View Full Version : Outlining tools

11-23-2007, 09:58 AM
If you outline, what tools do you use? Do you just use your word processor? Do you use index cards?

I don't usually do a full outline -- I keep most of it in my head but once in a while I do map out some ideas and plan ahead a bit. I don't use index cards or spreadsheets. I prefer something more "organic" and visual.

For idea mapping, I like the personal brain. (http://thebrain.com). It fits the way I do it on paper anyway, and I think it's a nice way to organize my thoughts.

For chapter/scene outlining I used to use a spreadsheet but I found it tedious. I recently found that I could do that much more effectively using Apple's iWork (Pages).

Lyra Jean
11-23-2007, 10:01 AM
Every time I try and outline I finish the outline and then I lose interest in the story. Maybe I'm outlining too much?

With my current project (a novel since my shorts suck I'm trying a new medium) I jot things down on index cards.

11-23-2007, 10:36 AM
I use both index cards and Plotcraft. It really depends on what type of editing I'm doing.

Gray Rose
11-23-2007, 11:59 AM
I use an old-fashioned leather-bound notebook, old-fashioned fountain pen, and my equally old-fashioned head.

L M Ashton
11-23-2007, 03:22 PM
I use mindmapping software. It's easier in many respects for this old brain to bring order out of chaos. Resistance is futile.

11-23-2007, 04:30 PM
I use FreeMind (http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page) which is not only a great tool that closely mirrors the organic brainstorming process, but I can have my outline, character Bios, timeline, theme strengths, and idea box all in one place. Best of all...it's free. lol. I mentioned this product before, and I will extend the same offer again. If you think you might like the product I have some screen shots that I can send so you can see it in the context of an actual novel (rather than the programming and project management pictures they show on the web). Just PM me. sorry...I don't know how to add pictures to posts. lol.

11-23-2007, 04:49 PM
unless the story is based on an real-life event or character, i don't outline.

when i do outline, it's all in my head -- processing, creating scenes to flesh either the story or character. written outlining would slow me down and lead me to question my choices.

i trust my instincts and go with the gut feeling. though i will occasionally research a topic or scenario -- but i do not lock myself into particular resolutions... it is, ultimateltly, fiction, and the only one in charge is me. the creator-me, who lives below the reality membrane -- not the lucid, logical 'me'.

11-23-2007, 05:13 PM
I start out using notebook paper (it always feels like I'm outlining for a term paper for some reason) and then I transfer it all into MS Word. Sometimes I'll construct a basic Table of Contents, and then build the outline off of that.

I've tried using index cards, but that got to be a pain.

I haven't tried any other computer programs yet, so I can't comment on that. :) I guess I'm old-school when it comes to this because even putting it into Word feels odd. :)

11-23-2007, 06:31 PM
I usually just outline in a spiral notebook, making several copies of any given outline just in case my son decides to destroy one and I can't get him to stop it. It's happened before but luckily I had already made a backup copy in another spiral. ;)

Teige Benson
11-23-2007, 06:53 PM
I tend to outline on paper. I end using tons and tons of the stuff until the story is set out in a logical fashion. Once I'm satisfied, I transfer my storyline onto a bulletin board covered with a massive piece of paper.

It sits on the wall in front of my desk. I can look up as I writing and see the path I want to follow. The highs and lows are all marked. If the journey changes direction, I mark it on my "map" and create another route on the outline to get it back on the main road.

I've never tried any kind of software - it may be something to think about. But, I admit, I'm probably a dinasour in my methods and unlikely to change.

11-23-2007, 07:17 PM
OOh.. I really like your bulletin board method. I might have to borrow that. Then again, per usual, I would get wrapped up in buying the board, setting it up, deciding how to organize all my thoughts on it, printing out large scales of my FreeMind Software maps, buying coordinating highlighter colors, etc... and never actually write. lol.

11-23-2007, 08:08 PM
I outline heavily, and when the idea for a story comes I'll use any tool at hand, be it paper and pen, a notebook, my AlphaSmart Neo, whatever. But when I get the notion that the story idea is coming together I start mapping it out in yWriter (HalSpaceJock's free program).

I start by creating some number of blank chapters with 5 or 6 scenes in each. I create my character sketches, brief but enough to get started, and then lay out the major points that each scene must contain and assign the appropriate characters. What I enjoy about the program is that I can move scenes within chapters or even to other chapters at will.

When I think the outline has enough depth I start on the chapter and scene contents, and add scenes as necessary. My outline, fairly complete at the beginning, usually gets longer and more detailed as I write.

Works well for me, your mileage may vary.

Added: Being able to write the contents of the story using the same program where the outline has been created makes the process easier--no need to refer to some other program while writing.

11-23-2007, 11:04 PM
I started an outline, but it turned into a synopsis that just kept going. i filled a 5 subject notebook. all handwritten.

11-24-2007, 01:16 AM
I've tried a bunch of different methods, but so far what seems to work best is notecards, since I just "headlight" plan my plot.

So far, so good, anyway. I'll get back to you when I'm done with the draft and let ya know if I'm still happy with it, hee hee.

Chasing the Horizon
11-24-2007, 04:34 AM
How much pre-outline planning I do varies wildly depending on the project, but all my outlines are done the same way. I just take a word processing document and format it with chapter and scene headings, then fill in what happens in each scene. When I'm finished I have a 5,000-12,000 word detailed outline.

Sean D. Schaffer
11-24-2007, 11:20 AM
Some of my earlier outlines I do longhand. Later ones I usually do with the typewriter. As I presently consider myself a typewriter guy for the first draft, I see little reason to do anything outline-wise electronically.

11-24-2007, 01:34 PM
OmniOutliner -- if I'm doing a novel. Mind you, I don't generally start that until I'm most of the way through the first draft.

For a short, I use some variety of graphical map, typically Inspiration (which isn't terribly expensive) or OmniGraffle. Inspiration does have deep levels of mapping, which is nice, but isn't very easy to re-arrange.

Azure Skye
11-25-2007, 03:08 AM
I do my brainstorming and research with pen and paper. Outlining, and I use the term loosely, is done with Word.

11-25-2007, 04:48 AM
Every time I try and outline I finish the outline and then I lose interest in the story. Maybe I'm outlining too much?

So I'm not the only one with this problem. That's why I don't outline.

Soccer Mom
11-25-2007, 05:26 AM
I'm a pen and paper gal. I start with writing short synopsis of the novel, sub-plots and character sketches. Then I use notecards to plan out major events. Once that is worked out, I transfer to a plain document just like Hope to the Horizon does and flesh out the scenes. I'll end up with a 20K outline sometimes. I also sketch out rooms, locations, and maps by hand.

I like my outline single spaced, but with blank lines between paragraphs. I put big margins and Courier 14pt to make it easy to read and easy to write notes in. In each heading I describe the scene, location, and characters present. I put a page break after each scene. That way, if I shuffle the order of scenes, I simply pull out those pages as a unit and move them.

11-25-2007, 05:49 AM
I always outline in MS Word using the outline functionality. I do timelines in Excel. If I'm doing anything with graphics I usually hand-draw it, then draw it using objects in Word.

11-25-2007, 06:03 AM
I tend to have bits of paper with notes and ideas scattered all over my bedroom and study and I can never find them when I need them, so I downloaded a trial edition of Power Structure last week for a look-see. I have to say that it looks pretty good as an organizing, outlining and note-taking tool. I don't know whether it would be any use to me at the start of a project, but where I am at the half-way point with things going off in all directions it might be an effective way to pull everything together and keep it in one place.

11-25-2007, 05:11 PM
I like the idea of index cards, but I know I would need a lock box to keep them in to keep them away from my son's reach. He likes to rip up paper and I just think it's better to do it longhand in spirals, with one page before the first chapter starts, of notes and ideas. It's worked for me for about five books, but when I finish the outline I am really ready to go and get started on the book itself, so I don't share that problem a couple of you have with getting bored with it after finishing the outline. I pray that never happens. :p