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Archived Author Help > Your "Wish I Had Known" for outliners

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message 1: by Nat (last edited Jan 30, 2017 10:19AM) (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments I am leading an hour long workshop on outlining. I plan on going over the three act play, the heroes journey, pinch points, scenes, character arc, etc.

As an author, what are some of the things you'd wished you'd known sooner in outlining/plotting a novel. Even if it's not specifically outlining related, any info might be useful!

Thanks!


message 2: by Riley, Viking Extraordinaire (new)

Riley Amos Westbrook (sonshinegreene) | 1510 comments Mod
I wish I could offer help, I tend to end up throwing my outlines away, lol
I quit making them, since my characters never follow the path I want them to.


message 3: by Ember-Raine (new)

Ember-Raine Winters (ember-raine_winters) | 99 comments I second that Riley! I don't think I have ever outlined a novel! I'm not organized enough for that and my characters would probably stage a mutiny if I did! Lol!


message 4: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments Haha, well, thanks Riley and Ember. Yeah, this workshop is aimed at outlining. I outline and I outline well. I've written books just organically before and I always spend 6 months editing them.

You can outline and still have characters stage a mutiny... but you can still have an idea of where you want to go. I modify my outline if I have to. Sometimes you just don't have any say in it!


message 5: by Christina (new)

Christina McMullen (cmcmullen) I third this, but I also think this could be a teaching tool. I still outline and write out a basic summary, even if I know my story will deviate from my plan almost immediately. At times, even though I went way off script, coming back to earlier ideas helped shape what would come next. Heck, it's actually kind of fun to compare my initial spark of ideas to the final outcome.


message 6: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments Christina wrote: "I third this, but I also think this could be a teaching tool. I still outline and write out a basic summary, even if I know my story will deviate from my plan almost immediately. At times, even tho..."

Yes! Exactly. This happens to me where having that framework helps out with finding your way back on track, or modifying that track if it doesn't work anymore.

I like to compare them too. Like in my recent short story, the MC was supposed to have a sister that was the best watermelon seed spitter in the county, and she never even came up.

Thanks for your thoughts!


message 7: by Rohvannyn (new)

Rohvannyn Shaw | 189 comments Nat wrote: "I am leading an hour long workshop on outlining. I plan on going over the three act play, the heroes journey, pinch points, scenes, character arc, etc.

As an author, what are some of the things y..."


Something I wish I'd known at the beginning, is that an outline is a way to capture the whole grand sweep of a story in case it decides to leap fully formed out of your head, before it all runs away.


message 8: by P.D. (new)

P.D. Workman (pdworkman) Okay, I didn't outline for 30 years, but now I do!

On the book that I am currently working with a co-author on, we are in the outlining stage, and it's great to be able to try out different scenarios, to move scenes around to see how they affect the arc and climax of the story, to work with the clues and red herrings, etc.


message 9: by Jane (new)

Jane Jago | 888 comments I do outline, but I generally end up not following the thing....


message 10: by Sherri (new)

Sherri Moorer (sherrithewriter) | 80 comments I can only get outlines to work for me when writing non-fiction. My characters are too much like me: full of surprises, and nonsense!


message 11: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments Rohvannyn wrote: "Something I wish I'd known at the beginning, is that an outline is a way to capture the whole grand sweep of a story in case it decides to leap fully formed out of your head, before it all runs away. "

Hahah, well, I think so. Even if I end up changing the outline, at least I got the first blush down and it makes it easier, for me, to see the whole picture.

Outlines and plots are like wild beasts.


message 12: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments P.D. Workman (Pamela) wrote: "Okay, I didn't outline for 30 years, but now I do!

On the book that I am currently working with a co-author on, we are in the outlining stage, and it's great to be able to try out different scena..."


Yeah, I find I can do the clue/red herring much better with an outline. People who can just pull all that out of the air impress me!


message 13: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments Jane wrote: "I do outline, but I generally end up not following the thing...."

So it doesn't help you at all? Or does it offer some idea on the direction where you want to go, or maybe don't want to go?

I gotta say, Jane... maybe you shouldn't bother. ;) You people who can just form a story out of air and thought. Sheesh.


message 14: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments Sherri wrote: "I can only get outlines to work for me when writing non-fiction. My characters are too much like me: full of surprises, and nonsense!"

Well, you're lucky! Actually, my characters are too, and sometimes they re-route my outline, but I still like the form to follow as I write.

Thanks!


message 15: by B.G. (new)

B.G. Brainard (goodreadscombeverly_brainard) | 5 comments I use a detailed chronological outline to keep my ancient Near East novels on track, which I find liberating for the rest of the story.


message 16: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Kent | 9 comments I tend to outline when I get a bit stuck. In my head I have an idea of where the story is heading, but sometimes I get stuck in a cul-de-sac and a good outline of the next 5-6 chapters definitely helps...


message 17: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments B.G. wrote: "I use a detailed chronological outline to keep my ancient Near East novels on track, which I find liberating for the rest of the story."

Oh yes, outlines are great for keeping track of chronology! Thanks for that tip. I end up often forgetting about my chronology and having to fill in a spreadsheet after the fact, just to make sure it make sense.


message 18: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments Jonathan wrote: "I tend to outline when I get a bit stuck. In my head I have an idea of where the story is heading, but sometimes I get stuck in a cul-de-sac and a good outline of the next 5-6 chapters definitely h..."

That's true for me too. In those cases I tend to write scenes on note cards and shuffle them around. Thanks for adding your use of the outline.


message 19: by Jane (last edited Jan 31, 2017 09:06AM) (new)

Jane Jago | 888 comments Nat wrote: "Jane wrote: "I do outline, but I generally end up not following the thing...."

So it doesn't help you at all? Or does it offer some idea on the direction where you want to go, or maybe don't want ..."


What it does is give me a beginning, middle and end. Something I can drag my characters back to if I find them getting too far from how they were in my head. So yeah. It helps. But it isn't set in stone,

And stories. I got a brain bursting with them. But sometimes that's very inconvenient - like when trying to do grocery shop for instance. :-)


message 20: by P.D. (new)

P.D. Workman (pdworkman) Jane wrote: And stories. I got a brain bursting with them. But sometimes that's very inconvenient - like when trying to do grocery shop for instance. :-)

Clean-up on aisle five...


message 21: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments Jane wrote: "And stories. I got a brain bursting with them. But sometimes that's very inconvenient - like when trying to do grocery shop for instance. :-)
"


I KNOW! Like really. I just wish I had more time to get them all out on paper... because I spin them up in my heads over and over. I want to let them come out, but... TIME! Okay, I'm done capslocking.

And @PD, no kidding. Imagine the stories and brain matter are a little slippery.


message 22: by A.M. (new)

A.M. Sommers (httpswwwgoodreadscomasommers) | 4 comments I did a general outline for my first (and only -- so far --published) book, which was helpful. I considered each chapter to be a puzzle to be solved. I knew which puzzles would be easy to unlock and which would be hard. After I finished a chapter, I made a list of all the things that had to occur in the next chapter -- which really helped to pull me through.

I too found my characters dictating their futures in ways I had not anticipated.

My current work is a semi-fictional memoir in the voice of one of my grandmother's. The general outline is set, but there's still the question of fleshing out each chapter so the path of her life is
rational and tightly written.


message 23: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments This brings to mind the difference between a bare bones outline and a beat sheet. I've beat sheeted (as in writing out each action, choice, plot bit ahead of time) and then there is a more general, bare bones outline where it's just the broad strokes.

And so you expand our outline as you go, writing more for the next chapter once you'd figured out the previous one?


message 24: by C.B., Beach Body Moderator (new)

C.B. Archer | 1090 comments Mod
I am from the camp of 'My outlines are almost looser than my characters'.
I write outlines, but with the big novels I immediately abandon them! It is nice to have them, as it is fun to see where the stories end up.

However, for my short stories I outline them, and they almost stick to it. Which is amazing. It is probably because they are shorter and easier to keep on track word count wise! If a great idea happens though, that outline is getting ditched.

I do outlining plot points style. Each one ends up being about 500 words on average. This lets me plan out how many words there are in the story beforehand, and keep right to that goal, and then immediately go on a tangent and add 2000 words just for one joke I think is funny.


message 25: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Siegrist (amandasiegrist) | 190 comments I have never outlined in my life and wouldn't even know where to start. I do have an idea in my head for certain things but even then it tends to change. So I guess I wouldn't change anything because I like working without an outline and going as my characters tell me to:)


message 26: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments 'My outlines are almost looser than my characters'. Now really, don't go exaggerating.

I haven't really used an outline to keep track of word count. I just end up within my goal (if I have a goal)... Well except for one time where I had to cut 3,000 words and the publisher still let me go over by about 1300 words.

I do like the plot point style of outlining. Main ideas of what needs to go where. I tend to do well with the beat sheet, too, though. I float from one to the other. And yes, outlines are definitely mutable, BUT they do keep me on task and remind me of the 'bigger' high points I want to cover.


message 27: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments Amanda wrote: "I have never outlined in my life and wouldn't even know where to start. "

Well, you're lucky. I end up with junk work if I write like that. I am always jealous of organic writers who just float along with their thoughts in their heads and come up with something solid! Fie on you!


message 28: by Anna (new)

Anna Adler | 38 comments I don't know if it's called an outline, but I need to have an idea about the main conflict, the character development, and the ending before I start writing. If I just write with an open end without a plan I'll never actually get to the end.

What I wish I'd known sooner? That the first draft doesn't have to be perfect. It's perfectly okay if the first draft sucks as long as the main plot elements are there. I used to try and write perfect first drafts, which ended in a disaster. Nowadays I first write rubbishy drivel and then edit it into shape.


message 29: by Barbara (new)

Barbara | 5 comments Depending on the complexity of the story outlining might be helpful, or even inevitable. Linear constructed plots/stories might manage to go without an outline. You just go with the flow, whether you outlined it before or not. Changes can be made on the go and eventually won't cause any trouble to the rest of the story. But I find it quite difficult to go without an outlined draft of the plot creating multilayered, non-chronological stories. To me, it's almost crucial to have an exact plan of where and how to place my key moments in the plot. Any slight change at one point might have a devastating impact on the whole storyline. So, I better keep track and stick with it.


message 30: by A.M. (new)

A.M. Sommers (httpswwwgoodreadscomasommers) | 4 comments As I said, I did have an outline for my novel, but -- after years in human services -- I also had a legislative agenda. My heart breaks for kids who age out of foster care with nowhere to go so advocating for that issue informed my outline.

While I had my secret agenda, I knew nobody would read the book if it wasn't funny and my characters weren't real.


message 31: by Petra (new)

Petra Jacob | 42 comments It's an interesting question. I did an outline for my last book, because I wanted to have quite a complex plot, and I needed to know that everything tied up correctly, with each question having resolution.
However, I wish I'd know to start writing the synopsis earlier, while still writing the book. Partly because I hate writing synopses, and it would have given me time to think about it and revise. But also because writing a synopsis enabled me to see the flaws in my plot - if an event couldn't be described in an interesting way, then something was wrong with it.


message 32: by Petra (new)

Petra Jacob | 42 comments A.M. wrote: "As I said, I did have an outline for my novel, but -- after years in human services -- I also had a legislative agenda. My heart breaks for kids who age out of foster care with nowhere to go so adv..."

This is the best reason to write, and a brilliant way to approach it!


message 33: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Jensen (kdragon) | 468 comments I rely heavily on outlines even if the story ends up deviating some. Having a map of sorts not only helps keep me on track, it also makes the writing process go faster since I know where the story is going.

One thing I wished I learned sooner was to take my time with the outlines, and to look at outlines as the first draft of the story rather than one more arduous step before the actual writing process. I used to keep my outlines simple - only a few sentences in order to put scenes in order. But I eventually realized that the more detailed an outline was, (as I mentioned above) the easier and quicker the story was to write.

Something else I came to recently realize is that if you have a story idea, don't wait to take notes. I'm rather slow when it comes to story planning and I used to not work on story notes until I was ready to write that particular idea. This ended up leading to me having a ton of ideas but none of them ready to write. Now if I get an idea, I take notes (generally world-building stuff, not outlines), even if I end up scrapping the idea later on.


message 34: by P.D. (new)

P.D. Workman (pdworkman) A.M. - I'm with you there. My books are full of social agendas as well. Entertain people, and they won't even realize you are educating them...

Petra - Yes, my logline is the first thing I write. Then a five-line synopsis (beginning, three disasters, ending). Then my back cover copy. Ensures that you have a basic structure right from the beginning. And so much easier to write a one-line summary at the beginning than at the end, when your head is so full of everything that happened in the book.

Melissa - my story clip file has over 400 story ideas in it! I try to be more discerning now, and not add every single idea into it. But I did throw another in this morning when I woke up...


message 35: by Gerard (new)

Gerard Pourlavie | 3 comments I tried to outline at the start of the creative process, but it dried up my creativity. So I just wrote the first draft out spontaneously. Then I created a skeleton of the plot, events, characters, their voices, and plot reveals, etc. That was when I spotted my inconsistencies and repetitions. So my answer (helpfully!) is ... I'm glad I got something substantial on paper first.


message 36: by B.A. (new)

B.A. A. Mealer | 843 comments If you don't want to do an outline, do the James Patterson way. He does it by chapters after setting the over all premise, and a general idea of conflict along with the characters he'll be using. Each chapter gets one or two sentences as to what will be happening in them. TBD (To Be Determined) is used when there is a gap or a problem. You then go back and flesh it out some, again using TBD if you aren't sure of what you are going to put in there.

At this stage, make sure you have all your major points in place. You secondary plot can be left floating until the next additions. Again, go through and add more detail, maybe a conversation if needed or description, setting, etc.

He says he will do this for 5-10 times. For me, I can have it pretty well together in 3 revisions and then I do my first real draft. It is during this time that if I need to do extra research, I'll do it and add or subtract characters, scenes or other things. It's also a good point to change names, places and events.

My creativity is in putting the ideas down and determining the action. I let my characters deviate from what I plan but not too far. The idea is to get those ideas down in words and out of the head. I also like using a pen and pad as it is easier to use when you start to type.


message 37: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Jensen (kdragon) | 468 comments Gerard wrote: "I tried to outline at the start of the creative process, but it dried up my creativity. So I just wrote the first draft out spontaneously. Then I created a skeleton of the plot, events, characters,..."

That's the awesome thing about the writing process - there's really no wrong way to do it. Some outline, some kind of outline, some don't need to outline, some do all of the above depending on the story and what it needs at the time. You discover what works for you and go with it.


message 38: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments Anna wrote: "If I just write with an open end without a plan I'll never actually get to the end.

I can get to the end, but it's long and windy and not often coherent. That's what I am trying to avoid!

First drafts/rough drafts are words on the page! They aren't meant to shine. So, nice tip!


message 39: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments Petra wrote: "However, I wish I'd know to start writing the synopsis earlier, while still writing the book. Partly because I hate writing synopses, and it would have given me time to think about it and revise. But also because writing a synopsis enabled me to see the flaws in my plot - if an event couldn't be described in an interesting way, then something was wrong with it.


I write a chapter by chapter summary that I later turn into a synopsis. Just a one liner, and that also helps my critique group to have a good handle on what happened last chapter (we submit every few weeks and you can forget details that way.)

And yes, they are evil, but useful to show you where pacing is off, or you forgot a plot event. Thanks!


message 40: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments Melissa wrote: "One thing I wished I learned sooner was to take my time with the outlines, and to look at outlines as the first draft of the story rather than one more arduous step before the actual writing process. I used to keep my outlines simple - only a few sentences in order to put scenes in order. But I eventually realized that the more detailed an outline was, (as I mentioned above) the easier and quicker the story was to write.

Thanks for the idea. I hadn't really put that to form, but it's good to acknowledge it. I do agree that, for outliners, it is a step to put your time and effort in. If I have a stronger, more detailed outline, the writing always works better for me. And yes, it can change along the way, but at least I can see where the changes touch the rest of the story.


message 41: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments Gerard wrote: "I tried to outline at the start of the creative process, but it dried up my creativity. So I just wrote the first draft out spontaneously. Then I created a skeleton of the plot, events, characters,..."

Yeah, it's hard if it just doesn't work for you. I know people who just can't outline at all. But it still sounds like a tool you use, just in a different fashion.


message 42: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments B.A. wrote: "If you don't want to do an outline, do the James Patterson way. He does it by chapters after setting the over all premise, and a general idea of conflict along with the characters he'll be using. E..."

That is an interesting way to do it, and one I've done myself, I just didn't know there was a name to the method. :) I'll add it to my workshop handout. Thanks!


message 43: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments Thanks everyone for your awesome ideas. I've enjoyed reading how everyone is doing the story building in their own ways. Some use outlines, some don't. Glad to take some of these awesome tips, too!


message 44: by Peri (new)

Peri June (perijune) | 25 comments I'm a fairly new writer (only just published my first book) but I did my outline very thoroughly, only to end up going in a slightly different direction when the characters just don't want to do what I tell them!


message 45: by P.D. (new)

P.D. Workman (pdworkman) I kind of laugh at the "just one line" or "just two lines" per chapter outlines. My scene/chapter outlines are often just one word. Looking at the rough outline for the book I am working on right now (it's not complete, I still need to work on the ending) I'd say each outline item probably averages three words. Some of these headings do have a phrase or sentence to further explain them, but not all by any means. Sometimes it's just a character name, a specific conflict, a clue, or some emotion that needs to come out in that scene. But then, some of my more complex outlines with a lot of interweaving subplots have been 3,000-5,000 words (for 150-200 scenes.)

The outline I am working on for another book that I am coauthoring is much more detailed. With two people working on the same project, everything needs to be hammered out in detail. At least, with this author. I know other coauthors who just go with an idea and write alternating scenes to see where it goes. Kind of like a 100,000 word version of "finish my sentence." Anyway, it is exciting to see the synergy as we bounce ideas off of each other and weave them into the plot. I'm eager to get started writing it!

For the non-outliners - I hear you. Like I said before, I didn't outline for 30 years. I felt, like Gerard, that it dried up the creative process. If I even had an idea of how I was going to end the story, I'd end up dumping it before it was done. But I eventually overcame my blocks to outlining, and I've even been able to go back to some of those old, unfinished books that I gave up on, outlined them, and finished them.

And I'll tell you a secret, I don't outline everything. I've still written 2-3 books in the last couple of years that I just pantsed. And it's fun. But for a quick, efficient, polished project, an outline will get me there faster.


message 46: by Tony (new)

Tony Blenman | 90 comments I think having an outline would be like someone going on a camping trip. A map or some kind of navigational system would be necessary. We need to know where we going, how to get there, and when we have arrived. Yet with such instruments, I go off track at times just for the fun of it.
I like the outline, even if it means planning about four chapters at time. Yet, I have to say that writing, whether it flows spontaneously, or follows the outline method, both originate from the same source -- the mind or thinking.


message 47: by Janet (new)

Janet Lynn | 31 comments I am a strict outliner, nothing gets in my writing program until I have a tight outline in Word plus character studies. Now this doesen't mean that I don't add or delete characters,or that I may find an interesting tid bit about the murder on the internet. I have no idea how people write spontaneously and make it work. I need my road map, city, county and state, so to speak. My hat goes off to those who can sit down and write with no plan.


message 48: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments P.D. Workman (Pamela) wrote: "And I'll tell you a secret, I don't outline everything. I've still written 2-3 books in the last couple of years that I just pantsed. And it's fun. But for a quick, efficient, polished project, an outline will get me there faster.
"


That is a great secret and one I think many people have. I do pants some things when I get 'in the mood' and a scene/story just flows, but then I'll often do little one liners on where I want it to go, otherwise it's muddle through the middle.

Thanks for your thoughts.


message 49: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments K.C. wrote: "If it's not too late to pitch in, when I started outlining my first book I wish I'd had the sense to put my internal editor in a coma for my first draft."

Not at all! Add your thoughts!

Yes... first drafts do not have to be perfect. I have done NaNoWriMo several times and it helps to kill that internal editor when you're trying to write 50,000 words in a month. You just sit and write!


message 50: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 317 comments Janet wrote: "I am a strict outliner, nothing gets in my writing program until I have a tight outline in Word plus character studies. Now this doesen't mean that I don't add or delete characters,or that I may fi..."

haha, me too. People who can make very nice stories just pop up impress me. I have done that, but it's also taken years of editing. I'm tired of years of editing.


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