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Outlining... [Mar. 25th, 2008|06:20 pm]
Pen and Ink
penandink1
[pai1]
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[Current Music |ac/dc -- highway to hell]

I hate outlining. Hate, hate, hate. I always sit down with a pen, a full pad of paper and a hefty load of determination, ready to create my brand new, wonderful world. Ten minutes later, I'm abruptly bored. I also get bogged down with the realisation that I know nothing about my story. I mean, sure, I have my beginning and end, perhaps one or two subplot ideas, but the filling-in eludes me. Then I get scared, my confidence goes down the toilet; I put my pad away and return to deliberate procrastination.

On the other hand, if I try writing a story on the fly -- ie. making it up as I go along -- I rarely make it past 10k. I soon realise, like when I outline, that I know nothing about my story aside from a few plot points here and there. It's all well and good listening to the people who tell you to "let the characters live the story; allow them to surprise you" -- but I start to think that I'm wasting my time. What if this mega-long scene I'm writing -- the scene I've been sweating over for a week -- actually turns out to have nothing to do with the overall plot, and I have to cut it? What a waste of my time! I understand that no writing is wasted writing (it's all good practice), but if I'm writing a novel, I want to write the novel, not random scenes that won't even make the cut.

That's without even mentioning the many plotholes I seem to accumulate through unplanned writing.

So, as it stands, I need to outline. But then I'm back to square one: I hate outlining. What do I do? I've tried many methods, a lot of which work for other people. There's the Snowflake method, which I'm sure everyone and their mother has tried; The Marshall Plan (Amazon link); this useless thing; Holly Lisle's mini-course; Free-Writing; and many others I've forgotten about. None of them helped me like they did for other people. I still got bored. (You try them! Everyone's different.) FTR, even though it's irrelevant, I've also tried Character Sheets. If I thought I was bored doing outlines, it was nothing to these babies! Dude. Yawn. (I've seen a lot pf people on NaNo use them, and for the most part it appeared to inject a healthy dose of enthusiasm into their writing processes. Heh. Different strokes.)

I was stuck in a Catch 22 situation. I couldn't write my story without outlining, yet outlining sucked away all my desire to write. Because of this, many story ideas -- and I'm probably in the 100s now -- sit half-formed and abandoned in my junk drawers. I didn't know what to do. I had such a burning need to write a novel, yet I was whacking into brick walls each and every time I tried.

I'd heard about index cards from many writers. Just the idea of using them bored me to tears. But I was so frustrated with my own lack of progress that I just thought, you know, what the hell, man. I couldn't suffer any more than I already was. I Googled "index cards -- novel writing" and read a few articles (far too many to try to link some here; just Google what I did) on the subject. I was, despite myself, intrigued. I ignored all the rigid rules I'd read (such as putting POVs and times and dates and everything else on each card), and I didn't rush into town for card. I got a stack of plain paper and cut it into fours. I now had a pile of index card-shaped things. On each card I wrote an idea, or a conversation topic, or some action, or a dramatic-sounding revelation ... you get the idea. Before I knew it, I had a pile of scenes. Actual workable scenes. Then I locked myself in a room and spread them out on the floor, mixed them up, swapped some over, threw some out, filled in some blanks. Then suddenly -- and I could hardly believe it -- I had a full plot outline in front of me. It was a rough outline -- it still needs a lot of work -- but there, scene by scene, was my novel. *\o/*

Hurrah!

Let's hear your views on/experiences with outlining! Got any helpful links for others who'd like to try some structured outlining? Leave 'em in the comments! :D

People! The comm's a day old and we're doing great! But we need lots more members for the place to really work. So pimp, people, pimp! Tell everyone. Drop a promo in an appropriate comm. Mention it next time you post to your LJ. Woo!

Later on tonight I'm going to put up a post informing you all of what's coming in this comm over the next week. I don't want to leave you all in the dark. :)
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: mystik_serena
2008-03-25 07:33 pm (UTC)
I don't really outline. I have a series of events in my head that I may or may not scribble down so I don't forget, but I don't outline. My first draft is free-written and rarely the same story as when I started, much less between drafts :).
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[User Picture]From: kujirai
2008-03-25 11:15 pm (UTC)
My story changes dramatically as well. I remember in one such tale I went from writing about an evil fairy woman to something about a troupe of gypsies. o.O
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[User Picture]From: mystik_serena
2008-03-27 01:06 am (UTC)
Hee. Mine went from "crazy guys! who aren't crazy! Magic! Adventures! And um. All sorts of stuff." to a twisted love story with crazy kids and no magic or adventurs. Just sex and drugs.
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From: phantomsangels2
2008-03-25 08:27 pm (UTC)
Gah, I hate outlining too, but can't write without one either. I do that notecard outline thing too--it's pretty much the most relaxed way to write an outline, haha. I can't do anything more detailed than that. The snowflake method made me shiver just looking at one had to do. I could never be that detailed xD
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From: phoquess
2008-03-25 10:19 pm (UTC)
For me—I have to come up with the ideas before I outline. Sometimes this makes the outline redundant. I rarely go into specific detail BUT.

With my current project, the process was very different. I have bits and pieces (actually about 40K) of the story already written, in various times and places with various characters. Since the story will be told nontraditionally and nonchronologically, this was fine. It wasn't until recently, though, that I sat down, made index cards for each of the scenes I had written, and started to fill in the gaps. I worked chronologically first (and there were many scribblings of doom) and then rearranged them into the order in which I will tell them. It was crazy. But it is strangely liberating to be able to choose when a certain scene occurs for maximum impact, rather than being constrained by chronology. My outline is an Excel document (so I could line up things I wanted to happen simultaneously.)

It's pretty damn fabulous if I do say so myself, so if anyone wants to see my beast of an outline (actually there's not that much to it and it's vague) they can let me know. ^.^
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From: pai1
2008-03-25 10:39 pm (UTC)
Ooh, ooh, I'd like to see it. I've never seen a true, completed outline before. I'm really curious! And I'm fascinated by the whole exotic nature of it (yes, proper outlines are exotic mysteries to me, lol). Maybe I'll even learn something. :D

I don't have Excel though. Will I still be able to see it? I have no idea how Excel works. Can the document be exported and converted? If so, just send it on over to penandink1@gmail.com. If not, no worries. I'll just gaze at you in wonder. :D
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From: phoquess
2008-03-26 01:34 am (UTC)
Sent as PDF!
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[User Picture]From: kujirai
2008-03-25 11:11 pm (UTC)
I'd love to see your outline. Like Pai, I've never actually seen a finished version.

my email's kujirai @ live. com. au
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From: phoquess
2008-03-26 01:35 am (UTC)
Sent as PDF!
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[User Picture]From: kujirai
2008-03-26 01:39 am (UTC)
Oh wow, that looks great!! Maybe I should do something like this (=__=) It looks helpful.

Lol @ "Saul gets caught doing Bad shit"
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From: phoquess
2008-03-26 01:42 am (UTC)
It was definitely helpful for figuring out what happens when. But yeah, it's vague... (I'm not even sure what sort of Bad Shit he does!) Glad you like it, hope it helps.
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[User Picture]From: kujirai
2008-03-27 01:10 am (UTC)
Wow, your outlining has helped me a lot so far. I've managed to flesh out my entire first book and half my second using your style. o.O Later today I might even get started on the basics for the 3rd book. It is a bit vague but it gives me a great basis to a more detailed approach later.

You're a frickin genius, I says. 8D
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From: phoquess
2008-03-27 03:20 am (UTC)
Holy shit, I hadn't realized it would be *that* useful! I just made it up as I went, really. That's awesome that it's helped you!

I loves being a genius. (*celebration a la icon!*)
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[User Picture]From: kujirai
2008-03-25 11:09 pm (UTC)
I'm intrigued by the index card idea; but I don't think I'll use it until I find myself at a dead end in my outlining.

As for myself, I'm fairly good at outlining my story; in fact that always what I seem to be doing. I always find some flaw or odd sequence of events that need to be thought of a bit more; then I add it to my chapter file.

My outlining consists of Chapter Files. I do a one page rough outline of exactly what's going to happen in the book; then I elaborate on that my writing down everything that i want to happen in each chapter. Conversations, events, important events, character intro's, things that will need explaining in that chapter etc etc, and then I highlight them in different colors; print it out; and put it in a referance folder.

That seems to work for me; and it gives me a lot of details; and helps with writers block and laziness because you have it all written right there; what you need to be talking about. It's a tedious process but worth it in my opinion; and it gives you the freedom to go back and add in bits of information that you left out; or suddenly think up.
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From: blackfaery01
2008-03-26 12:36 am (UTC)
Wow. That first paragraph just pinned my thoughts exactly. I tried in depth planning (although it was with fanfiction) and I could never bring myself to finish it. It was as if the story was already written, so writing it brought no joy or surprise. Which, in a way, was fine. It was only fanfiction.

But now with my original fiction, I actually do want to finish it. I really enjoy finding out little things about my characters along the way, not having it all planned from the beginning.

So my new plan will work like this: I’ll have a beginning and a definite end I want to work towards. I’ll have a rough outline of major characters (and some important minor ones!) in my head, just so that they have some life in them.

And that should work. At least for a while.
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[User Picture]From: jediknightmuse
2008-03-26 03:56 am (UTC)
When I was younger, my outlines were kinda fairly detailed. But then...I think I stopped doing it, and kind of grew out of it. And now I find it ridiculously hard to outline in detail. I do outline for some stories, like my current one, but it's kinda hard for me. I more or less have an outline for this one, but it's not super detailed...although that's mostly because I've had so few ideas for it. It's probably going to end up being like...six chapters as a first draft. I can't wait until I finish it and then can hopefully edit it to death and then MAYBE use whatever notes I come up with towards coming up with more ideas so that the rewrite can be longer.
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[User Picture]From: twistedprince
2008-03-26 05:24 am (UTC)
Notecarding is what I do.I have a three-subject binder to make notes in outside of the notecards (like character quirks, things about the war, etc, etc) but notecarding is THE only way I can get through the middle of a story.
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[User Picture]From: arielavader
2008-03-26 05:55 am (UTC)
I can't outline in detail. I tend to write organically, and outline the same. So for instance, my current work, I started with a line and characters grew from there, and then they had secrets and they wouldn't tell me what they were. I worked through some things with the characters while writing, and eventually I hit a turn point, and wham, I had a good idea of what had to happen, so I started with a sort of "scene" structure. I made this list of scenes - character a had a dream about x/trading scene, etc. I've added to them, fleshed them out as I've written more of the story, added whose point of view the scene should be from, etc. It was too hard to write without some idea of what needed to happen. Also, it helps if I get bored or stuck, I can just say "I just have to write this scene and I know what it is about and I know the POV."

I have used index cards, but I have trouble with them. Mostly because I write on the computer and so I like to have all my ideas/character info/bits and pieces available on my computer as well.
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[User Picture]From: franzeska
2008-04-25 03:15 am (UTC)
I am very anal, so I usually like things like the Snowflake Method. However, I've been very impressed with Jim Butcher's advice too. It's in the same general direction, but much more freeform. He actually just posted something about outlining: http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/
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