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Thread: How Long Does It Take You To Outline?

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW cmi0616's Avatar
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    How Long Does It Take You To Outline?

    So, after trying and failing to write yet another manuscript without any planning at all, I've decided to abandon my pantser ways. I've come up with an idea for a new project, and I've already written about 15 pages in character bios. Before I start actually writing the story though, I'm also doing a chapter-by-chapter outline detailing, in bullet points, what will be written in each chapter.

    I've been a bit busy as of late and so I feel that I'm going at a bit of a slow pace here. Not that it matters so much, I suppose, but it made me curious--how long does it take you guys to finish outlining?
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  2. #2
    Eight Legs, All Holding Pens ArachnePhobia's Avatar
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    4-6 days for the chapter-by-chapter; I may mix up number and length after the story's written, but I usually write 15-20 chapters at 5000 words each, and on my least productive days I can outline 3 chapters a day. I spend two to three days on the bios. Accounting for other things that may crop up, worldbuilding issues, last-minute holes in research, and the like... may take me as much as fifteen days total. It's a front-heavy system, I admit, but it works for me.
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  3. #3
    Whatever I did, I didn't do it. Phaeal's Avatar
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    Probably 1-3 days for a short story, up to 3 months doing a detailed novel outline. But some of my detailed novel outlines grow into a very rough first draft (100 plus pages, single-spaced), hence the upper end of the time scale.

    Lately I've been doing shorter outlines of the sort that can do double duty as proposals. Those will run to 10-20 pages, single-spaced, and take one-three weeks.
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  4. #4
    Outlining tends to kill the muse for me (at least for a while--I've discovered that I can come back to outlined stories if I let them sit for a few months), but writing the outline in the first place usually takes about two weeks, tops. Not very detailed. This happens, then this happens, etc.
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  5. #5
    Please, call me Boo Jolly-Boo's Avatar
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    Uhm, I guess this topic is for the serious outliners, but I'll speak anyway.

    I spent like an hour writing what happens in every chapter. 2-3 sentences really. Other than that I keep it all in my head. I did try, as you will do, outline in bullet points, what happens in each chapter. But I couldn't. Sometimes you need to write to figure out what EXACTLY will happen next. I can plan out a character bio. His feelings, motivations, emotions, how he is and all. But once I write him, actual dialogue, I get to know him better and I can better figure out what should happen next - within, the events I've chosen.

    And I'm doing a series anyway. It's loosely planned from start to the end of the last book, so I do need to outline them all. But I get new idea all the time so I leave certain things open.

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW
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    Honestly it took me over a year to outline my current WIP Most of that time wasn't writing, of course, it was thinking and researching an stuff, but I consider that part of the outlining process. I had several different completed versions of the outline during the course of that year, but it kept changing. And I mean drastically changing. I think i'm finally to the point where this outline is going to stick.

  7. #7
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    I don't outline. Right now I am trying just sitting down and writing. Of course I can't sit down and write random scenes to figure out where the story will take me. I know many other writers do that and do it well, because many of them get accepted by agents, make sales and some of them even become best-selling authors. However, I first figure out the plot of my story. That's all I need is the plot. When I sit down and write chapter 1, the physical appearance of my characters and their names are automatic. The physical appearances of my characters matter to the plot because it helps the reader find out how other people view them: for instance, if I have an actor in the story, his physical appearance determines why he plays the roles he plays in movies or in soap operas. Or I have an MC in one of my WIP's that hasn't had many boyfriends or girlfriends, and his or her physical appearance is the reason why.

    That's all I need: the plot. From then on, everything else comes naturally. I used to say what was going to happen in every chapter before writing it, but then I figured that sometimes what I decided would happen in a chapter, I would write something that changes everything I'd planned, so outlining didn't work for me, in the past, and now I'm trying pantsing.

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW victoriakmartin's Avatar
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    I outline as I go. With my current novel-length WIP, I have an outline that covers what could probably be considered Act 1, more or less. I also know some events from the other acts but haven't gotten to the point of outlining because I am still so far from that point and I don't really know if the current outline will actually be written as planned.

    As for timing, I think I've spent a couple of hours in outlining and other stages of planning but its hard to tell for sure because it's all been in small chunks along the way and some of the best ideas are the ones that have just popped into my head.
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  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW LJD's Avatar
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    I usually spend a few months jotting down ideas, thinking about where I want to go with the story. Once I actually sit down to outline...maybe a week?

  10. #10
    Azarath Metrion Zinthos AshleyEpidemic's Avatar
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    Oct 2012
    I spend two weeks to a month generally with serious plotting. But my upcoming piece has taken me a month, just jotting down ideas when they came. I just started filling out my outline templates. I won't start that piece for at least another three weeks.
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  11. #11
    Dull Old Person Flicka's Avatar
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    Usually I start with a vague idea, research for a while (I write hist fic), come up with a few characters and situations I want to incorporate, research some more, settle on basic plot, research some more and then snowflake the sucker out of that baby.

    The actual snowflaking takes about a week, but all in all, it percolates for maybe 3-4 months?
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  12. #12
    Hissing Roach Chasing the Horizon's Avatar
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    It really depends. The actual scene outline I'll work from is 5-10k and takes me usually 2-4 days to write. But that's the last step in the process. I start with either a sketch outline (like a short synopsis) or just a list of ideas for scenes, and I can change these a lot of times. It's not unusual for me to change the scene outline around 5 or 6 times before I'm happy with it too, and I may put outlines and notes aside for months waiting for the right idea to fix something in them. I think the average is probably a month or two, though it's not like I'm working on it constantly.

    I don't do character bios, and my world-building notes are done in a sort of short-hand that would be completely indecipherable to anyone else, so these don't take much time at all. I've always thought it would be hilarious if, someday in the distant future when I'm published and famous, something happened to me and another author tried to take over one of my series. They would open my world-building files and, with dawning horror, realize that the entire sum of my notes for hundreds of characters and dozens of cultures is a five-page list of names with one-sentence descriptions.
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  13. #13
    υπείκωphobe Wilde_at_heart's Avatar
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    I find what works for me is to do a cursory outline in one or two pages of rough notes, which usually takes about an afternoon.
    Then I sit down and begin writing the first scene, then the next, etc and plow through as fast as I can. That takes anywhere from five days for a screenplay to a few weeks for a novel.

    So I start with a hybrid outline/first draft.

    I then go back to tighten up the plot, flesh out each scene and try to resolve any plot holes at the same time.

    I discovered the hard way never to really begin any story if I don't know how it will end.

  14. #14
    permanently suctioned to Buz's leg Putputt's Avatar
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    It takes me about a week to come up with a rough outline (about 2-3 pages single-spaced). I don't do character bios though. I get to know my characters as I write the book, which does lead to many twists and turns I don't foresee, so my outline tends to be updated as I write.
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  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW lolabelle's Avatar
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    I have an overall outline (as I hope to write a series of books) it's been in the works for 3+ years. As for an individual novel, I tend to write a very abrupt outline in about a week, but then I go through and expand each outline on the days I'm writing the chapter(s). I find outlining really helps me to stay on track with the word counts that I have to be limited to (as I tend to overwrite).

  16. #16
    Just pokin' about Anna Spargo-Ryan's Avatar
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    I spent five months working on this story before I started writing it. The logic of the outline took a long time to work through and changed a number of times.

    Then I sat down and started writing it, and a whole different story came out.

    At least I knew the characters well by then!
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  17. #17
    Easily Amused ebbrown's Avatar
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    I write out a detailed synopsis, then break it down into sections. Then I detail out the sections and start writing. As I go along, I usually add to the outline, it seems like it is always developing somewhat throughout the entire process.

    I'd say the first synopsis/outline takes about 1 or 2 days. It's a brisk, down & dirty thing to me, just a guide to get started on the real stuff. That said, though, I usually have the idea well fleshed out in my head before I put it down on paper.


  18. #18
    figuring it all out
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    Spent about 2 days on the outline, another day on the character bios. What I have outlined and what is written are totally different and I probably should revise it but its flowing pretty well now.
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  19. #19
    practical experience, FTW ucf612's Avatar
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    I don't do a traditional outline but I'll spend one or two months (maybe more depending on how busy life is or how complicated the novel) jotting down notes, plot points, character info, etc. I'm debating trying out the traditional outline method on my next WIP.
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  20. #20
    Wandering worlds Gynn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cmi0616 View Post
    So, after trying and failing to write yet another manuscript without any planning at all, I've decided to abandon my pantser ways. I've come up with an idea for a new project, and I've already written about 15 pages in character bios. Before I start actually writing the story though, I'm also doing a chapter-by-chapter outline detailing, in bullet points, what will be written in each chapter.

    I've been a bit busy as of late and so I feel that I'm going at a bit of a slow pace here. Not that it matters so much, I suppose, but it made me curious--how long does it take you guys to finish outlining?
    About a week, I guess. Off and on. My outlines are pretty scarce, though. I do the character bios, listing their general personality and background, as well as their goals and my goals for them.

    Then, I go chapter by chapter, listing the characters present and the action. I'll add in notes such as, "Show the majesty of the courtyard" or "Show how snotty Fran can be". Once it's done, I'll do an edit in case my ideas have changed, and from then on it sits on the left while my WIP sits on the right!

  21. #21
    Outline Maven Tirjasdyn's Avatar
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    About a week. I get down to scene by scene descriptions. If I find that my outline needs to change as I write, I may stop and change the outline.
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  22. #22
    Impractical Fantasy Animal sunandshadow's Avatar
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    I usually need to take time off between versions of an outline. I use an iterative method (like the snowflake). So the first version consists of 1-2 days going through about three iterations to expand the basic concept and get all the thoughts that are already in my head out onto paper. What the first version accomplishes is not only establishing the shape of the idea (and recording it in case I forgot what I was thinking about some aspect) but it also makes clear what holes my initial idea has. So then I need to take a break, work on other projects, while the back of my mind is percolating about how to fill those holes. When I feel like the project is calling for my attention again or an inspiration has occurred to me I'll go back and do the second version, filling in holes and restructuring where I've come up with something more functional than my initial idea. That phase takes 2-3 days. Probably there will still be holes with that point, but I'll have to more aggressively brainstorm, analyze, or bounce ideas off other people to tackle them. That can take several sessions; it really depends on how complex and recalcitrant the story concept is. Some sit around for years refusing to develop into a properly working outline.

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  23. #23
    Writing my way off the B Ark Becky Black's Avatar
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    Maybe a month or so - usually after I've been thinking about the story and maybe doing some brainstorming for a while. But this is not a month of solid work. I'm probably working on something else too and doing a little bit on the outline each day, maybe an hour, maybe two on the weekends. If I was working only on the outline then it would probably drop to a couple of weeks. But I keep my outlines pretty loose and flexible, not super-detailed.
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  24. #24
    New kid, be gentle! tarawriter's Avatar
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    It usually takes me anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks to jot down notes on the cork board in Scrivener. I guess that's not a firm outline (hate those anyway) but I like having a guideline of what should happen in each chapter.
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  25. #25
    Tell it like it Is Susan Littlefield's Avatar
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    Aug 2007
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    No time at all.

    Well, that's because I don't outline at all. However, reading the descriptions of everyone's outline process here is pretty darned inspiring.

    I do, however, create a short synopsis after I write each chapter so I don't forget something important. That is done as I go along, though.

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