Most efficient mode of outlining?

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Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby Rachel Ventura » 26 Oct 2011, 21:05

I know that there's no "set formula" for what works universally for one writer versus the next. With outlining, some people work best without, as they say, feeling "constricted" by one, while others say "you can't build a house without a blueprint before you start." I think I might fall somewhere in the middle, but leaning more towards the latter -- I like to have a road map, but feel enough flexibility to take detours as needed along the way.

So I'm asking for a little advice. There was an article in a recent New Yorker about the author of The Phantom Tollbooth, whose wife suggested he write a two-page synopsis of the story, summarizing how he'd like it to start and eventually turn out. (It also would save him the trouble of writing one afterward when starting the submission process.) I haven't tried this method yet with ideas of my own, but it seems like a good happy medium. As for everyone else, do you outline before beginning a new work, and if so, what methods/formats do you use?
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Re: Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby Hillsy » 27 Oct 2011, 05:11

Brandon Sanderson did an hour and a bit lecture on this

type
jordancon 2011 plotting 1/7
into google and it'll direct you to a video of the lecture...well....the first 7th of it anyway
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Re: Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby dios4vida » 27 Oct 2011, 09:21

I'm more of a pantser than a plotter, but I do a little bit of outlining first.

I need to have the first few points outlined - say, the first three or four steps of the journey. This is usually only about the first two or three chapters, so it isn't much.

By the time I've gotten those steps, most of the time I've gotten ideas for later in the book - chapter 17, 20, or even the ending. I write those down, too, leaving bunches of room to fill in the gaps.

For instance, on my WIP (of which I'm 19K into it) I have the first 13 steps outlined (cause that's about what I have written already). Then a big gap, then something that I want to happen in a few chapters - probably step 18 or so. Then I have step 25ish, and the end. That's it. I'll figure out what steps 14, 17, 22 are as I go.

As for the physical mechanics of it, I have big white boards in my office that I write everything up on. Right now I have green and blue for my different character sets (who does what - one set are green, the other are blue so that I easily know how much I'm flipping between the parties) and red for problems that I need to figure out. It gives a good, instant visual of my progress. I also have a stack of papers on a clipboard that I flip through with notes on character, stakes, plot points, and stuff I've created for my magic and worlds (fantasy writer here, all the way).
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Re: Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby MattLarkin » 27 Oct 2011, 10:07

The most effecient mode of outlining depends on what you want to get out of it. There is no one-size fits all. I can tell you what I do, which may or may not spark ideas for refining your own method. But you may not need as much outlining as I like to have.

I'm a heavy planner. I work on all aspects of the planning a little at a time, so the order is kind of a tenative (i.e. I go back and change stuff on the world as I develop the characters, etc.).

But basically I develop the setting a lot.
Work on the characters a bit.
Work on basic ideas for the plot.
Begin to order ideas for the plot.
Think about the backstory.
Go back to step one.

In the end I'm left with a setting bible with lots of detail about the world, cultures, history, magic system, characters, their backgrounds before the story, and so forth. I also have a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of everything. Recently, I've tried to become more organized about this stuff and follow specific formats on getting the information together.
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Re: Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby Sanderling » 29 Oct 2011, 12:03

MattLarkin wrote:The most effecient mode of outlining depends on what you want to get out of it. There is no one-size fits all.


I think this is a good point. Even within a single author's habits they may employ different methods according to their need.

For my past novels I'd outline the barest of backbones - I'd know the characters and the starting scene, and maybe the first two or three scenes after that; I normally know the climax/conclusion; I sometimes know one or two middle inciting incidents and/or turning points. And then I'd sit down and just start writing. I'd try to plot one or two scenes in advance of where I was as I went, but never bothered outlining more than that.

However... I'm planning on doing NaNoWriMo in a few days, and I know there's no way I could pants the story to that extent and still be able to stay on pace for the month. And if I try to push myself forward without knowing what's coming and before I've allowed myself to figure out the next scene, I end up floundering at my keyboard. It's not pretty. So I've been working in advance to plot my NaNo novel to a much more detailed level than I usually work from; that way I can jump in each day knowing what needs to be written next. It takes a bit of the magic of discovery out of it, but that's okay. I'll still get to discover the smaller details as I go.
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Re: Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby GingerWrite » 29 Oct 2011, 19:43

I think you're outlining would partially depend on the type of story you're writing. It seems as if epic fantasy, or just fantasy in general takes a bit more planning, at least because you have to set up a new world (sometimes) and make up the rules of your magic. Otherwise if it's something like contemporary lit or YA there's really nothing that you CAN'T do. My novel is a YA adventure and I did an entire outline at the beginning but ended up not following any of it except the beginning and the ending. And I'm still going to be changing the beginning.

I guess what I mean (after all that) is that you have to find out what's best for you. If you like the cushion of an outline, then by all means write out the beginning and ending, and anything between! But don't think you have to stick to it. In the literary world, everything is flexible.
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Re: Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby Sanderling » 30 Oct 2011, 08:13

GingerWrite wrote:I think you're outlining would partially depend on the type of story you're writing.


Really good point. Also, novels with many points of view, or many intertwining subplots. Like A Game of Thrones... I can't even imagine the sort of planning George RR Martin has to put into those.
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Re: Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby Ryan » 30 Oct 2011, 13:34

Great advice so far.

The one thing I will add is if you have room to dedicate a wall there is nothing like being able to see everything laid out a single eye-shot. Page flipping or scrolling down a screen didn't do it for me when I was trying to organize the threads for my book so I sectioned off a corner of my basement with old paneling and soundboard. After a while I would say to my wife that I'm going downstairs to walk into my brain.

Some pictures and more about the process that worked for me.
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Re: Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby Rachel Ventura » 31 Oct 2011, 19:39

Thanks for everyone's advice!

Right now I have on my hard drive a .txt file with a full list of the projects for which I've gotten ideas for, and about a 1-paragraph summary under each title. From that point I'm trying to expand those mini-summaries into a beginning, middle, and end. I have a LOT of little summary-paragraphs in that text file -- whole series plotted out, single novels, and a bunch of short stories, some of which have a common thread and thus would be in an anthology. I think I may be suffering from ADTMID -- Attention Deficit Too Many Ideas Disorder. :lol: One of my biggest problems has actually been picking which one to work on first!

My original concept was to have a brief description (couple pages) of each of these and then have a pool to pick from starting next year. So far that's not working out as well as I'd planned, but it's still 2011 and I'm not much of a "Pants-er," so I won't be doing NanoWrimo. I've also been having a lot of medical problems and have gotten kind of depressed just from being sick. I always come down with something this time of year, so I may be feeling under the weather, too. :|

I'm afraid to put any of these online because I'm worried about things being lifted or stolen. None are any further than the planning stages as of yet, and I don't have a personal F2F critique partner with whom I feel comfortable working. Nor can I yet afford a professional editor. I actually don't let any of my friends or family read my work, and as a result I've suffered a lot because I've had to basically go it alone, without an objective critical eye from a third party. It'd be nice if someone could say "Oh, that sounds great, do that one first"; "that might not be your best idea"; "how about you do this with this one and that with that one"; and so forth...

Not that I don't trust my BFFs (Bransforum Friends), but, well, I've always been known to err on the side of caution, and am perhaps too careful to plot out my steps and question everything even before I go along. :? Plus, I tend not to write ("idea-ify?") in any specific genre; some are paranormal romance, others sci-fi comedy, others "chick lit," etc. I have a whole library, not just a bookshelf, filled with volumes that I haven't even written!
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Re: Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby polymath » 01 Nov 2011, 03:08

I used to write like that and get stuck on minutia and doubts, summarizing an inspiration. Spiral notebooks, legal pads, steno pads, filled a a trunk or two full over the decades. TXT files of late named inspirations, notes, outlines, summaries. I still do. Before, I used to summarize for some undetermined near term future need, so I wouldn't lose an inspiration's gist. After, now I use the process for testing inspirations' legs and for recording them for use at some time when the ideas stop coming fast and furious, if ever, or for inclusion and conflation with other projects.

I often realize now when summarizing an inspiration is incomplete or too complex (too low concept a premise for audience accessibility) or has no legs on it, like the topics are of interest to me but won't fly for a large enough audience to justify the effort. But I sometimes write for narrow niches.

The inspirations that do lead on are ones that write themselves. They fly onto the page because for them I draw on material I'm well-versed in, have strong, intimate personal experience with, and am passionate about. The challenging ones are not yet fully realized, need a more extensive summary, a detailed outline, sketches, several false start raw drafts, more investigation, and creation on the fly from awareness the subconscious mind will weigh in and bridge gaps. They move forward and backward in fits and starts and do overs, and stall, maybe are abandoned until later when the inspiration has fermented good and long.

I might start off creation and realization of an inspiration with a theme. When I do, draft writing moves more efficiently. However, a theme doesn't carry enough freight. From a theme a cast of characters emerges, in times, places, and situations with emotional contexts and subtexts. An actual strong opening line or two begins for me with a visual sensation depiction, so setting does its job of orienting writer, and in due time readers, when ready for prime time, to the meaning space of a narrative. Aural sensation openings too readily feel disembodied. Thus dialogue opening lines have perilous shortcomings to overcome. But dialogue is a most effective and comparatively straightforward scene writing feature, efficiently locating readers in the physical world of a narrative and its persons, settings, and events.

Kairos, the oportune moment, works for me to test an inspiration's legs. Kairos has several axes I consider. Looming large is whether the inspiraion is timely. Zombie and vampire and paranormal in general must in my estimation rise above the onslaught I expect the choke point of publishing experiences. The screeners. Sampling authonmy posts gives me a clue about what's happening at choke points across the marketplace. An oportune moment for an inspiration is when its fresh and relevant to readers. Imaginatively reivnenting worn out motifs is one way forward. Inventing original ones, harder, but by far more in demand.

An opportune writing moment for me is when I've done my due diligence, completed investigation heavy lifting, familiarized myself with the material, more than knowing it, living it, at least in my imagination if not in person, and built up a passion for the content, the topic, the theme, the characters, the settings, the plot, the events, the voices, and know enough internally about an inspiration's direction and outcomes to write without floundering around in a labyrnith of doubt.

Another oportune moment for me is when an inspiration jumps fully formed onto the page. Raw draft writing moves at a breakneck pace yet smoothly, no hiccups or blocks caused by hunches I'm missing or straying from the mark, no doubts about the characters, the settings, the events, the plot, the ideas, the voices.
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Re: Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby dios4vida » 01 Nov 2011, 09:22

Rachel Ventura wrote:I think I may be suffering from ADTMID -- Attention Deficit Too Many Ideas Disorder. :lol:


HAHAHAHA!! That is fantastic. That goes right up there with ADOLAK - Attention Deficit Oh Look A Kitty!!

Rachel Ventura wrote:I'm afraid to put any of these online because I'm worried about things being lifted or stolen. None are any further than the planning stages as of yet, and I don't have a personal F2F critique partner with whom I feel comfortable working. Nor can I yet afford a professional editor. I actually don't let any of my friends or family read my work, and as a result I've suffered a lot because I've had to basically go it alone, without an objective critical eye from a third party. It'd be nice if someone could say "Oh, that sounds great, do that one first"; "that might not be your best idea"; "how about you do this with this one and that with that one"; and so forth...


I can understand this, cause when I first started getting involved in the forums I felt the same way. I was terrified to put a query up for critique - I mean, it had so many of my cool ideas!! But as soon as I started getting feedback on it and giving feedback in return it hit me that the people around here would never consider stealing my ideas, just as I'd never consider stealing theirs. We are all dedicated writers, and the thing to remember is that writers respect other writers. We'd never dream of stealing another writer's idea - I mean, that's a capital offense to us.

There is a password protected forum down a little on the index page if you're worried about non-Bransforumers snooping around. That might be a good place to start if you want feedback. Others have been known to just put it on the Writing forum - there's a ton of "Hey, I have this idea, what do y'all think" around there. You can cruise through and see how people respond, if that would help.

You should really consider getting connected one way or another - either just getting opinions on ideas around here or trying to find a critique partner (which you can also do around here). They are seriously worth their weight in gold. Bouncing ideas off of them is amazing. If that's too much, I'd start with a family member. It's scary to be vulnerable, but if you want to be in this business you'll have to be eventually, and family/friends/Bransforumers is a great place to start getting comfortable with that.
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Re: Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby JustAnotherJen » 03 Nov 2011, 08:53

Rachel - I'm an uber planner. I love spreadsheets and very detailed outlines. J K Rowling's plot grid really was the inspiration for my main method. However you said you're looking for a happy medium. I would personally suggest the snowflake method. I feel like it gives you the flexibility to delve as deep as you want, or to just get a basic idea of where you're going - it's all up to you. Good luck, and I hope you get feeling better! Feeling under the weather puts such a damper on feeling creative!
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Re: Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby Rachel Ventura » 03 Nov 2011, 17:02

JustAnotherJen wrote:Rachel - I'm an uber planner. I love spreadsheets and very detailed outlines. J K Rowling's plot grid really was the inspiration for my main method. However you said you're looking for a happy medium. I would personally suggest the snowflake method. I feel like it gives you the flexibility to delve as deep as you want, or to just get a basic idea of where you're going - it's all up to you. Good luck, and I hope you get feeling better! Feeling under the weather puts such a damper on feeling creative!

I find it a shame that the Snowflake software doesn't even have a free trial. You can't access the download page without paying up front. I don't have any money at all -- well, I do, but $100 is too much for me, and I don't have a credit or debit card with which to buy things online. You can't attach a physical piggybank to PayPal, and even if I had billions of my own I'd never attach my personal identity to something as corporate-connected as a Visa/MC/Amex/Discover. I'd much rather pay with cash, and buying online doesn't allow you to do that. Plus, there's not even a free trial to check out if it works well for you or not. I'm not organized enough that I could wing "the method" alone in a Word .doc either. (Believe me, I tried.)

I've tried mind mapping software, database software, tabbed notebooks...I always feel disorganized and like I've wasted a lot of time. I know I'd feel uncomfortable not having at least a barebones framework, but the trouble I have is getting the detailed notes to an actual story format, with dialogue, scenes, interaction etc. Believe me, I've got tons of these, but no story-story as of yet. I think the problem may be I have a "deathly, hollow" fear of the first draft, which I know is a common ailment among writers, the perfectionistic (and unrealistic) need to get everything right the first time out. I feel overwhelmed as a result, and mentally cannot "chunk" but am a very all-or-nothing person. As a result I end up doing the latter.

Some people love first drafts because they get a kick out of just making a mess. I think I have a long-standing and related trauma problem involved because as a kid I was horribly beaten for getting my fingerpaints all over the floor. I once spilled Welch's grape juice on the kitchen counter trying to be a "big girl" and pour my own. The next thing I knew my dad was wailing on me for, you guessed it, making a mess -- and lest I forget, he was pretty saturated with fermented grape juice of the grownup kind. A teacher in Kindergarten had me put in the class with the severely retarded kids because my math homework was, as she put it, "unreadable." It was just supposed to be a practice sheet, and so you can kind of see that all my life I've felt this horrible fear related to "practicing" or "making a mess." Caused, of course, by irrational adults, but as much as I know that, I just can't find it in me to make mistakes the first time out.

The teacher I had wouldn't even let the kids use pencils with erasers, lest they make mistakes and make a mess. You were expected to have everything memorized inside and out before you even got started on the practice sheet -- and write everything in perfect manuscript handwriting. Otherwise, she'd tear the whole page up and make you start over from scratch. You were not allowed to go out for recess -- or even go home -- until you were done with every single assignment for the whole day, and completed to HER liking. One day I didn't go home from morning half-day kindergarten until 8 at night. The teacher locked my mother in the bathroom and the janitor had to let her out. :cry: :cry: :cry:

God help me, I'm using a writer's Internet forum as a therapy session. Maybe Dr. Phil hangs out here from time to time. ;)

Anyway, the company that makes Scrivener just released a beta edition for Windows, as Scrivener was previously Mac-only. I hope it's available for pre-XP editions; as I wrote on another thread (or two), I'm actually still on Windows 98. If anyone's tried the Mac version, I'd appreciate any reviews. But just out of curiosity, Jen, where did you get a gander at Rowling's "plot grids"?
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Re: Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby JustAnotherJen » 03 Nov 2011, 18:40

This is rather embarrassing... I don't even know about the snowflake software. I was just referring to the basic method of starting with a basic idea and then expanding on it, a layer at a time. Just in case you haven't seen this, it's explained here (http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/snowflake.php), and ah... yes, now I see a link for software. I generally ignore those... :)

For the plot grid, just do an image search for J K Rowling plot grid and you'll see it. It's just a hand written grid for a section of the fifth book, but it gives you some insight into her organization process. Seeing that really helped me because I've adapted the idea to use for my own planning.

I have actually been using the beta for Scrivener (Windows) for a few months now and am completely addicted! I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone who will listen! And I think it's a steal for the price! Especially considering how much other writing software I tried that didn't even do half of what Scrivener does, but costs more. Scrivener can also be a valuable tool for organizing your thoughts, depending on how you work. If you're not familiar with it at all, I would recommend watching a few of the informational videos. They give you a really good idea of what the program is capable of so you can see if it will work with your writing work flow.

I totally understand your pain about needing things to be perfect. It's actually been really hard - but really good - for me to learn to let go of that in the earlier stages of writing. It takes a lot of practice, and yes, sometimes I talk to myself (out loud) to remind myself that it's okay if something I'm writing is a complete mess. I know I'll come back and fix it later. And I hoping as I get into the revision process that my inner perfectionist will be a benefit. Just don't ever let things like that suck the fun out of being creative! Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now... :)
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Re: Most efficient mode of outlining?

Postby Rachel Ventura » 03 Nov 2011, 19:54

Thanks, Jen, and everyone else who replied. I'll get another look at Scrivener and Rowling's outline too. The Snowflake system seems kind of mathematical to me (not surprising, considering the developer of both -- the method and the software -- a man by the name of Randall Ingermanson, is a novelist as well as computer programmer, and he designed the software from scratch). Another one from a novelist/programmer is yWriter from Simon Hayne's SpaceJock Software, which I tried too, but found kind of confusing. (I'm not one of the mathies or IT crowd, obviously.)

When I get a little more developed story-wise, I'll absolutely seek out a feedback partner. After all, judging from the front page of this board,
Critique partners are worth their weight in gold. So (checking financial page) like $20,000 a pound.

And I sure am not a mathie, but at 125 pounds, I guess that'd make me one of the richest feedback partners in the whole Hitchhiker galaxy. :lol: (But I'm also a real flake who gets prone to dandruff around wintertime.) :lol:
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