View Full Version : Outline/Are outlines always kind of silly?

Home - Discussion Forums - News - Reviews - Interviews

New reviews, interviews and news

New in the Discussion Forum

Pages : [1] 2 3 4 5 6

September 27th, 2005, 02:44 PM
I have never managed to write an outline. All my attempts at writing have been sort of aimless wandering around, occasionaly something interesting happens but then the story eventually peters out.

The problem is that outlines always make the whole idea seem very silly. You run into bad guy one, (or crises #1) then 2 and so on. Somehow I end up feeling like it's all just too silly.

For example, a nice escapist book I have always liked, The Hobbit:

So they are captured by trolls but not Gandalf who saves them.
Then captured by goblins but not Gandalf who saves them.
Bilbo runs into Gollum but escapes thanks primarily to luck.
Bilbo gets past the goblins guarding the gate thanks to the ring.
Then they are chased by wolves and goblins up into trees but the eagles save them.
Then they are captured by giant spiders in Mirkwood except for Bilbo who saves them.
Then they are captured by wood elves except for Bilbo who saves them.
Then they are hopelessly overmatched against the dragon but thanks in part to Bilbo, an archer shoots an arrow into its heart.
Then they all start fighting over the treasure until a bunch of goblins suddenly attack and they have a huge battle and everyone who doesn’t die lives happily ever after.

Isn't that silly? Over and over they are captured except for one person, and then that one person saves them. Of course what makes it good is lots of other stuff that isn't mentioned above.

But so, are outlines always silly like that? Should I just slap down some meaningless framework like that and then in the actual writing of it try to turn it into something worthwhile?

I'm emp by the way, at your service. :)

September 27th, 2005, 03:35 PM
I'm not sure what you mean by "silly". That sounds like a subjective analysis.

I prefer outlines because I tend to write in small bursts of creativity and then take some months off. When I go back to the project, my outline is there as a refresher of sorts to put me back on track. Also, if I have something happening in chapter 3 that I want to be alluded to in chapter 41, the outline can instruct me to do so.

But it's all up to you. Don't do an outline if you don't feel like it. Just write out of your head. I've written like this before, but it tends to require more work to remember what's going on with characters and subplots.

September 27th, 2005, 03:45 PM
I'm not sure what you mean by "silly". That sounds like a subjective analysis.
Of course. To me they always seem silly, thus I never use them. Instead my stories just wander aimlessly. I want to use outlines but am unable to do them because they seem so silly to me. Do others just ignore that they seem silly or do people who use outlines never feel that way about them?

September 27th, 2005, 04:54 PM
An outline is an organization tool to put your thoughts into order. Maybe you'd like the Snowflake method (http://www.rsingermanson.com/html/the_snowflake.html) instead?

September 27th, 2005, 08:33 PM
Do others just ignore that they seem silly or do people who use outlines never feel that way about them?

I can't say as though I ever thought they were silly. Unnecessary maybe, but not silly.

Now Monty Python, they are silly.

September 28th, 2005, 12:13 AM
I can't write fiction to an outline (fact, not a problem, go figure) the way my little mind works just doesn't fit with an outline. I work more with sentences or scenes, tie them all together, and then bag it and start all over.

Emp, I suggest you do what works for you. If you don't know what works for you, try everything.


Snowflake method ... hmmm ... I think I've heard of that somewhere before.

Beth Shope
September 28th, 2005, 09:42 AM

If you find that your stories wander aimlessly, with or without an outline, it might pay to take a good look at the nature of the conflicts introduced. Conflict is the engine of the story. Without it, the plot does peter out and characters are left with nothing interesting to do.

And by conflict, I don't mean fights, necessarily. Conflict happens when a character wants something and can't have it. Or when he fears something but must eventually face it. He can be in conflict with other characters who have different agendas. He can be in conflict with himself, or with nature. But basically, if the character has a goal and is not being thwarted in reaching that goal, you don't have much of a story.

So you might start out by asking yourself some "what if" questions. For example. What if a character sets out to kill a marauding dragon, but hasn't the means to do it? That's the overarching conflict of a potential story, but what smaller conflicts appear along the way? Maybe Esmerelda (we'll call her Esmy for short) is an orphan, living with her aunt and uncle. She determines to kill the dragon that everyone believes is stealing the village sheep. (And you must also ask yourself: What is driving Esmy to do this? Why is it a task she must do and no other? Has anyone else tried and failed? The answer to those questions will help determine her actions throughout the story.)

But it's not as simple as grabbing a sword and marching to the dragon's cave. Complications arise. She has no sword and no fighting experience, so her first task, one that you as writer will thwart at every turn (for awhile) is to find the means the kill the dragon. Her uncle wants to send her away to a boarding school, so she must either talk him out of it, or run away, or kill the dragon before the school term starts. Her boyfriend promises to teach her to fight, but ends up deserting her for a girl more obsessed with him than swords. The retired old smithy who lives at the edge of the forest agrees to show her the secrets of swordmaking, but at what price? Is it one she's willing to pay? If so, what will be the consequences? If not, how else will she find a sword? And so it goes; every time the character makes a decision or takes action, something gets worse, or something twists out of shape, gradually raising the stakes until the final confrontation with the dragon.

Who, as it turns out, used to be human and Esmy's mother.

What will Esmy do then?

The secret to keeping us on the edge of our seats and turning pages is to keep the characters struggling, to keep introducing mysteries that we must know the answer to.


September 28th, 2005, 10:51 AM
I'm confused- if you find your stories do wander, then it seems an outline would be really good for you, even if you do feel silly writing them. Of course, I've used outlines (by far NOT the silliest thing I do) for both my fiction and professional writing. Does the story wonder away from the framework I wrote? Sure, but that's okay. Its just a reference point. I also like the fact that if I'm stuck on Section A, I can jump ahead to Section C or some other part, and then come back to the tricky bits.

September 28th, 2005, 02:48 PM
OK thanks everyone. I've tried to write for over a decade now and either: no outline and story wanders aimlessly till I finally chuck it, but at least I'm writing!, or try to write outline...... and..... well..... get nowhere at all.

I strongly feel that outlines are the way to go though. But I'm trying to figure out why I never have managed to write one worth bothering with. Maybe I just get too ambitious. Maybe I need to literally just write about some kid who decides to go kill some monster in a middle earth type setting. I hate that I've haven't yet managed to write a single story..... :mad:

September 28th, 2005, 03:46 PM
Emphryio, yes at least you are writing. But are you enjoying it? If you don't enjoy it, don't force it upon yourself to write. I think if you were meant to write, it would come naturally and you would find the style and process within yourself to get it done. Outlines are not the problem here. I think perhaps you are forcing a certain writing process upon yourself which your creative side rejects. Maybe you need to look within yourself and really analyze your talents and attributes. They will guide you to fulfillment.