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briank 04-03-2010 10:08 PM

Outlining Prior to Writing
I started my first novel 2 years ago and I spent the first several months simply outlining the entire book. I started off with general conflicts and subplots and what order I wanted them in, and how they would connect to eachother.

Then I outlined things on a scene by scene basis. I knew that SubPlot X needed to get done between Chapters 1 and 4, so I threw in a few scenes related to that SubPlot X in each of those chapters.

Once I knew what scenes had to get done per chapter, I went through Chapter-By-Chapter for scene flow. Figuring out which scenes need to occur when for proper time frame, and also for reader flow so that one scene sets up the next, even if different characters are involved.

I really didn't get deep in writing for the first year. I wrote a little bit here and there mostly the first 2 chapters just to start showing people and getting feedback. The first year, I spent 80% of my time outlining and playing with the order of scenes and only 20% actually writing.

Is this a common method of writing? I frequently read comments from aspiring writers to the effect of "I have writers block" or "I dont know where to start." With my outline, it made writing incredibly easy because once I started writing, I knew everything that was going to happen in each scene, and what the order of all the scenes was going to be. Then it was just a matter of imagining the scene in my mind, and describing what I saw in my imagination.

For example, one scene is the protagonist meeting someone for the first time. That's all that would be in my outline. When I start writing, I have to come up the dialogue and descriptions, but since I already know the who, what, when, where, and why, it's just a matter of describing the "How."

I almost feel as though my outlining/story-boarding is a separate job from actually writing. There was many times I wished I could just team up with someone who would do the writing, and I would just create the outlines. My personal strength is my creativity and running numerous subplots that all make sense together and intertwine. My strength is not in writing, and that has been a learning experience for me.

I heard an interview of a current top author who stated that he spends 2 years on all books. Year 1 is purely outlining, and year 2 is the actual writing.

Is outlining a common thing done prior to writing? What level of time is dedicated to it? Do most writers outline the entire project before writing, or just the first part? Personally, if I didn't know exactly what I wanted to happen in advance, I don't think my writing would have gotten very far.

Rob 04-04-2010 12:39 AM

Some outline, some don't. Some try to convince others that one way or the other is best. Do whatever works for you. It's the end product that matters most.

longknife 04-04-2010 09:50 AM

As Rob said, each writer has his or her own way of doing it.

Me, I start out with an idea and generally let it flow out into a story.

On this latest one, I had a general idea. Then, the first thing I did was generate my two main characters - I found a neat little thing on AWWC about thirty question for your character - and that sort of gelled the story.

Then, with a main venue in mind, I began web searches for information. As it takes place in a particular time frame and specific area, I ended up with many ks of research material and bookmarked websites.

So then, I started writing and am finding that my plot has generated on its own!!!!! I thought one thing and ended up going elsewhere.

Okay, here's a brief of it; English boy on ship washed overboard in storm. Indian boy sole survivor of epidemic is taken in by Franciscan priests. By chance, two boys meet and become friends. However, as English boy is in Spanish territory, government officials want to hold him for questioning and possible execution. Franciscan friars step in and boy is caught in the intrigue between church authorities and the Spanish king's court. The two then join Fray Junipero Serra as he founds the California missions.

Having more fun writing this than any other I've done to date.:cocoa:

Lin 04-04-2010 12:15 PM

I think almost everybody does some degree of sketching out first.
And some get way to carried away on outlines and maps and interviewing their characters about what flavor underwear they like or whatever.

What has been said here is about the only way to deal with it: it either works for you or it doesn't.

That said, I'd mention that there are ways of structuring your plot other than outlines. I separated SWEET SPOT into 8 days of carnival and filled it in...helped a lot. I generally find that making bins to toss things in then sort them out helps much more than trying to lay down a regimen

Wonka 04-05-2010 02:42 AM


The best advice I have ever read on this subject is by Stephen King in his book On Writing. Have you read this mate? Let me tell you, nothing beats it, and the way he talks about plotting/storyboarding is breathtaking. I belive you will find all the answers to your question right there.

As for novelists who outline their stories, the fact is many of them do and many of them wouldn't dream of it. I'm with Stephen King on this one when he says a good story is like a fossil. You might carve around the edges to make it look better and feel smoother, but you don't make the story up, you just find the story and let it tell you how it wants to develop.

I'm of the opinion that outlining a story can stand in the way of an intimate connection. I think the most important thing is to create a powerful character/characters in a situation (whilst having a rough idea of what the story is going to be about of course), and kind of let the story develop by listening to the characters.

One thing I do know: when my writing wasn't very good, I was making all kinds of decisions about the story and almost anything felt like an option worth considering. If it feels like that, I think you're going the wrong way about it. Basically, let the characters tell you what they want, and if you can't hear them telling you what they want, the chances are you haven't established the all-important relationship between yourself and the story you're trying to tell.

My advice is this: just have a rough idea of what you want as a story, create the character/charcaters early in a situation that creates a powerful conflict in good scenery, then read and write, read and write, read and write, and allow yourself to be surprised. Even when writers do write to an outline, many of their plans still get thrown out the window as soon as the characrters disagree with them.

Just search for that all-important intimacy Brian. That's what I say. The rest will take care of itself. Here's some fabulous advice on the subject by the way, I got so much from these, they are well worth a read mate.


DavidGil 04-05-2010 03:20 AM

I've got to be honest here and say that what works for one writer may not work for another.

For example, I don't personally outline. I just jump in, but it has the adverse effect of some things not being as in-depth etc. as they could be. At least, it's apparent with first drafts at any rate and I imagine the first drafts of most writers aren't anywhere near perfect. Yet for everyone like me, there are writers that do plan.

Wonka is right also, at least according to what King said in On Writing. No reason to believe King would lie. Yet for every author like King, there're ones who do plan. I've no idea what the ratio is like in terms of how many plan and how many don't, but I'd guess that more authors plan than don't.

Now, while I don't plan myself (normally), I do see the value in planning big projects.

Edit: Personally, I'd try whatever methods you've heard of and just see which one works best for you, because that's all that matters at the end of the day.

Echo75 04-05-2010 03:32 AM

I usually start writing by pantsing it, and then after about 5000 words stop and start to plan (often in a lot of detail). For a short story, however, I usually know how it will conclude and work towards that but otherwise plan only as I go along.

Even when I have meticulously planned things out for a novel, I find it helps to not be too rigid in adhering to it. Often a character will surprise me by becoming someone different to what I had anticipated, and might require changes to the plot or plan I had on paper. Other times something new crops up part way through that I want to incorporate or a part of the plan doesn't work as well as expected and needs to be reconsidered. So while I find the plan helpful, I'm not hell bent on sticking to it at all costs.

I totally agree with previous posts though: some plan, some don't, some use a combination. You just have to find what works for you.

Lin 04-05-2010 04:46 AM


I believe you will find all the answers to your question right there.
Beware the man of one book.

St. Thomas Aquinas

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