PDA

View Full Version : If you outline, how do you do it and what do you use?



Medievalist
01-19-2013, 02:46 AM
For people who outline—

I want to update the Outline FAQ (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=79297) since I suspect a lot of people think an outline is a hierarchical document with rigid rules about letters and numbers, and there's only one way to make or use one.

Also, because I've now heard from two people who thought that because they didn't outline the way someone else did, they were doin' it rong.

And I don't want to make anyone feel that way.

So how do you outline? On a computer, on paper? Do you use the formal structure of an outline with hierarchy and nesting and careful labeling (i.e. Roman numbers, then Uppercase letters, then Arabic numbers)?

Is an outline a list or do you have paragraphs and dialog as part of it?

Do you use special software (What?)? Index cards?

What might you suggest to someone wanting to try outlining?

N.B. I'm not picking outlining vs/not outlining, just looking for helpful ideas for those who want to try/use outlining.

And if you don't want to have your post quoted or linked in an FAQ, tell me and I won't.

onesecondglance
01-19-2013, 03:10 AM
I'm kinda hesitant about replying to this, since I am not in the position of having finished a work yet. I firmly believe in the outline I'm working from for my second draft, but I guess once I have more experience I would be better placed to comment. FWIW my outline is a table in Word, with each line corresponding to a chapter (or less). It's organised roughly along the lines of the Save the Cat screenwriting structure, but adapted to fit the pacing I wanted my story to have.

ETA: the first draft came from a very, very rough outline - a two page story summary, that's it. The second draft is much more organised. It's working for me so far.

Soccer Mom
01-19-2013, 03:21 AM
My "outline" is really a stream of consciousness sort of document. First, I "tell myself" the story.

"See, there is this seamstress and she inherits her father's store..."

I hit the major points, big events, main characters. Then I flesh the story out. I add in subplots, secondary characters, bits of dialogue, sketch out actual scenes, things I need to research.

I tend to write long, elaborate outlines.By the time I am done, my outline is a only a few steps away from a rough draft. But they aren't a static document. Stories change, morph as they are written. So I go back in and change as I write. I like to delete already written scenes from my working outline. Watching it shrink is very satisfying and makes me feel like I've achieved something as I delete portions. So yeah, it's actually a motivational tool for me.

I've probably written fifteen novels using this method. It's what works for me.

ETA: Forgot to answer the "what do I use?" Anything. Mostly I just open up a blank document and write. Sometimes I use notebooks. Sometimes I write scenes and postcards and move the order around. For me, too much worry about the format is just cat waxing.

ETAA: Okay, now you see why I outline. It helps me organize my thoughts into something coherent. I always forget something. With an outline, I don't have to rewrite when I think of stuff I've forgotten. I just plug it into the document. Advice to someone who wants to try outlining: There is no right or wrong way. It's just a tool. Try looking at various methods. You might google Snowflake method or Headlights method. Both are popular ways to plan out your story. After you've read the methods, one or more should speak to you, sound like a logical way to approach things. Roll with it. But if you are trying something and it isn't working, don't feel bad about ditching it and trying something else.

Sometimes I use the headlights method for shorter works, SS or novellas. I write a paragraph about the story and then start the story. When I get stuck in the story, I'll stop and sketch out the next couple of scenes, like a car with headlights. You don't see the whole thing, just what comes next.

blacbird
01-19-2013, 03:25 AM
As mentioned elsewhere, I don't start with an outline, but (at least with longer work) at some point evolve one to get things more formally organized.

But it's always really simple, pretty much a list of bullet points. Often I do this on paper, because it's convenient, but I'm about to play around with an Excel spreadsheet, because I'm a whizbang at Excel from business necessities. So, what I intend to do is use Excel's Text-box feature*, which is a nifty way of putting down information in the electronic form of post-it notes. These are not attached to cells in the spreadsheet, but can be moved around freely, resized, added to, etc., allowing great flexibility in organizing.

I haven't tried doing that for a writing project until now. Hell, I might even have some fun with it. Especially with a glass of Laphroaig and a bit of ice.

caw


*Many people who use Excel seem to be unaware of this tool, and it's really really really useful, for all kinds of things. If anyone needs advice or explanation, let me know, and I'll maybe post a quick thread in the Tech forum.

itsmary
01-19-2013, 03:35 AM
I usually start with a vague outline of the major events in the story. Then I go back to each one and flesh it out with details of everything that happens scene by scene. By the time I write the first draft, all I have to do is flesh out the outline even more.

I tend to use pen and paper for the first outline and sometimes even the second. Not sure why, it just always turns out that way. I stick to the computer for the rest of the work, though sometimes I do go back to pen and paper.

AshleyEpidemic
01-19-2013, 03:57 AM
So how do you outline? On a computer, on paper?
I do a combination of the two. I start out jotting down any ideas about the story. It could be as small as a joke or as large as a turning point for a character. Once I feel I have collected enough points I move the information to the computer. I generally keep the notepad or iPad around even after I have made the switch, in case an idea pops up when I don't have access to my computer.

When I am outlining, my focus is on what needs to happen and how it alters the characters. Sometimes I need to rack my brain to get something, but I feel better doing something. The plus side of jotting notes is I can think of all my possibilities and remove the ideas that don't work without ever having to write the scene.

I just wanted to throughout I am not someone who uses pictures for character inspiration. Instead they are each a facet of my own personality that manifests. I'm a little crazy like that.

Do you use the formal structure of an outline with hierarchy and nesting and careful labeling (i.e. Roman numbers, then Uppercase letters, then Arabic numbers)?
Not at all. I use templates.

Character Name
Role in Story:
Occupation:
Status:
Relationship Status:
Relations:
Physical Description:
Race:
Personality:
Habits/Mannerisms:
Background:
Internal Conflicts:
External Conflicts:
Notes:

or

Plot Point
Who:
What:
Where:
When:
Why:
Location:
Protagonist:
Antagonist:
Conflict:
Result:
All Characters:
Summary:
Notes:

The templates make my life real easy, because it forces me to focus on the point. Each plot point tends to correlate to a chapter. Some plot points are elaborate with hundreds of words, while others have a hundred words of description.

I also have a template for settings, but many times they come organically unless I have a specific vision.

Is an outline a list or do you have paragraphs and dialog as part of it?
The outline is generally part list and part paragraphs. Little details get listed, while more elaborate plot points or characterizations get paragraphs. I tend to avoid dialogue and save it for it to naturally flow from the writing process.

Do you use special software (What?)? Index cards?
I use Scrivener to keep all my individual pages neatly packaged and easily accessible without having a bunch of screens open. One thing I can't stand is clutter and Scrivener keeps me in order. The software also has a bunch of quirks I love that help me the world from getting unruly, such as tagging who is in what scenes.

What might you suggest to someone wanting to try outlining?
Bah. The undo tool deleted all my advice. Here goes again.

If outlining works for you great. If it doesn't great, stop and wing it. Outlining can help you figure out what the story you want to tell really is, to help you express that. It is a tool.

The biggest thing to remember is things can change. Characters can appear. Subplots can emerge. Anything can happen as long as you remember the outline is a guide, not your set of rules.

It was much better when I first wrote it.

ArachnePhobia
01-19-2013, 04:02 AM
I went off and dug up whatever bits and pieces of old outlines I somehow managed to not throw away. They're a piecemeal mess, lol!

1. I start with an idea and write it as a sentence. *shuffles 'round* I can't do my current WIP, because if I talk about what I'm writing I can't write it, but here's the sentence I had for Facial Peel:

An indie comic artist able to access peoples' memories by making masks of their skin hunts a killer.

2. I name major characters- the artist and the killer in this example- and start asking myself questions. I write the questions and answers in freeform. A killer of who? A serial killer of teenagers. Why is my MC hunting him instead of leaving it to the police? Because he's friends with a cop. But why's the cop going to him when he's got nothing to do with it? The cop is... Won't retype all that, but that's the general idea.

3. For a novel length work, I block out chapters and make vague descriptions of what happens in them. Since Facial Peel's a short, here's one for The Mandilton Conspiracy:

Chapter 11: A Shade's Fragrance. Patrick is lost in Mandilton, and Gherkin is right on his trail. Though he finds some friendly monsters willing to help him, he only draws them into Lacertian's trap. Patrick is taken prisoner by Gherkin.

If it's a short story, I make a nebulous sketch of the story.

9000. At any point in this process, if I get an idea for a scene, conversation, or line, I jot it down on a spare notecard and tuck it into a binder. If I get a snap of inspiration for a certain feeling and know it'll pass, I draw it instead, in crayon, trying to use colors and images that'll bring the feeling back. I also make cartoon storyboards to condense the really nebulous parts into concrete images, so I can see what's going on.

4. I look at the characters who show up most often in the outline and make character sheets for those characters only. I look at the locations that appear most in the outline, or worldbuilding issues that show up, and research/plan for those elements only. Sure, sometimes a character I thought would be minor comes to the forefront, but I don't worry about that right now.

5. I block out each scene in each chapter on notecards, following this pattern (again from The Mandilton Conspiracy):

POV: Tyler
GOAL: Visit the Rare Shack
BUT: Astacus has other priorities
SUMMARY: They stop at Castle-In-The-Air, Tyler keeps trying to bring it up, Astacus keeps brushing the idea away, is more worried about finding the Codex
END-OF-SCENE COMPLICATION: Tyler sneaks out and goes to the Shack alone

I like doing it this way because...

6. I go through, look at each scene, ask myself if I really need that or if I could combine it with another scene, and weed, weed, weed.

7. So now I have a pig outline. I write the first draft off this. I write longhand so I can make notes and doodle in the margins.

Supplies I need:

-Filler paper; I write my stuff in a binder, and I like to be able to yank out or add as needed.
-Notecards; it's what the final outline and "snippets" like short convos will be on
-Crayons; for the storyboards and "atmosphere pictures"
-Pens, because I love the look of big long scratched out bits of unused text. My outlines do not function correctly if they aren't glorious sloppy messes.

ETA: What would I suggest to someone who wants to try outlining? EXPERIMENT. Use different colors and sizes of paper. Use the computer. Use crayons. Use glitter. (I don't think it's a good idea to use crayons and glitter on the computer, though...) I once outlined in white paint on black construction paper. I once used pink post-it notes instead of notecards. Have fun with the darned thing. ;)

JustSarah
01-19-2013, 04:08 AM
I usually start with a premise sentence or mission statement that highlights the pace, genre, main plot, subplot, and themes my story will approach.

I then buy a book on what I need to research for the subject at hand, after I've seen a movie with a similar theme or genre. I jot down the page number I saw the information, and then the description in my own words. I like to make sure I've completely covered the subject.

Then I jot down a glossary of terms that I will use in the story. This is especially important when I write science fiction and horror, if I'm creating a new world from scratch. It could be a reader might know what I'm talking in context if I mention a device, but I at least need to make sure I think I know what I'm referring to.

Then with notes for me to refer to, I use the same logic for the premise sentence, and jot down a backstory Premise, an opening Premise, a crisis premise, a climax premise, and a resolution premise.

With these premises, I write a sub premise that complicates the issue further. The opening will have two complication, the crisis four complications, and then for the climax I write down six complications. And then the resolution tones it down a bit with only four complication, then finally the denouement with a hook.

And then I jot down a 4K summary of my story for me to print off, and then pin it to a billboard. And then I wait a day before I start writing, and see if I'm still attached to the idea, and if I am that's the story I write.

Its in the summary stage I check for plot holes before I continue.

A S Abrams
01-19-2013, 04:10 AM
I use three different kinds of outlines, using one to all in any particular project.

First, I do a structural outline, which summarizes the beginning, middle, and end in paragraph form. I make sure I include characters (referring to them by their story roles--main character, friend, etc.), goals, conflict, obstacles, and stakes in each section.

Then I do a scene list. I list every scene, one sentence each, until I can't think of any more. Then I order them.

Then, after I do a first draft, I do an outline of the main characters' inner journeys--their character arcs.

What I use for outlines depends on the project. Sometimes I use pen and paper. I've used yWriter or spreadsheet software for the scene lists. I've even jerry-rigged programs. For example, using presentation software. The slides are kind of like cards that I break down each scene on. In the outline mode I can rearrange the slides. Then afterwards I can do a slide show to play the cards back and look at the flow and pacing of the plot.

ETA: One thing I would advise someone who wants to try outlining? If it doesn't work, then try a different kind of outline, especially if you don't think it will work for you. Just try it. I was frustrated when I began outlining because I was using one that went against the way I work. I go from general to specific, but the outline method I was using went from specific to general, and it just killed the story for me. If you can't find an outline method that works for you? Invent it.

Barbara R.
01-19-2013, 04:38 AM
So how do you outline? On a computer, on paper?

I write all my notes on paper, loose-leaf that I organize in a binder by topics: characters, theme, plot, settings, research, etc. I do as detailed a plot outline as I can manage, filling in details as they come to me, and eventually coming up with a timeline. It's all very informal. I have students who use software made for the purpose and are happy with it. I never invested the time to learn those programs, though, and am happiest with a pen in hand anyway.

This whole process takes months. Finally it reaches a critical point and I have to start writing. At that point I switch to plotting out individual chapters and scenes. I figure out what my goals are, and then the most efficient scenes I can write to accomplish them. Then I put the notes aside and just write. The outlining has given me parameters, and the putting away freedom.

Do you use the formal structure of an outline with hierarchy and nesting and careful labeling (i.e. Roman numbers, then Uppercase letters, then Arabic numbers)?

Not even close. Just notes, endlessly reworked and reorganized.

Is an outline a list or do you have paragraphs and dialog as part of it?

It's basically a narrative account of the story, but I'll often think of particular lines or bits of dialogue I'll want to remember, so I make note of them as well.

Do you use special software (What?)? Index cards?

No.

What might you suggest to someone wanting to try outlining?

If it doesn't give you a headache, you're probably not doing it right.

That aside, my advice would be to think through as much of the story as you can in bits; it's too hard to think about it all in a piece. And then keep elaborating and incorporating ideas. Do whatever you need to to keep it organized, but one way or another, get it down in writing.

Shenanigans!
01-19-2013, 08:33 AM
I like to outline on paper so I have something next to my laptop. I tend to start with a rambling paper before streamlining it so I have important plot and character points in an organised manner.

Lastly, I place everything in chapters, so I have an idea of what I want to accomplish per chapter. I may have additional papers on characters, major events depending on my feelings.

For my major story as well, being a large fantasy story, my final piece of outlining to create a timeline to ensure everyone is working in the same space and time for the novel, and hopefully, for the others.

Tirjasdyn
01-19-2013, 09:07 AM
I currently use a combination of three programs: AllMyNotes, yWriter and MS Excel (2007)

I use AllMyNotes for world details, Excel as a combination work tracker/timeline and data tracking tool. I write in yWriter.

1. I create the characters. Write down any details about them that I have. I put this information in AllMyNotes, and yWriter. I add them to the master character list I have going in Excel with just very specific details (birth, death, job titles, books in etc).

2. I write down the locations used in the novel. Add them to AllMyNotes if they don't already exist. I then add them to yWriter for tracking while writing. I list out all the locations in order that they appear in the story (sometimes they repeat of course). I write a short summary of what happens there, what characters are involved and an estimate of how many chapters I think it will take to write about it. I put this in a folder in AllMyNotes. I play with this for awhile, dragging and dropping the notes until I get an order and flow I like.

3. I add the number of empty chapters in yWriter that I think I'll need.

4. I write a plot summary. This is fairly simple, deals more with motivations of characters rather than a series of events. I use a plot sheet from First Draft in 30 Days, and Outline Your Novel in 30 Minutes for this. (The former is a book, the latter an article on SFWA.org).

5. I start at chapter one, create a scene, then write a description of that scene following the location summaries I created in the previous step in the description box for the scene. I repeat this step until I've completely summarized the chapter with however many scenes I think I need. There isn't really a rhyme to this. I just decide what needs to happen in each scene. I may add more chapters if I feel I may need them as well. Once done, I put each scene description in my timeline tab in Excel. I copy the date of each scene into the yWriter tag field for each scene.

This serves as my outline. As I write, I may change things one fly if it will work better. If so, then I update the scene description as I write and make sure the timeline stays updated as well. During a revision, I may add scenes and chapters, I do the same thing, write a scene description and keep the timeline updated.

6. When done, will all scenes descriptions updated, I write a full chapter summary in the chapter description box in yWriter. I export this and have a full outline without having to hem and haw after the writing is done.

I don't include any dialog in this.

What I find, especially in a created world, is that without an outline and world building, writing doesn't make sense. There are missed details, huge holes in the plot and no reason for what is going on. Sure this can be fixed by many many revisions, but I'd rather do one revision, and just keep summaries of 2 or 3 sentences updated as I go than have to revise over and over again. The bold I take from Sometime the Magic Works by Terry Brooks. Struggling with my first book, I read those words and have found them to be true.

Kerosene
01-19-2013, 09:18 AM
I write out scenes on flash cards.
The top line is a couple words that encapsulates the entire scene.
Under that is the estimated # of words.
Under that is any pertaining information needed and notes.

I write how many of those that I need, and arrange them on my desk. Typically, divided by parts. I sort the scenes out is a physical medium.

Then I transfer that over to Scrivener.


However, currently I haven't use that method in a while.

I've been writing the scenes to the parts as I go. I'd write the opening, then plot part 1, and write that. At the end of part 1, I plot part 2 and write that. Ect.


By no means does that mean I need to plot. I discovery write short stories no problem, I just like a structure in longer works (especially when I'm planning a 5 book series).


Characters, setting, terms, and such are created on the spot (I've never found it good to plan this).

Susan Littlefield
01-19-2013, 09:45 AM
I can't contribute because I don't outline, but this is an awesome thread. My hat is off to those of you who do outline. :)

Chris P
01-19-2013, 10:04 AM
I write non-sequentially in scenes as I think of them. I start out writing several scenes that inspire me starring the same few characters. Then, once I have about 20K words written, I make an outline by listing the scenes I have in the order they will (more or less, stuff moves around a lot) appear in the story. The numbers on the list aren't necessarily chapters, just scenes, and there is no preset number. That not only allows me to see the points A and B that I need to connect with scenes not yet written (indicated here with brackets), but I can also more easily see where new scenes can be inserted when I think of them. Here's a mock up based on a recent WIP:

1. Joe lets divorce news slip on Facebook
2. Vance and Kathy fight in the kitchen
3. Mike comes over to comfort Joe
4. Vance gets divorce papers at work
5. Joe and Mike help Vance get his stuff
6. [Joe's daughter calls pissed off]
7. [Vance POV scene here?]
8. Mike caught by cops outside Mary Beth's house
. . .
79. THE END

Thinking about it, my outlines are reactive in that they come after the scenes are written and serve as guides to place new material. They're proactive in that they point out what holes need to be closed with scenes I can write as they are needed. Of my three completed novels (one published, one in querying, and one trunked but now resurrected), I have done all three this way and the WIP is in need of this.

Phaeal
01-19-2013, 07:13 PM
I just grab a notebook or Word doc and start typing, like this:

Amber thinks Joe is the cat thief. Maybe it's the way his truck is always full of kitty litter, in the fifty pound sacks. Maybe it's the fur stuck to all his clothes. She could be wrong. It's happened before. Meanwhile Joe is really just volunteering at the Home for Abandoned Hedgehogs, and that fur? Comes from his molting faux bear rug.

WHAT ABOUT VINCE OR THE OLD RUSSIAN GUY FROM DOWN THE STREET I DONT KNOW MAY AX V BUILD UP SERGE AS CRAZED CAT LOVER W UNDGRND BUNKER FULL O FELINES

The passages in caps are pure brainstorming when I'm stuck for ideas. Punctuation-poor all-caps seems to batter my imagination into high gear. ;)

This kind of outlining can go on for hundreds of pages for a novel -- however long it takes to hammer out the story. Often scenes and dialogue comparable to a first draft appear, and they're welcome.

Then I do a nice neat proposal-worthy outline of 5-15 pages and a list of probable chapters.

Then it's first draft time.

Ari Meermans
01-19-2013, 08:06 PM
I don't outline per se, but I do use mind-mapping software (Free Mind) for story-boarding my ideas and deciding whether they're worth pursuing. I'm visually-oriented and like to see a snapshot of the whole thing at once, but I have a shortage of wall space and this takes the place of a white board. Mind-mapping software--there are several very nice free programs out there--can be as basic or as detailed as you like, making it flexible enough for any style of outlining, I would think.

eqb
01-19-2013, 08:36 PM
I wait until I have some idea of the opening and ending points--this might be an image, a scene, or even prose tumbling into my head. Then I write brief, general notes about the main characters and their situation at the start. What they have and what they want.

From there I jot down a list of possible events, which I call guideposts. Items close to the start or end usually have more details, and the ones in the middle are just short phrases. Once I have enough to convince me the story has legs, I make a rough guess how to divide the list into chapters.

Then I start writing. As I go along, I fill out plot and character details as I discover them, rearrange chapters, delete chapters, add new ones, or whatever the story needs.

In other words, the outline is merely a first impression of the story. I always end up changing it. Especially the middle part. (For one novel I wrote, the middle consisted of five or six identical chapter placeholders that said, "Search for macguffin," followed by one with the line, "Sex scene here? Remember the goats!")

Medievalist
01-19-2013, 09:28 PM
You guys are fabulous; thanks so much for answering so very helpfully.

I'll probably move all these responses to the new FAQ; lemme know in a rep or PM if you'd rather I didn't.

I think I might had a short section on software that people use.

kaitie
01-19-2013, 10:17 PM
I'm a little late to the game, but I'm an outliner, so I thought I'd respond with my own technique.




So how do you outline? On a computer, on paper? Do you use the formal structure of an outline with hierarchy and nesting and careful labeling (i.e. Roman numbers, then Uppercase letters, then Arabic numbers)?

I outline on a computer to keep it more organized, but that doesn't mean I don't jot down notes on paper if that's what I have available. I just transcribe later.

I used formal structure once, but the program I use now is much better than that, so I don't bother with it anymore. I always have a general plot summary section that gets more detailed as I go, and I just write it out as if I'm explaining it to a friend. A very casual synopsis sort of thing.



Is an outline a list or do you have paragraphs and dialog as part of it?

I include paragraphs and dialogue. I use OneNote (answering questions below here, too), which I love because I can divide it into different tabs. I have a tab for plot, characters, unanswered questions, research, and so on. That way I can keep all my character profiles together on one page that's easy to find.

I also have a section for dialogue and snippets. I tend to have a lot of conversations written out in my mind as I go, and I hate to lose those. I even have it divided by who's talking, that way it's easy to find when I get to that point in the story.

I also tend to write my character descriptions and notes in character where I can. It really helps get the voice right, especially when I'm writing in first person.


What might you suggest to someone wanting to try outlining?

Try it different ways. It's a learning process, and I'm always finding new tricks that help me out. There's no way to know what does or doesn't work for you unless you experiment and see. If you don't want to experiment with an entire novel, try it on short stories or something of that nature.

There are so many different techniques and programs that it's really just a matter of finding something you like.

Also, outlining doesn't mean you have to know every part of the story in advance, or that you can't change things. I think a lot of times people outline and think you have to have it all exactly planned out, or that once it's in the outline it can never change.

I change stuff all the time. The outline is a skeleton, a guide. I might realize that some scenes work better in a different spot, or that a character is going to do something I hadn't realized, and then I just change the outline to match. I also don't know everything in advance. I usually have an idea on the end and pieces of the beginning and middle, and then I fill in the blanks as I go.

I also usually have an incredibly detailed outline that only covers a few scenes that I use as I go. That way I can make sure characters say what they need to in conversations or that I don't forget to add a certain element at the right time. I keep notes, too, for things I realize I've forgotten and need to add into later drafts, that way I can just keep going as if they're in there and don't forget.

[/QUOTE]

Hope this helps.

Smish
01-19-2013, 10:26 PM
I outline, sort of. I always have a few big scenes in mind, so I jot those on index cards. Then I can shuffle the cards as necessary to see where the scenes fit best and fill in the blanks connecting from scene to scene.

Make sense? No? :)

eqb
01-19-2013, 10:52 PM
Tangentially related:

Once I had the sense that something was off with my WIP. This was the third book in a trilogy, with three different plot threads that had to wind together into one. I had written enough so that the chapters were fairly well defined, but though I could tell something was off, I couldn't tell where or how. So I created a miniature outline in Word with each chapter summarized in one or two lines, formatted as two columns so it fit on a single page. I then color-coded the chapters according to location.

Wow, that was informative. The color coding confirmed my suspicions, and I could see how to rearrange things--merging these two chapters, adding a new one over there, etc.

K.L. Bennett
01-19-2013, 11:04 PM
This is super interesting stuff, guys! I love hearing about other writers processes. :) I'm not published, and have only ever completed short stories, but FWIW, my process goes a little something like this:

I have massive amounts of spiral notebooks cluttering my house where all my stories start as a sentence or two, just a vague whiff of an idea. I leave several blank pages between each idea so that I can add notes and draw doodles and do general brainstormy things.

Once I have more than a vague idea, I tell myself a condensed version of the story. It's always a jumbled mess, just stream of consciousness at first, with more often than not more questions to myself than actual declarative statements.

X happens, but why? Why couldn't Jane do Y to stop it? Maybe Joe does Z to prevent Jane succeeding when she tries to do Y...

Usually pages of that, once I've really gotten going. I spend the next few weeks answering most of the questions and expanding the jumbled rough outline into something I can make better sense of. In between filing in the holes in the outline, I'm usually drafting random scenes and lines of dialogue as they come to me. (At this point in the process, I'm thinking about the WIP all the time, while I'm driving, washing dishes, folding laundry, showering, falling asleep at night, etc etc.) Maybe sketching out a few vague character sheets, although the characters build themselves and reveal motivations and personal histories as I write, for the most part.

My outlines are never as structured as having a hierarchy, or bullet points, or anything like that, but much more free form. Once I've got a beginning, middle, and end, and I know who my POV characters are, I'll start breaking the outline apart into scenes and chapters. Then I start the actual first draft by building out all those scenes.

Sometimes there isn't much to fill in, the scene basically wrote itself, with dialogue and everything. Others are one sentence, like, "Jane has to confront Billy at the train station/bank/somewhere public so it's caught on security cameras for Joe to find later."

In the beginning, as mentioned, I use notebooks. Once I've got more than a vague idea about a story, and I'm at the point where I'm wanting to actually start an outline, I move to the computer. I used to use massive amounts of Word documents, but recently downloaded Scrivener, and I love it! It's much easier to stay organized and I like having all my notes and research and the outline, and even multiple drafts all in the same document.

I'd like to note that the outline is never ever written in stone for me. Sometimes, as I'm answering those questions in the beginning, I choose between A and B, the only choices that were apparent to me at the time, but as I get to know my story and my characters better, I realize C and maybe even D are better options! Sometimes this doesn't change the overall story much, other times it warps everything completely into a totally unrecognizable story. Either way, it's ok by me, I don't ever get too attached to an outline. I think that was a mistake I made in the beginning, when I couldn't even finish any project I started. I was too rigid and wouldn't allow myself to deviate from what I had committted to paper or pixel.

My general advice would mirror what others have said: try everything! I used to do a more structured, hierarchical kind of outline, but it ultimately wasn't my style. I wouldn't have figured that out if I hadn't tried. :)

blacbird
01-20-2013, 12:28 AM
I've been requested to post an explanation of the MS-Excel text-box feature, which I noted earlaier could be useful for outlining. I'll do that in the Tech forum.

caw

victoriastrauss
01-20-2013, 02:45 AM
I don't do an outline per se, so I don't know if this is relevant...but I am a planner (actually, a reformed pantser), so here goes.

I start by building a basic story structure inside my head. Once I feel I have a grip on that, I open it out into a long (like 12-15 pages for a 100,000-word book), detailed narrative synopsis that works out the main plot points from start to finish, the major character arcs/psychology, and the themes. I include dialog snippets, bits of the setting, and whatever world-building details are needed to make it make sense (if I do need to build a world from scratch, I do that separately).

I try to make it dramatic and suspenseful, as much to hold my own interest as to pique anyone else's. I imagine myself telling a story to a bunch of enthralled listeners in a dark room by the light of a leaping fire.

The synopsis assures me that I can get from beginning to end without falling into any major logic holes. Once it's finished, I put it away and don't look at it again. This means that while I have a structure to keep me on track, I'm not slavishly following it in every little detail. This leaves room for inspiration and invention--my end result always differs from the original synopsis in major and minor ways--but prevents me (well, mostly) from veering off into the unproductive byways and dead ends that used to waste so much of my time and energy when I was a pantser.

- Victoria

frankiebrown
01-20-2013, 03:43 AM
I was wondering this a little while ago, wanting to hear and learn about other writers' processes in the hope they would help me find mine. I created this (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=255121) thread and found people's answers incredibly helpful.

bearilou
01-20-2013, 01:54 PM
Currently, I'm experimenting with this technique, courtesy of our very own Uncle Jim (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=4582900&postcount=896) of taking a synopsis and sectioning it off a few lines at a time and using that section as a guide for a chapter.

So far, so good.

I've had success with Phase Outlining (http://fmwriters.com/Visionback/Issue%2015/phase.htm)by Lazette Gifford.

edit to add: A better explanation of the Phase Outlining is in her free pdf book NaNo for the New and the Insane (http://lazette.net/free%20stuff/NaNoBook.pdf), the relevant section starts on page 38. /edit

Also, my favorite way of plotting and outlining, The Snowflake Method (http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/snowflake.php) by Randy Ingermanson.

Siri Kirpal
01-20-2013, 10:49 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

If you're still looking for the info, here's mine:

I use a large sheet of paper and a pen (preferably black). I make a list of chapters, preferably with titles. Then I list what needs to go in each chapter. These are not sentences, or anything anyone but me could get much out of.

When I'm doing the actual writing, it helps to have a paper outline beside the computer, so I can glance at it as I go along.

That's it.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Becky Black
01-21-2013, 02:10 PM
How I do it tends to be a combination of The Snowflake and the Holly Lisle Notecarding outline, and I end up with either a scene by scene outline in One Note or on large notecards. (Though I've sort of gone off notecards after I lost a batch of them when working on a story last year. No more outlines I can't back up!) No chapters, they come later. The one time I tried to set the chapters beforehand it stopped me cold.

It's never finished though, my outline. It's usually vaguer towards the end of the story, waiting to be firmed up as I get there. And I'm continually tweaking and refining the outline as I go. Characters don't really come alive for me until they start walking and talking in prose, not notes, so I still do a lot of discovery as I go, especially of the ending.

JournoWriter
01-22-2013, 03:55 AM
In my nonfiction, I outline section-by-section or chapter-by-chapter - mainly to make sure that I don't leave anything out. It's just headings and bullet points. I then start writing small scenes/sections/paragraph clusters, and when I have enough, I split each section off into its own page or file.

Bookewyrme
01-22-2013, 06:44 AM
Gosh, I don't think I've ever used the same outlining method twice, yet. Doubtless the longer I write, the more often I'll return to ones that worked well for me, but still. I've used Excel spreadsheets, an iPhone app called A Novel Idea (basically the same sort of template as AshleyEpidemic's, but in app form), good old pen and paper, even sticky-notes on a white-board (this was one of my favorites).

I usually start with a short (less than a page) synopsis of the basic story for myself. Then I'll start writing the first chapter (or first page for short stories) and start figuring out oulines as I write and get a feel for the character. I usually do a chapter-by-chapter thing so I know what needs to happen in each chapter. I'll also keep random notes of things that HAVE happened, character descriptions, etc. Because I have a terrible memory, and I live in fear of characters with ever-changing hair and eye-colors or random name-changes or whatever.

Dreadful Romantic
01-23-2013, 04:04 AM
I write a vague outline, always in a notebook. It starts off really detailed, then the last half of what I picture the book to be ends up sort of muddled and unclear. I usually end up writing the book according to the outline until I get stuck, then write the last half of the outline.

I used to write by the seat of my pants and some habits just never die.

cmi0616
01-23-2013, 06:48 AM
You could say I hit rock bottom as a pantser when, 60,000 words into my last WIP, I realized I had a plot that went nowhere, characters who had kiddie-pool depth, and chapters that started seeming awfully repetitive.

After that experience, I've decided to do some extensive outlining for my next project. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about 15 pages in character bios, making sure that my characters were as real and believable as I could make them. After that I wrote a brief, two-page synopsis of the plot. Now, I'm working on a chapter-by-chapter outline, in which everything that happens in each chapter is detailed in bullet-points. I don't care how long it takes me to actually start writing the thing, so long as I don't wind up in a situation akin to the disaster that was my last attempt at a novel.

thothguard51
01-23-2013, 07:18 AM
Thanks to a Medievalist suggestion, I created my own style sheet using Excel.

The style sheet is divided into sections.

The first section is a Character log that list all named characters with age, descriptions, likes, dislikes, habits, etc as well as what chapter and page they first appear.

The next section is what I call a location directory for Kingdoms, villages, towns, castles, rivers, mountains, or other significant features that reference to any maps I have created.

I have additional sections that include a time line chart that moves chapter by chapter. I have a special phrase or words log so I can keep them straight from chapter to chapter, and book to book since I tend to write in series.

I also leave room for expansion.

Once I have the basics down, I then do like Victoria and add the outline that plots the course of the story, the world, and the characters.

One thing I will note, I have had people who have seen my character charts ask why I list any character that I gave a name to, even if they are only a walk on, walk off type character. All I can say is that since I tend to write in a series, using the same world, sometimes those walk ons end up in another book with a more defined role and I can reference back to when they were created.

I know it sounds complex, but really, a lot of this is done as the story unfolds as I still tend to write by the seat of my pants at the start...

For short stories and single story novels, I don't need as much of the logs and go straight to the outline...

Rockweaver
01-23-2013, 08:16 AM
im probably an extreme for this.

basic outline started at 2 paragraphs.
from that i went to 160 pages of details
then i started bios for the players in the story
then i started history's between the various races
then i started drafting chapters based on the players and general overall story line
12k words in first section and its not yet to a full chapter of readable material.
so extreme outlining will give you a lot of stuff but will take forever.

i don't recommend if you are only going to write 1 book but if you have to make a world then you will need it to help keep all the information straight.

software i am using
Onenote
Word
other stuff im useing
3 comp books with lots o notes in them.

will i ever compelte this book who the heck knows

Spell-it-out
01-23-2013, 01:15 PM
Hi all,

I'm a pretty messing outliner, but here is my method.

First: The original idea that inspired me to open a "Brainstorming" doc in the novels folder provides me with an opening line in Act 1. I then build up 10-15 sentences describing Act 1 until I reach plot point one, the first turning point.

Return, Act 2: I deal with the MC's getting engaged with the problem, and spend the next 20-30 sentences imagining how could things get progressively worse for them. Hints of sub-plots are introduced here as well.

Return, Act 3: Same process. Most of the time I know my ending before I start, but I don't fix myself to seeing it through. When I'm nearly finished my story/novel, if the intended ending fits, I keep it. If not, well you know...

Secondly:
I decide on character names, personality traits, age, gender, appearance etc. Then with a little more planning, I pick out each characters aim's in the story, hopefully ensuring that I won't have dull, inactive characters when I start writing.
For example:
Jacob... 1 - wants to find out where he is
2 - tries to find a way off the planet
3 - sets up a shelter
4 - wants to fix an broken down ship
5 - and so on.

Thirdly:
I start a numbered list of my chapters, color-coding to show what Characters are involved in each. For Example.
1. Jacob wakes up on a strange planet, a venomous tree attacks him.
2. Hillary cries at his funeral, thinking he died in a space crash. Doctor Sigmund consoles her at funeral.
3. David runs through Alien forest and finds a lake. Jacob is there.

NOTE: Say, at chapter 5 a great Idea finds you, it's easy to insert a new chapter five, as it pushes the existing points to 6 and so on, creating an extra chapter.

The idea of color-coding is that it benefits me when I'm glancing back over the chapters, it provides a quick indicator of if I'm using a character too much or too little.

Lastly;
- I nit-pick Act two, to make sure there will be enough tension and action naturally in the story. I know that if I come to Act two and loose energy, I will get stuck in the mud, as will the story.
- I identify my sub-plots, but let them play out as naturally as I can during the first draft.

Then,
I write.

EMaree
01-23-2013, 01:50 PM
I freeform outline, putting together a loose summary of the story that reads like a synopsis to an agent (or a Wikipedia summary, but with a bit more jazz). This outline covers most of the key events but leaves the minor details out of it. I'll also be deciding a rough act structure at this stage and making sure the story has a strong middle.

I try to make it feel like ordinary writing -- using Excel spreadsheets or ordered list is too rigid and organised for me, especially early in the plotting stage.

Once I have the plot laid out, usually 2 - 3 pages of text, I start writing.

Xelebes
01-23-2013, 08:57 PM
As mentioned elsewhere, I don't start with an outline, but (at least with longer work) at some point evolve one to get things more formally organized.

But it's always really simple, pretty much a list of bullet points. Often I do this on paper, because it's convenient, but I'm about to play around with an Excel spreadsheet, because I'm a whizbang at Excel from business necessities. So, what I intend to do is use Excel's Text-box feature*, which is a nifty way of putting down information in the electronic form of post-it notes. These are not attached to cells in the spreadsheet, but can be moved around freely, resized, added to, etc., allowing great flexibility in organizing.

I haven't tried doing that for a writing project until now. Hell, I might even have some fun with it. Especially with a glass of Laphroaig and a bit of ice.

caw


*Many people who use Excel seem to be unaware of this tool, and it's really really really useful, for all kinds of things. If anyone needs advice or explanation, let me know, and I'll maybe post a quick thread in the Tech forum.

Instead of Excel, I use Visio (OOo Draw at home.). A good way of managing multiple and sub plot lines tracked over a progression.

bearilou
01-23-2013, 09:07 PM
As a result of this thread, I cracked open my previously unexplored copy of OneNote.

...I...I think I'm in love.

onesecondglance
01-23-2013, 10:37 PM
As a result of this thread, I cracked open my previously unexplored copy of OneNote.

...I...I think I'm in love.

The unsung hero of Office. It's even better on a touchscreen where you can fingerpaint squiggles to help you remember what you were thinking about. Although I seem to spend as most of the time trying to work out why I've squiggled what I squiggled, or indeed what it is that I squiggled.

Verb of the day: squiggle. :D

Myrealana
01-23-2013, 11:16 PM
My first outline is done with sticky notes. I write down every character, event and turning point that I've come up with in my brainstorming. Then, I place those events on a whiteboard in order. I shuffle, add, subtract and change notes until I've got a plot that I think holds together pretty well.

Then, I write those events in pen in my composition book and toss the stickies. It will be maybe 2 pages handwritten single spaced for a novel.

Then, I type that outline up in Word. I don't have numbers and letters or any kind of real structure. I use bullet points occasionally for small but important bits that need to be highlighted. Until I reach that point, I don't touch a computer. All my research and pre-writing is done by hand.

After I've typed up my rough outline, I go through and expand each point until I've got 1-2 paragraphs per chapter. Then, I take that and create my rough draft from it. At that point, I've got somewhere around 3000-4000 words for a 90,000 word story.

As a bonus, that outline provides a nice starting point for a synopsis. It still requires trimming, since no one wants a 16 page synopsis, but it's easier to trim 3000 words down to 500 than to start at the full 90K.

bearilou
01-23-2013, 11:27 PM
The unsung hero of Office. It's even better on a touchscreen where you can fingerpaint squiggles to help you remember what you were thinking about. Although I seem to spend as most of the time trying to work out why I've squiggled what I squiggled, or indeed what it is that I squiggled.

Verb of the day: squiggle. :D

I dunno...I'm pretty handy with making squiggles with a mouse.

*did, in fact, discover the drawing tool early on and has had loads of fun with it*

*and admits that squiggle is a pretty damn awesome word...as well as fun to say outloud*

LJD
01-24-2013, 02:39 AM
I don't do it in a terribly structured way. I make lots of notes for each character, the main plot points, and a list of scenes I imagine including in the book. Then I try to organize that into some sort of order, and then I usually make a page or so of notes for each chapter. For a novel, I do this last step as I go along. For a novella, I do it all before I start writing. All pen and paper, which is also how I write my first drafts.

Varthikes
02-16-2013, 02:25 PM
I outline on the computer mostly, using Notepad, but I'll use paper if I get ideas and no where near my computer.

When I first begin a story, I brainstorm plot points and list these. Then, I outline by chapter, coming up with a number of scenes per chapter using those plot points as a guide. A single scene point may have several sub-scenes that are closely related.

Hope that helps.

muravyets
02-16-2013, 08:56 PM
For people who outlineó

I want to update the Outline FAQ (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=79297) since I suspect a lot of people think an outline is a hierarchical document with rigid rules about letters and numbers, and there's only one way to make or use one.

Also, because I've now heard from two people who thought that because they didn't outline the way someone else did, they were doin' it rong.

And I don't want to make anyone feel that way.
Definitely not. The only wrong method is the one that eats a huge amount of time without resulting in a book being written. Whatever works is the right method, no matter what anyone else does.

Thanks so much for doing this. :)


So how do you outline? On a computer, on paper? Both. Outlining is a tool for brainstorming for me, as well as a plan to guide drafting. At the stage of writing where I'm hashing out raw ideas, I tend to jump between longhand and typing.


Do you use the formal structure of an outline with hierarchy and nesting and careful labeling (i.e. Roman numbers, then Uppercase letters, then Arabic numbers)?In longhand, I just do bullet points. I picked up a habit somewhere of drawing tiny little check boxes in front of paragraphs and list items, and that's what I do when hand-writing an outline.

In typing, I just use whatever comes-with auto outline format in my document program is least distracting to me. Sometimes that's what you mention, which Apple calls the Harvard style, sometimes it's something else.

Recently, I wanted a more visual guide to my chapters, as discrete units, so I copied sections of a Harvard style outline list into a spread sheet, which I then didged around to make look pretty.


Is an outline a list or do you have paragraphs and dialog as part of it?To keep from getting overwhelmed in paper on my desk and junk on my hard drive, I add notes to my outline document. This includes chapter synopses, snippets of dialogue, notes on things to research, etc. Otherwise, I end up with tons of spare sheets, document files, or scribblings in my datebook, which are pretty useless because I can't keep track of them.


Do you use special software (What?)? Index cards?No special software. I use my Mac's word processing and spread sheet programs. In spread sheet, I set up individual tables for each paragraph, which in Apple Numbers I can view all at once on a single screen and move around to change order as I wish.

Later, I copied those individual tables into the working MS document so as I write, I won't have to jump back to the spread sheet file to check the outline for whatever chapter I am writing at a given moment. So now I have a document file (Apple Pages) in which each mini table starts a new page and is followed by the text of that chapter. It helps me keep track of the changes I'm making as I go along.

I tried index cards, but see above, re untraceable snips of paper. After the 10th time the stack got accidentally scattered across the floor I gave up on that method. Just two days ago, I was sweeping behind some furniture and came up with a stray index card for a scene I dumped years ago, probably because I forgot I'd ever thought of it because the index card was under the armchair.


What might you suggest to someone wanting to try outlining?I would remind people that writing is not brain surgery. No one is going to lose the ability to speak if we tinker about with methods of organizing our writing. Try it out, mess around with stuff, tweak this and that, until you find something that works for you and supports the goal of getting books written, and don't worry about it. Of all the parts of writing, figuring out whether and how to outline is probably one of the lowest stake, lowest risk areas of experimentation. Go for it and have fun.

JustSarah
02-17-2013, 12:47 AM
I changed up what I've been doing to accommodate better for the short story format. These days I do something a little like this.

1. Character X is doing X, while encountering or being chased by X.

A. Character X ends up being done in or wins over X.

2. Character X is doing X, while encountering or being chased by X.

A. Character X ends up being done in or wins over X.

That sort of thing.