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May 21st, 2003, 07:02 PM
There seem to be many differing opinions on this subject, and I thought what some of us here think. Many authors I respect (Stephen King for example) have absolutely no use for outlines. Others feel there is a place for them in long works such as novels, but not in short fiction.

Seems to me that if you have at least a rough idea of where you're going with a story, that an outline would be quite helpful. What do y'all say?

Tanith :)

May 21st, 2003, 08:19 PM
I myself do not use an outline per se, but I always have an idea fo where I am going with each chapter, and the story as a whole. Direction is one of my pet subjects when commenting about writing. :) Without it, readers will get bored and do the dreaded skip. I write linearly and try not to restrict myself by working to a set outline. This of course doesn't mean that you can't have a rough guide to follow. In my opinion, each chapter should be a part of the journey through your story line and at the end of each your story needs to have progressed. I quite like to leave little cliffhangers at the end of each chapter wherever possible, especially if you are leaving that particular thread for a chapter or two. It shows that there is some direction in the plot and should hopefully keep the reader interested.

My books are largely plot driven so maybe this approach won't always work for everyone, but regardless of how you get from A to B, you need to make sure it's done with some sort of interesting direction. :)

May 21st, 2003, 11:04 PM
Before I start writing, I know the main characters and their history, the general Idea of the plot, any plot twists I may want to add, and the ending. But how I actually get to the end comes about while I'm writing.

Though, before I start a chapter, I make a list of the events that are going to take place, write it, then rinse and repeat.

And I, too, like to leave little cliffhangers here and there. It's a good way to make the sure the hook stays sunk.

May 22nd, 2003, 01:31 AM
Either know what's what in your mind if you have a good memory or have an outline. Prevents many a problem in the long run.

Pollux V
May 22nd, 2003, 10:31 AM
I leave my outlines pretty loose--i.e, "they have an interesting conversation." The stories I write tend to turn out a bit differently than what I expect, and having the freedom to break the rules you set for yourself is great. Leaving the plot loose but concise lets you make the story interesting and also gives you an idea of what you're working towards. Plus, the bonus of having a plot is that you don't have the write the story from beginning to end. Start with the chapters that you feel like writing the most.

May 22nd, 2003, 10:31 AM
It's purely a matter of brain chemistry. Some writers absolutely can't write to an outline. Others have to have a fifty page detailed outline before they even begin the story.

The majority of us probably fall somewhere in the middle of plotting on the fly and outlining. And it's likely to vary from project to project, with some stories just emerging from your mind without prior planning or research and others requiring a lot of advanced prep work.

I have one friend who I always quote who describes her process like this: "I make an outline. Then I write the first chapter. Then I throw the outline out because it's no longer applicable to the text, and make a new outline. Then I write the second chapter. Then I throw out the second outline and make a third one, and so on." So it's nice to remember that outlines themselves are subject to change. Unless of course, your best process is to outline and not deviate from it a whisker.

Right now, I'm working on a novel-length story that I started with absolutely no plot whatsoever, not even a clear setting in mind. Once it got going, I did a little relevant research to give me ideas and started to think a little further ahead. I started to keep a rough glossary of terms and word definitions so that I remember those little details I made up. I am now getting to the point where I'll probably have to sit down and think out a bit how I want things to go. Or maybe I'll just chug along and wait for the revision stage before I get organized. It's okay for the draft ms. to be a mess full of contradictions and missing bits, after all. No one's going to see it but you and possibly a few friends giving feedback.

If outlining appeals to you, then it's definitely something you should give a try and see if it helps, even if your idols don't do that. You can't expect all the brains to work the same. :) But don't be too disappointed if it doesn't work right off the bat. It may be that you're the kind of writer who needs to do outlining in the middle of writing the story, or the kind of writer who needs to have the climax and the end all figured out, but not the bits on the way there. Maybe color-coding with pull tabs or colored inks would work best for you, or making a big map/diagram to stick on the wall. It's an experiment, and learning what other writers do can give you inspiration and ideas, but the only techniques that will work are the ones that are right for you, at least for the particular project you're tackling.

Pollux V
May 22nd, 2003, 10:36 AM

I happen to think you're really cool and I enjoy reading your posts. What, if anything:), have you published?

I, Brian
May 22nd, 2003, 03:41 PM
I sometimes have totally disjointed notes floating around. When inspired I have to write it. Sometimes the inspiration comes in the form of ideas.

Never a formal outline, though. Just barely legible notes in long-hand and dispersed files noting ideas on the PC.

My memory can only contain a certain number of ideas at a time - everytime I get a new idea, I forgot an older idea - that's why I need notes. :)

May 22nd, 2003, 05:11 PM
I think that if you aren't sure about an outline then maybe you should do some experimenting? See what works best...

Planning and preparation are second nature for me. I enjoy it and I do it to extremes. It works for me and enables the complexity that I value in my novel.

As far as what I do, I don't really do a standard outline. I've only worked on one thing since I decide to be a writer, so I'll explain how I am going about it.

First, I came up with the idea. This I had thought about for some time in the past (from my gaming days). It was something I had always wanted to do. Then I went into detailed world-building (some of which previously done from gaming). From this I came upon ideas for scenes, characters, and story ideas.

After this I let it stand for awhile and did other things. When I came back to it I started really getting into research (I recognized the cardboard/cliche nature of some of my original ideas/concepts, but also that the primary concepts remained very strong). Reading books for this single project became my sole focus (history, specialized skills, whatever). From this I accumulated very detailed notes.

Next I created an outline of possible chapters/subjects and organized my notebooks full of notes into files according to these possible chapters. Actuallly before this I categorized my notes into various topics (scene ideas, character ideas, history, themes, writing tips, religion, etc).

While doing this I came up with the characters and began fleshing them out (names, characteristics, etc).

Then came the tuning process. I got rid of what I didn't want and really thought about what I did have. Eventually I worked it down to a workable story, with excess for the next installment (plus all the new notes that I continue to accumulate).

Anyway, it has made writing the type of story I want to write possible. It is certainly not for everyone. It works for me because I only want to write a single fantasy series and then move on to something else. And I want this series to be my best effort, despite my inexperience.

May 22nd, 2003, 09:56 PM
Originally posted by Pollux V

I happen to think you're really cool and I enjoy reading your posts. What, if anything:), have you published?
Thank you -- I haven't been called cool in quite some time. (Actually, I don't think I was ever considered cool. :) )

I have published in fiction absolutely nada. In non-fiction, I've done some articles. I've had the usual life obstacles to writing creatively -- kid, time-consuming jobs, health problems, moving residences a good bit, but in the past six months, I've been trying to finally concentrate on my own stuff. I have one project that I thought was going to be my first but is presently stalled. I have the other one I mentioned which is sort of evolving on its own, ideas for other works, and bits and pieces of short stories and non-genre works. I am finding that part of my process is to be very scattered. :) I'll have to see if this actually works for me or not.

I have worked with dozens of fiction writers, though, and I don't think any two of them ever had the same writing process or way of thinking. A writer friend says that the first novel is less about your story than about figuring out your writing process, and she may be right. Some writers like to write in cafes, for instance, whereas others have to be in a locked room. I always thought I was in the locked room category, but then I found I actually could write while kidlet was taking swimming lessons and such. Your brain really does surprise you most of the time, I think. I know there're a fair number of college-age folk on these boards and I'd just like to suggest in that old fogey sort of way that you make the most of that time where writing is concerned because you will never have it again. :)