How much outlining is too much outlining?

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xouba
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How much outlining is too much outlining?

Post by xouba » October 8th, 2010, 5:47 pm

This has probably been asked many times, but this time is different because ... ok, it's not different, but bear with me, please :-)

I've never written more than a few short stories, and now I want to write something a bit bigger: nothing too scary, maybe a novella or the like. Something that you could read in a few hours. I've tried to do it before without planning and never succeeded, so now I'm doing some outlining. And I'm enjoying it, by the way.

But I fear I'm spending my time on outlining as a form of procrastination. I feel I need to make everything fit, and I'm drawing endless schematics and flow diagrams to know how the story will develop. I want to know why the main characters do what they're supposed to do. I want to understand their motivations. But maybe I'm too lazy or too afraid to start writing the real stuff.

I envy people that can write hundreds of words each day. But for that I need a lot of time and a clear idea of where I'm going. I think I'm more a planner than a pantser, and I'm trying to behave as one. We'll see if it works.

So, where do you draw the line? When do you reach the point of being ready for the first draft? Do you reach it at all? Is it a leap of faith? Am I being too perfectionist, anal retentive and/or insecure?

Thanks a lot in advance.

EvelynEhrlich
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Re: How much outlining is too much outlining?

Post by EvelynEhrlich » October 8th, 2010, 6:09 pm

Hey xouba,
I think it just depends on what you need as a writer. I know it's not a hard-and-fast rule like you might have been looking for, but each person has their own style. Some people need to think things through ahead of time, and some people want to make it up on the fly.

I'm an outliner. I will spend 10 -20 hours over the course of several weeks writing a chapter-by-chapter outline for my novels, 1 -2 paragraphs per chapter. One of my best writer friends, however, hates outlines. He just writes. The most detailed outline he's ever written is 1 page of chapter titles. I decided to give the no-outline approach a try once, and I ended up stuck 1/4 of the way into my manuscript. But that's just me and how my brain works.

And even though you outline, it doesn't mean things are set in stone. I can have a 25-chapter outline written, then, while I'm writing the actual chapter 5, decide to go a completely different direction. All I do is go back and adjust the outline as needed (sometimes taking a few days off from writing the MS to revamp the outline if it needs to be completely rewritten). But I like having the outline as a rough map of where my story is going to go, and as something that keeps me on task (it seems less daunting to sit down at the computer every day when I sort of know where my words are supposed to go).

Anyway, just do what works for you and don't worry about it. And if you're feeling self-conscious about all that outlining, know that at least one person out there (me!) does the same thing. Good luck!

-Evelyn
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Margo
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Re: How much outlining is too much outlining?

Post by Margo » October 8th, 2010, 6:47 pm

Outline as much as required for you to feel you understand the story. It is, as already mentioned, entirely individual. At least two of us on the forum have outlines that exceed 20,000 words. Lots of people write with no outline. Other people use hybrid methods that cover every point in the spectrum. There should be only one requirement: your method should work for you. If it doesn't work, try something else.
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Jessa
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Re: How much outlining is too much outlining?

Post by Jessa » October 8th, 2010, 6:59 pm

I've tried using in-depth outlines before, and I've found that once I outline I no longer feel any urge to write the story. It feels done to me. I've told the story, in however abbreviated a form, and have no desire to then go write it in a more narrative form.

The problem being that if I don't outline at least some of my plot, it's a lot of work re-writing and re-re-writing as I go along. I discover things as I write and have to go back and fix things, tweak things, and rewrite whole scenes to accomodate the new thing I found. So I'm going to have to discover some kind of happy medium between "I already know what the story is so why bother writing it" and "Oh god, of course Nick's got a twin brother. How could I not see it? Now I have to re-write the last 200 pages."

There has to be one that works for me.

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polymath
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Re: How much outlining is too much outlining?

Post by polymath » October 8th, 2010, 10:41 pm

I don't ask how much or how little length, detail, or whatever with regard to outlining. I use outlining as method for evaluating whether I'm ready to begin drafting. An outline with holes in it tells me I need to go back to the drawing board. An outline that indicates a narrative will go over word or page limitations tells me I need to go back to the drawing board or sideline a project and get onto a new one to meet deadlines.

I start with a complication that causally transforms a character. I prefer character emphasis over idea or setting or event. Plot emphasis comes a photo-finish close second with character.

The beginning is the character reversal from discovering the complication. The middle is efforts to address the complication with discoveries and reversals along the way. The ending is the final discovery, final reversal event, and final outcome of the complication. That's a three-act outline. For some projects it's been enough to go forward to drafting. For other projects it's indicated the narrative will go over space limitations, or under, or has gaping holes needing further development.

More detailed outlines are indicated for longer lengths. Then I sketch the chapter or scene level plots using the basic parameters of a complication, a discovery, a reversal, and which characters in what settings are involved.

I find too much outlining occurs when I'm still prospecting for inspiration and haven't yet fully realized the plot and its contributing antagonism's complication and purpose, causation's cause and effect, and tension's empathy and suspense, and theme's unification and magnitude contributions.
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airball
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Re: How much outlining is too much outlining?

Post by airball » October 8th, 2010, 10:51 pm

I have two main plotlines in my WIP (mystery), and sketched out each separately - around 750 words for what looks to be a 85,000 word novel.

I also have much longer character sketches so I'd know how everyone would react to different situations.

Once I had that, I started writing, periodically making sure that I didn't abandon either plot line for too long. When I reached the 3/4 point in the draft, I found I needed to go back and write a very brief outline so I could keep chapters straight in my head, and know how/when to wrap things up.

But as others have indicated, this is kind of a "How do you get yourself clean in the shower?" question. There are lots of ways...

airball
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jzweig
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Re: How much outlining is too much outlining?

Post by jzweig » October 8th, 2010, 11:54 pm

For me I tend to write a lot of backstory to know where the characters or the world came from. Sometimes it makes it into the work. Sometimes it's doesn't. But I at least know where they are coming from and have some parameters for them, so I can create material around them.

I'll have next to nothing for an outline most of the time. I think I tend to write the main characters and the scenario of the world I'm creating independently, then try to fit them together.
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xouba
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Re: How much outlining is too much outlining?

Post by xouba » October 9th, 2010, 6:51 am

Jessa wrote:I've tried using in-depth outlines before, and I've found that once I outline I no longer feel any urge to write the story. It feels done to me. I've told the story, in however abbreviated a form, and have no desire to then go write it in a more narrative form.
That's what happened to me the last time I tried. I don't know what's the solution, but at least you're not alone in this :-)

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poptart
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Re: How much outlining is too much outlining?

Post by poptart » October 9th, 2010, 8:07 am

I'll tell you one piece of advice that really helped me when I started out. Don't try to get it right first time, just get it written. If you look on your first draft as a finished item you will be blocked forever because you'll keep nitpicking and never get to the end. Nobody ever gets it right first time. As Hemingway said, the first draft of everything is shit. Relax and enjoy the first draft, it's probably the most fun part of the process. By all means plan and have a workable outline as a roadmap, but be prepared for things to come out of the woodwork that you didn't expect. Characters can come up with their own ideas. Let it happen and keep going because you can always go back later and fix things that don't work.
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Jaya
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Re: How much outlining is too much outlining?

Post by Jaya » October 10th, 2010, 4:25 pm

JESSA: That sounds exactly like me. If I try to outline something, suddenly I lose all this interest. It becomes a chore to do the work and its like I'm writing out a story as homework or something. The magic leaves. BUT, I also fail at outlining and lose all hope at 30,000 words, no direction and I end up leaving the story altogether. I wish I knew how to balance it.
Everyone does it differently though. A writer I know just writes. But I've seen plenty of examples of people that do outline and I kind of wish I could figure out that secret. I think it would help clarify things a bit. I searched out the "snowflake method" before and it kind of confused me. Yeah. I found it overwhelming and I doubt it should be, but too much going on for me.

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