View Full Version : Plotting instead of wandering...

10-11-2007, 03:52 PM
I would love to be the kind of writer than can meticulously plot a novel before ever typing the first line of dialog. It would be great to know where my next day of typing will lead and where it will all end.

But I write with a two-point plan. 1) What's immediately next; and 2) the ending. My characters decide what they're doing next, and my plot is the result of their decisions and mistakes, not mine.

While this method has advantages, the other appeals to me enough to keep trying it. Unfortunately, I have a serious problem falling in love with my story via an outline. And I certainly can't get to know my characters that way! Even great novels and movies I love don't look so good when boiled down to an outline.

How do you outliners believe in your story at the napkin scribbles stage? Is it just a matter of trusting yourselves and a general story idea?

10-11-2007, 04:07 PM
I'm an outline freak. I've found that my writing is like a two-year-old - if I don't keep a tight reign on it, it'll wander into the middle of the street.

Part of my outline process is to make a document with all the characters, their traits, and their character arcs. Then I do another document with thematic elements I want to work in, eg: "How characters are shaped by their fathers"; or "Leading people who don't want to follow". I have another document with all my research. I have another document with "hit points" - snatches of dialog or poiniant scenes or jokes that I want to incorporate along the way. Then I have a final document with the plot outline, scene by scene with the major points I want to hit. And of course I have a document that's the actual WIP script.

For me, the fun part is developing that fleshy outline - that's where the real thinking and putting pieces together happens. The actual writing comes from a different part of the brain - when I actually decide how to start the chapter, what tense to use, what words come from the characters' mouths. That's where the color comes in.

Anyway, don't know if that helps, but that's how I roll.

10-11-2007, 04:38 PM
I have several ideas in my head for the story. I can usually weave a plot around those. Much like my man III, I'll create several "brainstorming" documents. At the same time, I'm researching, doing homework on the people, places or things that might be involved. The brainstorming and research help develop an rudimentary outline. For my last novel, I did make a very solid outline. However, about midpoint, I discovered a much better arc for the characters to follow. So, I changed it. However, I stuck to the other 89 percent of it.

So, I agree with III. Brainstorm. Research. Outline. And I'll add "be flexible." It's important to be ready for good ideas that comne along to enhance your work.

10-11-2007, 04:52 PM
Until I began outlining, I couldn't finish a thing. (Mind you, I'm still not finished with the story I outlined, but I have great hopes). :D The thing is, if it's not for you, it probably won't work.

The first time I had the idea for this novel (2 years ago and it's still an idea I'm thrilled about), I spent a whole day scribbling notes and plot points, and only the next day I wrote a tentative opening. That way I got even more excited because I could see all the potential in that idea, I could define my character, the places he'll go to, the themes (which I'm obsessed with), the ending that keeps me wanting to reach it so badly. :)

On the other hand, there's serious difference between outlining and basically strangling your story. For example, I outlined my MC's journey and the main events, the climax etc, and only when he reached the various places did I stop to think about what happens there. (I knew what those places were in relation to the MC but not the secondary chars etc). So I'd often turn up with a crazy, crazy scene and new characters would pop out of the blue and then they'd all magically fit. There were hard times too, of course, but most of the time I kept the balance of limited freedom - I could go to any amounts of strangeness and discover new things and wander off with new characters that would eventually fit, but I also knew where I'd take my story next, due to the point-by-point (or rather place-by-place) outline I wrote. In fact, my outline focused on themes more than the action itself, which is always fresh for me that way.

But finding that balance is a very personal thing imo. If you try to control your characters too much, you'll end up with flat prose, and you'll have no fun, and you won't go new places that amaze your readers as well as yourself. So, I'm not sure I really understand your doubts. Is there something about your method that doesn't work? Cause it sounds fine to me, and trying just for trying's sake can be pretty risky with something as precious as your story. If you feel your characters stop growing naturally, why do it? Even when outlining, my chars surprise me and they don't always end up where they were supposed to, and that's amazing. One of the nice aspects of outlining is watching your story and characters wander off improving it. :) So if you just know the ending and can write fine with that, I think it's great. Your way seems very character-driven which often makes the strongest prose.

10-11-2007, 05:01 PM
I do a little pre-writing, have a beginning and an end, and possibly the first few chapters. Sometimes I'll outline a chapter here and there (and it ends up being three chapters), and then come to an impasse. That's when I take a few walks around the block and figure out how I get from point G to H, and how the next development will further the story to the predestined end.
I kinda like it that way; my characters add things of their own, new things develop, and I have some exciting surprises in the process. If I were to outline the whole thing, I'd probably get bored.
I do have to say that I had a critical scene towards the end which I looked forward to writing throughout the novel, but I resisted temptation to skip ahead and write it. I'm glad I did, because new developments enhanced the chapter once I got there.

10-11-2007, 06:00 PM
III - Love the Hit Points idea. It's all the fun stuff, and probably the original inspiration for the story! Then, connecting all those gems would be fun, too.

jst5150 - I have no trouble being flexible. It's trying to stiffen up that gives me pause. I wrote a whole novel and several stories just having my characters follow their noses.

Wraith - Yes, I'm afraid the outline thing isn't in me.

C.bronco - You write like me. And without walks around the block, I couldn't write at all. I think "writer's block" should mean the place where writer's walk so they can keep coming up with ideas.

Jack Nog
10-11-2007, 06:11 PM
I do a little of both.

I get and idea and I start writing. Characters form, the story flows and I don't have an ending.

Something magical happens somewhere in there and I think of an ending. Somewhere around 35k to 40k, I'll outline to the end. This is a very sparse outline, definitely not chapter by chapter. I like to leave room for surprises. To me, this is the essence of creating a world and characters to populate it. I don't find it fun to plan out their entire life, I like to see if they can choose it themselves.

I suppose this isn't too different from someone who can pull the ending out of their brain and keep the story guided without an outline. I'm a forgetful person, so I find writing it down keeps me somewhat on track.

10-11-2007, 06:59 PM
I most certainly don't have a lot of experience, as my last 2 projects (one I am still outlining) were the first that I have done more than scribble down notes. Having said that, I have always been an outliner, it was always just in my head. I am trying not to over-plug it, but I can't say enough about Freemind. It is an awesome project.
For the WIP that I am actually 20,000 words into, the idea formed, then a basic outline. I wrote it down (came out about 5 chapters of outline) along with some character concepts, research points, historical context issues, and then I banged out about 3 chapters. At that point I introduced a minor character, and then expanded her role, and suddenly I had a whole new story that made a LOT more sense. I started all over, wrote a new outline that had better flow and logic, it ended up being about 17 chapters, and something like 50 scenes, long, still only about 3/5 of what I knew I wanted to happen. Using freemind I have the outline broken down into Parts (major themes), then chapters, then scenes, then scene descriptions. I keep the original outline, and then as I finish each chapter I create a progressive outline that highlights if the Character POV changed, if I need to add a scene or chapter break, if the character discovered something important that I hadn't originally intended. With the progressive outline, I can also add notes to successive chapters and scenes about what should go into them, not that preceding events have altered or been added.
After all of that, when I finish the project, I am hoping that during rewrites I can contrast both outlines and see what I missed, ideas I didn't include, or just where it fattened up and where it didn't compared to my original idea.
Well...I suppose if you aren't an outliner...I just outlined you to death. LoL. But even if you just want to brainstorm and keep better notes, I still think Freemind is a winner.

10-11-2007, 06:59 PM
My stories get their genesis from a series of scenes that I can see and hear in my head (no, I *usually* don't talk back to the voices in my head). From this I go through the task of asking "what would happen next". After a few days, the scenes begin to take on some form and I can outline the novel.

During the actual process of writing, this outline is my roadmap to where I want to go. Sometimes my characters take me on detours, and sometimes they find shortcuts.

I probably have five or six novels outlined. Just need to find the time to write them all !

10-11-2007, 07:07 PM
How do you outliners believe in your story at the napkin scribbles stage? Is it just a matter of trusting yourselves and a general story idea?
Outlining means I can test a story idea. I spend a lot of time developing my characters, defining the plot, developing a theme, creating subplots, weaving character connections, establishing time/place, building tension, deciding on a solid premise, and not only creating stakes but once I've established them I can then think about raising them. By doing so, I don't sit there wondering what my characters will do next, I have them doing it, only doing it bigger-better-more. I leave myself plenty of room for changes and sparks of brilliance by layering my WIP rather than writing from page one to the end. I can't imagine getting half-way through anything, and then deciding where I might want to go.
But that's just me. Everyone's different.

10-11-2007, 07:18 PM
I enjoy the outlining process as much as the writing. I find that when I start off just with bullet points for each scene or chapter, as soon as I write them down as notes, I start getting other ideas that flesh it all out. Quite often it leads me off at a tangent, but I just enjoy thinking it through, sorting out the hard parts if I get to a section of the plot where I don't know how to solve it.

I tried writing without an outline once when someone suggested it but it really didn't work for me.

10-11-2007, 07:40 PM
I used to think I could never outline, that it just wouldn't work for me. My first book took me a year and a half to write because I kept getting stuck and then I'd wander for a while and have to pull it back in. It's a mess.

I also started another novel last year that I didn't outline. I got stuck at 50,000 words, and I haven't gone back to it. When I came up with the idea for Psychic Straits, I decided to sit down and plot it out. I took a notebook and filled it with notes about characters, what was going to happen, the sequence of events, etc. I knew how I was going to start it and how I was going to end it. I knew a few scenes that were going to happen in between. However, I wouldn't really call it an outline because it wasn't a standard outline. It was notes. As I was plotting it, I knew I was onto a good idea. I wrote it in a month and four days. Of course, it took me another three or four months to edit it, but a total of five months for a novel isn't bad.

I'm doing the same thing now for my second one. I'm hoping I can write it just as quickly, too.

10-11-2007, 08:40 PM
I hope to plot out novel #3 when I get back to it because the plot seems very complicated.

Current WIP has a loose plot (I write more character-driven stuff and they tend to surprise me with what they do that I don't expect), but I have an idea of where it's headed but I may have to come up with a few more sub-plots.

I would love to be able to plot, though. My first novel I had 3 key scenes: the beginning where the two MCs meet; a key scene in the middle, and the climax/ending. Then I had to play connect the dots and weave in sub-plots.

10-11-2007, 08:59 PM
I used to be very apprehensive of outlining. I'm too impatient, and I never wanted to spend a lot of time on an outline when I could be writing. However, I always felt guilty that I didn't outline; like I was breaking the Code of Writers or something.

I like the story to be organic, evolving, and such. Outlines seem to kill that aspect. At least that's what I used to think. Now, however, I'm slowly easing myself into outlining, and I think I will still be able to keep the organic feel, because I'll be doing the story development organically.

I finally realized the outline was just a map of the story I had created, not the actual process of creation itself. So, I'm in the beginning of my first serious venture into outlining, and so far I think it's going to work marvelously.


10-11-2007, 09:12 PM
The one story I attempted to outline has never been completed. I've even struggled at completing the outline. I don't think my characters like structure.

The stories that I have just a kernel of an idea for the beginning and the end, and nothing in between have all finished fine. I just point my characters in the right direction and they do the rest.

10-11-2007, 09:15 PM
I do both.. I prefer to write "organically" to get to know my characters first and chances are they do kind of wander and I do have to eventually trim and cut... but it helps me tremendously to get to know my characters, and that in turn lead me to discover the plot -- did I mention I write character-driven stories?

I wrote about 40K without any outline at all, just a general concept in my mind. But then I came to a point when I drafted out a skeletal plot structure so I know where I am going with the story.

I do have what I call "set pieces" or guideposts and an ending in mind (which, of course, may change over time) so I don't wander too far. I always use the analogy of taking a road trip: I know I am going to start from New York, and will end up somewhere near San Diego, and I would like to visit X, Y and Z and I know my general direction (the southern route instead of the northern), but as far as the journey is concerned, I don't have a set itinerary. And maybe eventually I will have to skip Town X but manage to see Town A instead... and maybe eventually I will end up in Los Angeles instead of San Diego, but close enough...

That's how I manage to have my cake and eat it too, by having a flexible skeleton of a plot but continue to let my characters dictate how they're going to get to the end.

When I start on my thriller, I'll probably take a more plot-driven approach... we'll see.

10-11-2007, 09:19 PM
The way I look at it... whether you outline or you don't, we're pretty much doing similar things, just different approaches. If you write by the seat of your pants, you may end up with a first draft that is 70% complete -- this would become your outline! Then you rework it. On the other hand, if you outline everything up front, you're basically doing a 5-10% first draft, without much actual writing. The notes, the charts, the plans, etc. are all part of this 5% draft. Then when you're actually writing, you're really writing your "second draft" as the non-outliners would call it.

At least that's the way I look at it. Either way, you'll sooner or later end up somewhere. You have to do what is right for you -- some people prefer to have a 70% first draft, and some prefer the 5%.

Claudia Gray
10-11-2007, 09:35 PM
ITA with Maestro that the division between "outline" and "organic" is not as clear-cut as some would have it. I consider my outlining process a part of the writing process -- it isn't separate from the creative work but the way that I begin it. My outlines develop and shift as I work on a book (both Evernight and Stargazer took detours from their original outlines), but they tell me the main transformations for the characters, the stages those transformations will take, some of the big "set pieces" or major significant scenes I'm setting up and, above all, the ending.

In terms of falling in love: I always fall in love with my endings. (If I haven't, that's a sign that I'm not ready yet and haven't though of the real ending.) That becomes a huge push for me to keep going -- I write in sequence, which means I am always eager to get to the end.

10-11-2007, 09:40 PM
I treat my rough draft as a very detailed outline. I make notes in the middle. I highlight things that will cause changes later. I stay within the world I create, but I use the rough draft as a place to explore.

10-11-2007, 09:52 PM
Is it just a matter of trusting yourselves and a general story idea?

Pretty much.

I haven't outlined in about two years, though. Not to the degree that I once did. The last novel I outlined was just a sequence of narrative events. This happened, leading to that, and then after they.... etc.... It didn't allow for character development, because that wasn't the kind of outline it was--it was plot points.

As I started writing the novel, I began to flesh out the characters. Sometimes, they refused to do the things in the outline, so had to improvise. I didn't mind. As long as I hit a handful of necessary plot points, I gave myself room to let the characters lead. But I trusted myself as the author to direct the characters through their story, and I ultimately told the tale I wanted to tell.

10-11-2007, 10:00 PM
To add to what I said earlier, my outline is really more of me telling what is going to happen. I also add in a little about character motivation, how the character feels, what she/he wants to accomplish. I'm right in the middle of doing this now for my next book. Like Ray said, it's almost like a very, very rough draft for me.

Soccer Mom
10-11-2007, 10:52 PM
I tend to do the "hit the high points thing." I've done everything from a complete pants it approach to intensive outlines. If you aren't an outliner, then don't worry about it. But there are all different types of outlines. I frequently plot about a day ahead. I'll write in the morning and then in the evening, I'll think through tomorrow's scenes.

10-11-2007, 11:13 PM
Nagleator, I think you're misjudging how you can use an outline and make it feel organic. You say that you currently start with a beginning and ending in mind, and you "let your characters" create the plot. That's perfectly fine. But you can do the same with your outline.

Have your beginning and ending in mind. Instead of asking "what would my characters do now?" and writing the novel, ask that same question and write a few sentences that summarize the corresponding chapter you would have written. What would result from your characters actions? Summarize that outcome in a few sentences as well. Now what would your characters do in response? More sentences for summary (instead of a whole chapter). Continue till you reach your ending... or, you might see that your characters have pulled you kicking and screaming toward a new ending. But instead of a whole novel, you have ten or twenty pages of scene or chapter summaries. The advantage to this is that you can go over the notes, see if it makes sense, see if there's a different avenue you want to take. If there is a different direction you want to try, you change a few paragraphs of summary instead of entire written chapters.

All I'm saying is that outlining can still feel organic, but you can have a little more control of the plot/story. It's also far easier if you first write a few detailed character descriptions/histories/bios before you start. And once you start writing the actual novel from the summaries, you'll still have pleasant surprises popping up as you move towards your various scene or chapter goals.

Obviously outlining isn't the only way to write. If you enjoy the process of flying by the seat of your pants, then continue writing without an outline if it's working for you. But if you want to try outlining, don't feel that it can't be organic, that is, "plotted by your characters". That's all I'm saying.

Good luck either way.

10-11-2007, 11:34 PM
I was about to ask this question myself!

I wrote my first WIP by winging it the whole way.

Right now, I am writing a story that has a fantastic premise, but I am struggling from scene to scene. And I know it deserves more than what I am giving it. Right now, my characters are all standing around and looking at me as if to say.. "Um, what are you going to do with us now?"

I think outlining will help me get through this one. I definitely like III's idea of outlining the character arch too.

Thanks for this thread!

10-11-2007, 11:36 PM
Ever hear the expression "Tell God your plans if you want to see Him laugh?"

I can plot and outline all day long, but in the end I have no control over my characters. Someday I hope to mature to that level. :)

Linda Adams
10-11-2007, 11:51 PM
I'm one of those people who always thought I couldn't write with an outline either. But plotting is one of my weakest areas, so I'm trying to learn how to do better and make revisions less painful by outlining. My first book stalled at about 20K; I finished another book, but it was forever in revision to shake out the plot problems. Every time I solved one, I found another one to fix, and each one always seemed to end up being a major revision.

So I'm trying The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall, which is very different than outlines I've tried in the past (I should note I took a chance on the the book because it was discussed here a few weeks ago). This is more step-by-step rather than simply writing scenes on index cards. I'd always been turned off by the typical writing magazine ones because they felt too rigid and structured, or too unstructured. Looking back on them now, I also think they were more focused on mapping out scenes without really dealing with the structure of the story itself.

So far, the Marshall Plan has been making me look at the process differently, and at times, it's been very challenging. I'm only about ten sections in (about 19 comprises the beginning setup of the book), and I've already found two areas where, if I'd simply started writing, would have blown right past without thinking about it and would have needed to revise the entire book to add it later. The one thing I want to do most of all is make the revisions less painful and time consuming than they have in the past. I'm already thinking I'm going to know this story inside and out before I even start writing.

10-12-2007, 01:21 AM
I have The Marshall Plan, and I found it extremely helpful. I got the book shortly after it was published and after reading your post I pulled it off the shelf and browsed it. Lo and behold, I still use his precepts! Just didn't remember where I discovered them. Thanks, Linda!

10-12-2007, 03:45 PM
But I write with a two-point plan. 1) What's immediately next; and 2) the ending.

This is how I do it as well. I don't outline. It is so much fun to be surprised by what your characters do! I always figure if it surprises me, it is likely to surprise the reader as well.

Saundra Julian
10-12-2007, 03:48 PM
I like to wander...

10-12-2007, 05:22 PM
I don't know how I write! And yet I somehow have ten completed novels here...


You wouldn't believe me if I tell you how hard I've tried to figure out what I'm doing, in the hopes that maybe it would make the process easier and/or improve my craft. But I don't know what I'm doing! I'm so confused!*

*this panic attack brought to you via sleep deprivation and caffeine overstimulation.

10-12-2007, 05:39 PM
The way I look at it... whether you outline or you don't, we're pretty much doing similar things, just different approaches. If you write by the seat of your pants, you may end up with a first draft that is 70% complete -- this would become your outline! Then you rework it.

I'll go along with this. I've said it many times before, when I finish my novel, I usually still have to flesh it out. My current WIP was fleshed out to the tune of 20k additional words.

So is it a fat outline or a short draft? Does it matter in the long run? How you do it isn't anywhere near as important as just doing it.

10-12-2007, 05:44 PM
How you do it isn't anywhere near as important as just doing it.

Heh. I totally agree...

10-13-2007, 04:31 PM
I tend to write 50k words for NanoWrimo based on a very loose outline, and then I spend upwards of six months fine tuning and rewriting and adding until I have around 90,000 words. None of them remain from the 50k, but they do serve as a decent compost heap.

David I
10-13-2007, 10:33 PM
I once heard someone claim that two-third of published novelists outlined before writing, and the other third used the dive-right-in method.

Donald E. Westlake (writing under his Richard Stark pseudonym) famously invented his series character Parker with the first line: "When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell." Parker is stalking across the Washington Bridge, and so angry about something that he won't even accept a ride from a well-meaning stranger.

Then he wrote the book to figure out who Parker was, why he was stalking across the bridge, and what the man was so furious about. That's the ultimate dive-right-in, and Parker has been with us for more than twenty books now.

I suspect that many of the dive-right-inners use what Raymond Obstfeld in Fiction First Aid calls "The Slap-Dash Outline", where once the novel is underway, you keep a very sloppy outline of the few chapters just ahead of you. (Obstfeld claims that this works fine until the middle of the book, but at that point everything becomes complex and yet limited enough that a more organized outline of the rest of the book becomes both feasible and necessary.)

I end up with an outline, because I keep a log on a spreadsheet of chapters, page and word counts, scenes, and POVs. This helps me see that shape of the story in retrospect, and detect any good or bad patterns. But I don't get to see the whole thing until Christmas Day when I type THE END.

I wish I could outline in advance. Nothing but the theme comes to me until I know the characters well, and I only get to know the characters well once I'm writing them.

I do make notes and take long walks. And even better for me are nighttime drives alone in heavy freeway traffic. There's something about it being almost impossible to scribble down a note that seems to make my mind incredibly fertile.

J. R. Tomlin
10-13-2007, 10:39 PM
Lord, I wish I could outline. I have tried to outline. I have pretended to outline. I have even--in the past--lied and SAID I outline. It would be such a COMFORT to know who all my characters in a book will be, who their mothers are and what they are like.

Pffffft. I can't do it. I don't know until I've written it. I can do world building and make a rough plot plan. But a real detailed outline?

Forget it! By brain simply refuses until I'm actually writing. :cry:

Edit: However, my first draft is a lot more than 70% complete. You're making a big assumption there. I am (unfortunately) a fairly meticulous writer. I can spend hours over a sentence or two--not that I don't have to edit and re-write. But as I write I do develop the story in detail and end up with something at least as complete as the average "outliner." If I coule "speed write" I'd love it. :)

10-13-2007, 11:56 PM
LoL. I suppose it all depends on the story for me as well. More character driven = more detail in the character bio/sheet. More plot driven = more detailed outline. My current WIP turned (unexpectedly) into more of a suspense with a lot of twists and turns, so my outline had to detail a family tree, 4 years of timeline, personal bios and histories for the non-MC but very integral secondaries. All that and a scene by scene outline to help control where and when certain things were foreshadowed or discovered, and themes that were built (love and trust, how society views the MCs) to control some of the suspense, as well as the pace. Actually, looking at it, I am intimidated by trying to fit all that into one story, lol.
To each their own...

10-14-2007, 12:31 AM
See, I was writing Blue, and I thought to myself, "Next time, I'm going to use a damned outline. There's no way I'm letting my characters throw me another curveball."

And then I thought about it, and realized that even if I had plotted it out, they still would have thrown that curveball, because the story evolved so much from page 1 to page 200.

Basically, I'm doomed to writing three drafts before the story solidifies.

10-14-2007, 04:08 AM
I write everything I do on my PC, so once I have an idea for a story, I write it down as telling, kind of like the rough draft. I know exactly where my story is going this way and can then turn the telling into showing.

Sometimes I've thought of the middle and the ending of the story and not the beginning, so it all gets put down as I've thought of it. From there I go into filling in chapters. I then go onto adding more chapters to the beginning and middle, and at one point I even rewrote the whole of the last chapter, the end, to make it a much better ending.

I suppose I treat my writing like a Christmas tree; first there the bare tree, then the lighting chapters go onto it, the dialogue is the the baubles and the chocolates are the actions. The star or the angel on the top is rearranging some of the chapters to make it a more brilliant story.

I was thinking to myself today, that where we are told to capture our readers with the first line/paragraph, that this is the way that I want to write every part of my stories from now on.


10-14-2007, 10:26 AM
I don't really outline the story unless you count the fact that all the major scenes are mapped out in my head.

Normally when I start a new story, I already know what happens before I write it.

10-14-2007, 02:19 PM
I'm sort of in-between - I do a rough outline of all the major scenes, how it's going to end, and how I'm (hopefully) going to get there. I learned my lesson from doing an outline for a story I was working on a few years ago. The outline was so strict and I was so determined to follow it, no matter the cost, that I ended up sacrificing both the story and characters. The characters didn't like where things were going, and I didn't listen.

So now I do a rough outline, but if the characters suddenly veer in a different direction, I let them. I try not to lose all control, though, but I'm not as obsessed about outlines as I used to be. I'm willing to do a really intensive second draft, if need be.

10-18-2007, 01:50 PM
I'm a couple of days late to this conversation but it is a brilliant one. I recently wrote a six-part series on my blog (Six Part Series: Street Signs and Plot Humps (http://laffarsmith.blogspot.com/2007/09/six-part-series-street-signs-and-plot.html))
that focuses on exactly these points. The difference between plotting and 'seat of the pants' writing and the challenges and hurdles of both.

The ultimate conclusion was that you really need to find YOUR balance between the two. It's the blending of the two that work out to the easiest way to write but each writer needs more of the elements that work for them. Exploring and finding which techniques work for you and each of your books takes some trial and error.

At the moment I'm stuck between the two points. I'd like more structure. I NEED more structure because the lack of outline tends to leave me floundering about the middle which increases the fear of the blank page each time I begin to write. I've also found it enchanting to learn and evolve along with my characters. Characters created initially as mirrors have developed more primary roles and one has even insisted he'll be the star of this books sequel. All of these changes that occured in the first half of the book as I wrote it have made it important to weave in subplots that had never been considered in the early stages of my planning.

I tend to be a freeform type of planner too. I sit and write about my story and talk to my characters and from this conversation I can pull the points that work. Here's an example:

"What is P2's story worthy problem? His sense of failure. Prior Embodiements strengthend by failure to P1. Tied to M1's failure? How? Former charge? Who? P1's mother? Grandmother? No - Mother. Could not prevent her suicide/murder."

This is just a tiny snippet of notes. Basically it's freewriting to find solutions to unknown problems. P1 and P2 are my protagonists, M1 is a mirror character. Despite only being a couple of lines this snippet actually created a huge plot device and strengthened the purpose of P2. It also meant some foreshadowing needs to be added to earlier chapters and ties into the books sequel as well.

I'd really like to have a tighter grasp on the basic outline of scenes before I begin to write. This is where I feel my balance is out because the writer's block looms it's evil head and I struggle to figure out where to take my characters next. I know the beginning, I know the end, it's how to get there that's causing problems. Of course, when things go well it's fun to find out.

10-18-2007, 07:38 PM
We're all wired differently. What works for some won't for others. I find inspiration from many places, but like you, start out with a somewhat loose idea, and then go from there. And I allow for my characters to influence the plot.

10-18-2007, 07:49 PM
I'll go along with this. I've said it many times before, when I finish my novel, I usually still have to flesh it out. My current WIP was fleshed out to the tune of 20k additional words.

So is it a fat outline or a short draft? Does it matter in the long run? How you do it isn't anywhere near as important as just doing it.

I tend to take this approach too. Mostly because when I finish my first draft, I know my ending and I know what I meant which is not necessarily true at the beginning. As a rule, there aren't usually too many scenes or lines that I have to delete because they went in the other direction, but I find a load of stuff I need to add in to emphasize the direction the novel wound up traveling in.


As for outlining, I don't do it properly, except that I really do have my novels outlined pretty thoroughly in my head. I've tried, but I always get distracted and just forget about it.

But I keep trying, because I like trying new things when it comes to writing and I haven't properly tried this one yet.

10-19-2007, 12:19 AM
I would love to be the kind of writer than can meticulously plot a novel before ever typing the first line of dialog. It would be great to know where my next day of typing will lead and where it will all end.

But I write with a two-point plan. 1) What's immediately next; and 2) the ending. My characters decide what they're doing next, and my plot is the result of their decisions and mistakes, not mine.

While this method has advantages, the other appeals to me enough to keep trying it. Unfortunately, I have a serious problem falling in love with my story via an outline. And I certainly can't get to know my characters that way! Even great novels and movies I love don't look so good when boiled down to an outline.

How do you outliners believe in your story at the napkin scribbles stage? Is it just a matter of trusting yourselves and a general story idea?

Through a lot of trial and error, I've come up with a compromise between the me that likes to outline and the me that wants to let the characters go where they may. It basically involves writing two outlines.

First, I just let the idea percolate, jotting down in a notebook ideas for characters, bits of dialogue, various passages, etc., etc. I do this until I feel that I'm ready to write an outline.

Then I write the first outline. Although it goes all the way through from beginning to end, it is just to get me started. I write from that for awhile, seeing what works and what doesn't, if the characters' motivations make sense, if my characters are comfortable doing what I want them to do, etc. I also play around with POV, seeing what sounds most natural given the type of story I want to tell. I also don't worry about writing the story in order - I just write the chapters that appeal to me on any given day.

I write until I feel like I'm completely out of steam, and then I put the whole mess aside for awhile, until I can look at it with fresh eyes. Then I take a great big 3-ring binder, and take all of the sections that I've completed and put them in sheet protectors, discarding the ones that were obvious missteps along the way. I then sit down with a some blank paper and a pen, and go through meticulously, writing down what needs to happen in each scene, and inserting at the proper point in the notebook. It usually takes about three weeks to go through the whole thing and get the whole thing plotted out from beginning to end, but I'm already familiar with the characters and have the basics figured out so it's not nearly as hard as trying to outline from scratch.

That binder essentially becomes the second outline - I just take a piece of paper from the notebook each day and type up the scene it refers to. Then the typed-up pages go in the binder.

What I've found is that this process allows me the best of both worlds - it allows me a lot of time to just enjoy the process of creating the story, letting it turn into whatever it wants to be, but in the end I still have a solid outline to work from, which speeds the process along a lot, and results (at least for me) in a much more consistent first draft, with most of the kinks already worked out.