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View Full Version : Help me outline a character driven book? I'm sort of freaking out.


BlueLucario
10-29-2008, 02:48 AM
NaNo is on saturday, and I done have random ideas for my book. I only have written a prologue and two completely different openings. I can't choose one. And I don't like forcing the characters, which makes me very uncomfortable.

My first beginning starts off with a young girl in a dark and scary forest. She wakes up, not knowing where she is, but suddenly a "dementor" like creature comes out of nowhere and sucks out even more of her memories.

My character doesn't know who she is, and she seems to be like a naive, loving and sweet person. Fearful of strangers and she can't speak. Running away from something, but not knowing what it is.

The second opening, I'd say she's like a person who seeks a challenge. She hates easy battles, and she's a very experienced assassin. The story starts off with her battling a guy who's probably twice her height.

Okay, I can't choose which opening to go for My character's personalities are much too different. I need like an outline so I don't run into this kind of problem. I need a way to plan the whole book without forcing all of the characters and I need to finish this by Nov 30.

October 29 is the day I started my first book. November 1st is the day I'm rewriting this and taking this more seriously. So, no more meandering, no more random ninjas jumping into the scene and ruining my character's big moment. No more foul up or detours. I want everything to follow a straight line, but it's impossible if things end up veering off in another direction.

Is there anyway to outline? And also is there anyway to make my word count up to 1667 words. My main problem is that I'll tend to stop halfway to my goal, and get stuck there not knowing what to write next.

Jeremy
10-29-2008, 03:40 AM
I’ve found that there are two styles of writing. 1. Free-writer. 2 Outliner.

I personally have a hard time free writing. I meander and end up having what I feel is a boring story. Yet I don’t like completely outlining. I feel the stifles a lot of my creativity.

This forced me to look into a way to outline yet allow for the creativity of free-writing.

What I do I have seen referred to as a ‘floating outline’.

I breakdown my story into 4 Acts. Within those acts I list plot points, scenes, and climaxes I have envisioned. As an example:

Act One:
• Jack learns that he has super Gardner powers.
• Jill finds an evil tree in her garden.
Act Two:
• Jack betrayed by his vegetable friends.
• Jill breaks up with Jack.
Act Three:
• Jack fights with the main villain in the cornstalk maze.
• Jill discovered in the middle of the cornstalk maze.
Act Four:
• Jack becomes Mayor.

From there I flesh out what needs to happen so these events can take place:

Act One
• Jack learns that he has super Gardner powers.
o Introduce Jack, his family, and girlfriend Jill.
o Show Jack working in his boss’s garden.
o Introduce the Psychic.
o Show Jacks problems with his family.
o Show Jack and the Psychic talking together.
o Hint at Jack’s super Gardner powers.
o Start showing the dangers of talking vegetable friends.

So once that is complete I have goals to work toward, yet how I get to those goals is free-written so I get that creative aspect in my writing. For me, this is the best of both free writing and outlining worlds.

However, you must find what works for you. Every writer is different in this respect, but I hope sharing what has been working for me might help you find out what works for you.

Linda Adams
10-29-2008, 04:12 PM
There are lots of ways to outline, and I'm sure you're going to get plenty of examples. But one of the most important aspects of an outline is that you really need to know what your story is about. Both of your openings sound like you have an inkling of an idea, but not the story itself. What's the story? What problem is the character going to solve over the course of book? Write a sentence or two about the story, because that will give you a direction to go in.

This is what I use for an outline:

I decided on my actual word count. Then I listed a series of chapters and assigned a word count goal to the chapters, stopping the numbers when I reached the total word. That's how many chapters I'll have, so I know exactly where the end will occur.

Then I listed some things I knew needed to happen as short bullet points under each chapter. They might be events, backstory reminders, or even foreshadowing. For me, it was important to lean more on the vague side than on the detailed side, because the latter has never worked for me. It looks something like:

Chapter 4:
* Monster finds them
* Fight
* MC won't use his magic
* MC kills monster

maestrowork
10-29-2008, 05:05 PM
Why two different personalities?

If you're writing a "character-driven" story, why not fixate on one character? Determine who your character is, then drop her in to a situation, and go from there. See what happens at every turn... let the character(s) make the decisions. That's why it's called "character-driven." The author is not a "character."

Personally, I would suggest against outlining a "character-driven" story.

dpaterso
10-29-2008, 05:19 PM
You shouldn't be freaking out over something like this.

The NaNo deadline you're working to is supposed to give you an extra spark of enthusiasm, not torture you mentally.

You have plenty of other options, e.g. open with the characters who are trying to find her so we learn stuff from their POV, or open with another character who stumbles across her asleep in a meadow, or 100 other possibilities. Don't feel tied down to what you have.

-Derek

dwellerofthedeep
10-29-2008, 07:06 PM
If you give your character a strong, focused, and specific goal you may find it easier to write the book with her as your guide. Mind you, amnesia makes that a little harder in my opinion, but it could work, especially if you give her enough memories to have some direction other than recovering what she has lost.

Clair Dickson
10-29-2008, 07:33 PM
You could have two characters. One who's loving, one who's an assassin. Just a thought. Why chose? =)

But more important, I do think you need to figure out a conflict. What is the character DOING in the book? How are they growing and changing? What do they have to overcome-- themselves or a foe?

If you get that, you'll have an easier time with the rest of the pieces.

I don't really outline, but I can't get moving in a story until I have idea (for now, it's always changing, always in motion is the future) of where I'm going with it.

Once you have an idea where you need to end up, you might back track and look at some of the steps to get there. If she's got amnesia, she's going to have to find a place to be safe, get food, etc (or a friend-- if she has a friend to help her loosing her memories will be more manageable.)

sheadakota
10-29-2008, 07:47 PM
Blue, how do you normally write? Free or outline? Don't change your style now and don't worry so much over your characters. Just write. I can't stress this one point enough. Nano exists to help you gain confidence in your writing, so at the end of the month you can (hopefully) say I wrote a novel- from begining to the end- Yes it will be rough, yes it will need massive editing and lots of rewrites- so what- you have the start of something that might just be great. Could be unrepentive crap as well- you won't know until you write it.

You want to know why they say most people who start a novel never finish one- it is because they can't just keep writing- they worry too much over the little things and never get to the end.

Yes, I know everyone has different ways to get to the end- for me, my first draft has always served as my outline- I finish that ALL the way to the end and then I go back and shred the sucker. It ends up looking completely different from the original but ussualy it is much better.

Okay- this long winded post is meant to simply say- Just put the words down, Blue, even if they suck. Just put them down- December will be here soon enough and then you can go back and shred and fret over the details.

Shea ( who has written 7 books from begining to end-) no, not published, but that's not the point:),

JRTurner
10-29-2008, 08:09 PM
You can read my article on Creative Outlining here (http://www.jennifer-turner.com/articles/outlining.html) if you'd like. Otherwise, my suggestions for writing a character-driven novel are these:

A) Decide what your character needs to overcome emotionally. (example: shy.)
B) Decide why she's shy. (she was humiliated in public often.)
C) Decide where you want her to be at the end. (confident)
D) Decide what sort of conflict she will need to overcome her fear. (acting on stage to gain access to the castle where her sister/brother/friend is being held captive.)

Once you have all that decided, fill in the blanks to get the character from point A to point Z (all the stuff about how the loved one ends up captured and taken to the castle dungeon, who the heroine knows inside the castle that could introduce her to the acting troupe, how that meeting happens/love interest? and what she needs to do to prepare for the 'big night' while still seeking out ways to save her friend, etc.)

Of course that's just an illustration for the bare bones of a story, and just off the top of my head so it's probably not very intriguing, but I hope that helps ;)

maestrowork
10-29-2008, 09:16 PM
I have to agree with Derek. Relax. Don't freak out. Have fun with NaNo -- it's an experience. It's not a test. There's no quiz after this. And no penalty if you "fail" either. There's no "fail" if you just do it -- everyone who goes through NaNo should be commended for their effort.

Take your character, put her in a situation, and have fun with it.

Danthia
10-29-2008, 09:33 PM
Sounds to me like you don't have a strong character goal driving the story. Things are happening TO her not BECAUSE of her.

I'd suggest narrowing your story down to the traditional one-line hook so you know your story problem, conflict, stakes and what constitues a "win." That way, you'll know what your protag is trying to accomplish, what she risks if she fails, and what direction she needs to go to win. Then you just find things to get in her way.

Character-driven stories are much easier to write when your protag has that solid goal to work toward. If they don't have it, they tend to flounder, because the author is trying to find things for them to do that fit the plot, not things they'd try to do to get what they want.

And don't forget to keep asking, "What can go wrong next?"

BlueLucario
10-29-2008, 10:20 PM
Why two different personalities?

If you're writing a "character-driven" story, why not fixate on one character?

Personally, I would suggest against outlining a "character-driven" story.

That's what I'm doing. The reason I want to outline is becuse I want the story to follow a straight line. No more detours and no more stopping for something to eat. If it's not important to the story then I don't write it.

The only goal I have for her is a personal identity. She's running away from someone, but she doesn't know what from.

maestrowork
10-29-2008, 10:37 PM
That's what I'm doing. The reason I want to outline is becuse I want the story to follow a straight line. No more detours and no more stopping for something to eat. If it's not important to the story then I don't write it.

To me it has nothing to do with outlining or writing organically, but a matter of discipline. If stopping for something to eat is not essential to a) the plot, b) the character development or c) the theme, then don't write it. Or write it and then delete it later.

The essence of character-driven story is that it's DRIVEN by the character, based on his or her personalities and thought processes -- he or she makes the decision along the way that affects how and what direction the plot goes. If you outline everything ahead of time, you rob the story of that unless you know exactly what the characters would do beforehand. That would mean you need to know your character very, very, very well before you even attempt to write the first word -- I don't think you're there yet.

Momento Mori
10-29-2008, 10:55 PM
BlueLucario:
The reason I want to outline is becuse I want the story to follow a straight line. No more detours and no more stopping for something to eat. If it's not important to the story then I don't write it.

It sounds like you want (need?) to outline in depth in advance. However, doing such a detailed outline isn't an easy process (certainly not something I'd envisage will be easily completed prior to the NaNo start date) and unless you have a vague idea now of what your beginning, middle and end are (and, with all due respect, I don't think you do know that quite yet), you're going to get yourself tied up in knots over it.

So here's what I think you should do:

1. Of the two beginnings that you've written, ask yourself which one interests you the most.

Do you think there's more scope to be had from the nice, mute amnesiac in the forest, or the kick-ass assassin whaling on some bloke? Pick one or the other. At this stage, there's no point in doing both.

2. Work out what genre you think you want to write your character in.

Is this a mystery, a thriller, fantasy, science fiction, alternate history, historical, romance, a western, or literary or is it a combination of any two or more of them.

3. Work out the broad story structure that you want to follow.

Is it a quest, a who-dunnit, a revenge tale, a coming of age story, a tragedy, a comedy, a romance or something else entirely.

4. Work out where you want your MC to start from and where you think they need to be at the end.

For example, if you decide that you want your story to be a mystery, you could start off with your character believing that they're an orphan and end with discovering who their parents are/what happened to them.

5. Once you've got your vague beginning and end, think about the sort of things you want to explore inbetween.

Taking the above example, your character could discover that their parents had supernatural powers, which introduces your character to a world they never knew existed. If so, who do they meet in this world? How do they discover the information that will lead them to their parents? How do they react to that information? Does this information tie in with the MC discovering things about themselves (e.g. that they have supernatural powers)?

You don't need to be prescriptive. Think of it as a free-thinking exercise - put yourself in the shoes of that MC and think about their journey and how it affects their character arc.

Don't worry if you think of something during this that changes where you think the character starts and ends. If you think it's a better idea, work with it and then think about the implications for the other areas of your story.

The idea is to get to a stage where you have a very basic structure of things that you think will work to make a novel that interests you.

6. Once you've got a basic structure, work out if you feel confident enough to start writing the novel or whether there's anything you want to research or map out further before starting.

Again, remember that you don't need to write down every single thing in advance because you'll find as you go through the process that things will spark off the page and send you in a different direction (and that's perfectly okay - you can take another look at your outline in accordance with that and work out what needs to change).

7. Start writing.

As above, if you find you're going in a different way to the outline and you prefer it, then keep going - use the outline to work out what needs to change later on. Outlines are maps, not rigid instructions.

8. Keep going until you finish the novel.

This is self-explanatory.

9. Enjoy it. Outlines are not instruments of torture and writing shouldn't make you miserable (although it will make you frustrated sometimes).

MM

Charlie Horse
10-30-2008, 12:28 AM
That's what I'm doing. The reason I want to outline is becuse I want the story to follow a straight line. No more detours and no more stopping for something to eat. If it's not important to the story then I don't write it.

The only goal I have for her is a personal identity. She's running away from someone, but she doesn't know what from.

I'm not sure everyone will agree with me, but for a first draft, if you can't take detours and stop and get something to eat, then that takes half the fun out of it. First draft is when you run wild and let anything and everything happen, because you know what? You can always fix it in later revisions. If you spend so much time fussing and wringing your hands over getting it right the first time, chances are you'll never get it at all. So you know where you want to start, you should know where you want to end, any route you take to get from point A to point B is going to the right one. To me, the satisfaction is knowing that I took the route I chose, but then I'm a guy, and you know how we hate to ask for directions.

katiemac
10-30-2008, 01:01 AM
I agree with everyone here, relax and don't stress. You can always change it later.

HOWEVER, if you're having trouble choosing which direction to start, I'm guessing neither one is right and there are inherent problems with both.

As an example, your first opening--waking up in dark forest, unaware of where she is--that is a cliched opening. It's also hard to pull off because, if the character doesn't know what's going on, it's very hard to pull readers in that way.

My suggestion: Start over. Try something new and see where it takes you.

Charlie Horse
10-30-2008, 01:22 AM
I agree with everyone here, relax and don't stress. You can always change it later.

HOWEVER, if you're having trouble choosing which direction to start, I'm guessing neither one is right and there are inherent problems with both.

As an example, your first opening--waking up in dark forest, unaware of where she is--that is a cliched opening. It's also hard to pull off because, if the character doesn't know what's going on, it's very hard to pull readers in that way.

My suggestion: Start over. Try something new and see where it takes you.

Yeah, pretty high on the list of things that have been done to death.

Feathers
10-30-2008, 02:54 AM
That's what I'm doing. The reason I want to outline is becuse I want the story to follow a straight line. No more detours and no more stopping for something to eat. If it's not important to the story then I don't write it.

I would suggest just outlining a few chapters at a time, writing some, then outlining some more. It's a very simple way of outlining that works well for me. Just take your character's most obvious task - finding her identity. Okay. What are her first few steps toward the goal?

Another thing I do is use a wall as my storyboard. I get big stick-it notes with lines, and then scribble down my vague ideas for one chapter. Up it goes on the wall. That way, I can follow my story chronologically and shuffle around chapter ideas before I actually write them.

Good luck!
-Feathers

Ol' Fashioned Girl
10-30-2008, 03:36 AM
If there's one thing I've learned just reading this thread, it's that there are as many ways to do 'it' as there are writers. You're just going to have to find what works for YOU, Blue.

Then... well... DO IT.

Mel
10-30-2008, 04:06 AM
I have to say, if you are taking NaNo this serious you're not going to have much fun, and that's one of the big points of doing it each year. Some pick something they wouldn't normally write and just go for it.

Grab a character and jump in feet first.

willfulone
10-30-2008, 04:25 AM
With your character descritptions are you asking us to give you specific details (possible conflicts, etc we could see putting in a story) to add to an outline to help guide your story?

Or were you just looking for outlining tips like you have been already given? For you have been given some goods ones. Ones I jotted down in case I ever decide I do need to outline.

Don't create a roadblock for yourself Blue. It is what you are doing, in my opinion. You are telling yourself (for some reason) that this story must be outlined for it to work. Does it really have to be? If so, why?

If you can answer those questions, you may find you can break that block and get that outline done in no time, if you find it required.

I have contact with a member here on line. They are outlining too. And, for that story it is very necessary for it moves into different centuries and also has some very complicated history to one of the characters that makes it necessary. If you can get someone to bat around your ideas a bit with and tell you what they see from what you are saying, maybe that will help you outline better. That seemed to work for this person I work with. And, I really did not offer much in detail - just feel based upon what they offered. Just thoughts on what they wrote. And, in their just telling it (outline) specifically as they thought, it helped them solidify their ideas.

Maybe you can find such a person here? Maybe shout out in beta or some forum asking for a mentor or idea partner to get your creative juices flowing as you will be required to focus in order to relay your ideas. That may be all you need to get where you need to determine if outline needed and what that outline will be.

Good luck Blue!
Christine

MagicMan
10-30-2008, 04:26 AM
Hi blue,

Glad your exited over NaNo. Don't freak or self-abuse.

I just talked to a prolific author the other day, she mentioned in passing she had a outline several published books ago, with a great ending, etc. When she wrote the book, the characters drove her to a new ending via a completely different route. She had an amazing book, but still had that original outline, so she wrote to that outline again. Guess what...yup she deviated and still hasn't written that story.

Create an ending, a crisis either in the middle, or a crisis at the quarter and three-quarter points, then create the beginning. Start writing on Nov 1. I bet you wont hit your ending, you will have something completely new and better to finish the novel.

Most important, enjoy, don't edit, don't look back, write, thats NaNo.

Smiles
Bob