starts with daydreaming (not unlike working without an outline), ideally I can kind of think "oh, this, then this, then that, and oh! that'll work!" Then I kind of have an outline that I can still discovery-write through. This could be for bridging two things I already have, figuring out what happens next, or even figuring out how something I already wrote should have been.
When that doesn't work, it's time to get a little more structured. This is much harder but often needs to be done. Bullet points can help when I'm really stuck, usually post-brainstorming with myself or someone else, and when I'm reeeally desperate I'll try to work backwards. That one sucks.
BTW: Hi, nice to see a new person around here. Start an introduction thread!
@Thuggish I've generally done that, started a story with just an idea but I've never been able to write all the way through to the end because I can't seem to stop myself from going back and editing when a new idea or thought strikes me. I think that if I try it like you do, using an outline after I might be able to jot down the new ideas and stick with the story and see where it goes. I may try this with the two other pieces I've been working on, I get stuck on one then go to another to see if I can get that story up and running!
I am currently trying to start a story in a different genre with an outline and work from there. I'm an organizer but also creative. In most things, I go in with a plan but I've never really done that with my writing.
Thank you for your response and I will try to get that introduction up soon, I'm trying to figure out what to say besides what I put in my profile.
Well, I ended up outlining (and when I say that, I don't mean the entire damn thing, just a little ways ahead) out of necessity.
Apparently the constantly revising what you already have thing, is a real problem for a lot of pansters. My "solution" was being so excited about the next thing that I never went back, until later. Maybe impose that on yourself.
Maybe even keep a log of things you intend to change. For example: maybe a character isn't working for you. Maybe it's a girl and you need it to be a guy. You can just make the change in the new chapter and make a note to go back and change the previous stuff... later. But don't allow yourself to do it now.
This all comes from another author's advice, by the way, I'm not great at following it... But the idea was, if momentum is key (and it sure was for me pansting, even though the author advising this is a hardcore outliner), do what it takes not to break it.
I've had a lot more success not doing outlines, personally. But I don't tend to write things with tight A to B plotting where one thing is super dependant on the last, so that's where I'm coming from.
I stay away from outlines because when I outline, I tend to get bored. Honestly, it starts to feel like I'm just doing the grunt work, writing out someone else's story. It also means that when I want to change something or have a good idea, I can't add it without changing a bunch of other stuff as well.
I've experienced problems similar to yours, the tendency to want to change something that changes the things I've already written. And then it feels like you're trapped in a loop. The way I've tried to address that is to A) trust in the direction I've taken and not add something that makes big changes to the plot, characters, etc. or B) make the change in the text, add a bracketed note that this change will have to be set in earlier, and then continue forward, saving those revisions for the revision process. I find that B) works pretty well for me because it's like trying on clothes. You find them, walk around in them for a bit, and then you can make a good decision about whether or not you want to hang onto them.
To me, going back and revising demonstrates a misunderstanding of what a first draft should be if you're pantsing. I see a first draft as kind of an experimental extended outline. There is no need to re-write anything in a first draft because the second draft should be started from a blank page. Write the first draft, put it in a drawer for a few weeks, then read it, make notes and start again for the second draft. The words on the page in the first draft will never be 'used' in the sense of forming a part of the final work. If I decided a character should change sex halfway through the first draft, I'd just keep on writing and fix the beginning in the next draft. Even if you're writing something plot-heavy, you can arrive at a certain ending and then insert things in the next draft to lead up to that ending.
Accept that your first draft is likely to be a poorly-written mess and just remind yourself that you can fix everything later. I cringed when I hear someone talk about a "servicable" first draft during NaNoWriMo. Vomit your ideas on to the page and then clean them up.
@Thuggish, that is a great idea and something I will try to implement, make the note and just keep going. I usually am really excited about the story but that perfectionist in me creeps in and says, "That doesn't work with what you already wrote, go back and change it!" I'll have to try and save the perfectionist for the editing phase!
@helpfulsnowman, I really really like those ideas and will definitely try them as well! B will probably be more likely since the change usually helps in adding depth to the story.
@VR Stone, Now that is a way of looking at it that I've never considered! Starting from a fresh page and working off the first draft, it would definitely get my idea out there and I wouldn't have to worry about the minutia of dialogue, characters with depth and all of the other stuff I find myself getting bogged down with. I like the idea of an expanded outline because I'm the kind of person who likes organizing so this is another great idea!
These comment so far are great, I'm taking notes to see what will work for me in my writing! I love learning and the more ideas I have to work off of the better I will be at finding what works for me! I'm so glad I actually joined this site this time!
Look for the post-a-paragraph thread...
@Thuggish, I actually have it in my favorites so I can take a read at some point, thank you again for your help.
I was trying to encourage you to post something..
@Thuggish, I know, I'm trying to figure out what to post, the current story I'm working on might not be to everyone's liking and I'm not sure about posting guidelines! Don't want to get kicked off for being offensive when I've only just begun! I will definitely get something up there this weekend, maybe from an older story that I'm still working on.
If it's fiction, I'm pretty sure there's juuuust about nothing that'll get you booted from this site. (Maybe snowman can chime in.) Super pornographical stuff might do it.
Come to think of it, where are the guidelines around here?
@Thuggish, Funny you should ask that I haven't found any. I'm not a paying member yet (working on that) so I might not have access to everything but I thought there would be some guidelines. I posted a chapter from another thing I've been working on, it's a fantasy story (think elves and dwarves and such).
I rarely use outlines. If I do, they're disorganized little fragments of ideas or whatever.
The novel I just completed (first draft) was compelx enough though that I had to have a rudimentary outline, simply for the plot movements.
I like to write instinctively, not knowing where something's going, letting my subconscious and imagination take over. This has worked for me, for the most part. Sometimes doing this requires more in-depth rewrites, but it's much more fun. For myself, I need to keep writing fun. I find that detailed outlines just kill my motivation to write the novel: it's like the outline exorcised whatever was in me that wanted to express itself. Some say the same thing happens when they tell people about their novel idea in detail: it makes it feel like the story's been told, so why write it? I've had a similar effect happen from thorough outlining.
@ubik I understand the feeling about already telling the story. I love letting my creativity flow, it works well for me with shorter stories but I seem to lose myself too much when I've tried to write something longer such as a novel. Thank you for your response.
@SueA9378: Yes, with short stories, I rarely require any sort of outline. Occassionally, when a short story's long or involved, I might have a half page of vague notes, written in a kind of shorthand just to keep certain details straight. Normally though, I don't use outlines for short fiction. Novels are a different deal, but even there, I keep outlines very short. My current novel's nearly 500 pages, very complex plot-wise, and the outline was only maybe 10 handwritten pages.
Thing is, the writers I like most seem to condemn outlines.
I've been thinking about this more, and one thing I noticed that I've done is add a lot slowly to my initial drafts. Things that would normally be ready and waiting for an outliner, subplots, foreshadowing, all that stuff.
I think a lot of free-written material can be expected to come out very bare bones, probably without a very good ending, and need plenty more run-throughs to turn into a complete story.
The advantage to this, in my experience, is that said bare bones material is good enough that I know my characters through and through. And once I have that, and once I have an idea of where the story's capital-P plot is going (since I finally, you know, got there), I know enough to fill in all those gaps.
I shouldn't have posted here probably. I'm a bad example of "coherence" when it comes to fiction. I don't care for traditional narratives or standard structures. I follow the weirdest impulses and just run with it.
I appreciate all perspectives ubik and I enjoy learning different viewpoints on how to do things.