Plot outlines

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Mike Dickson
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Plot outlines

Post by Mike Dickson » October 27th, 2010, 2:19 pm

Outliners, how complete are your plot's when you start writing your first draft? How flawed are they? Do they show just the basics or do you have twists and turns built in?

Polymath has been helping me with a plot. we talked about the basics. I've built on the basics but still have a problem with specifics regarding twists and turns so I'm just curious as to how perfect your plot outlines are before you begin the first draft.

For example, one of my favorite authors, John Grisham said his plot outlines are very detailed before he writes. That to me means he has many of the twists and turns in his outlines.

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Re: Plot outlines

Post by sbs_mjc1 » October 27th, 2010, 2:30 pm

S.B. and I outline obsessively-- or more to the point, S.B. insists upon outlining obsessively. We talk out the plot and most of the main twists and the ending. When we actually wrote the first draft, there were some minor revisions, but they were to sequence of events or the exclusion of some scenes, not any major structural changes.
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Re: Plot outlines

Post by Mike Dickson » October 27th, 2010, 2:52 pm

sbs_mjc1 wrote:S.B. and I outline obsessively-- or more to the point, S.B. insists upon outlining obsessively. We talk out the plot and most of the main twists and the ending. When we actually wrote the first draft, there were some minor revisions, but they were to sequence of events or the exclusion of some scenes, not any major structural changes.
Good I need to talk wth obsessive outliners. How is this layout in your opinion?

Act 1
Chapter 1
Scene 1
A.
B.
C.
Scene 2
A.
B.
C.
Chapter 2
Scene 1
A.
And so on...

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polymath
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Re: Plot outlines

Post by polymath » October 27th, 2010, 2:59 pm

The purpose of reversals is to keep readers in doubt until the final outcome. Major or minor reversals, twists and turns, setbacks and letdowns, etc., accomplish that by escalating readers' doubt up through the climax.

The major reversals are the major crises. The inciting crisis upsets emotional equilibrium. Some poor sob discovers a high magnitude complicating problem. The first effort to address it results in a minor reversal. Say, he discovers from a first failure it's more complicated than he at first thought. He discovers that unhelpful bit of information. The second effort also fails, but he makes some progress by discovering more information about the complication. And so on scene by scene to the climax.

At the climax all necessary information needed to address the complication is known. Outcome of the complication is most in doubt. Efforts to address the complication are greatest. And the forces of antagonism are in greatest opposition. The outcome is in sight and a favorable outcome seems likely, but is still unsettled.

The tragic crisis is the next major reversal. A tragic crisis typically involves a major letdown. It is the moment when all hope seems lost for a favorable outcome. Subsequent scenes then are coming to an accommodation with lost hope, letdown scenes, or halfhearted efforts to try yet again for a favorable outcome, going through the motions scenes delaying the inevitable hoping for the last hope to come through. Like the timely arrival of the cavalry.

Then the final crisis major reversal. Its purpose is to set up the final outcome. For a tragically beautiful ending a noble sacrifice by an unlikely hero is indicated. For a favorable outcome, an abrupt recognition of the true state of circumstances is indicated, based upon information learned earlier and prepositioned accordingly. A noble sacrifice and abrupt recognition are not mutually exclusive. Nor are they solely the provinces of their respective indications. A hero can make a noble sacrifice and survive it. An abrupt recognition can be the cause of the noble sacrifice.

Then for validation's sake and for the emotional payoff, the final outcome of the main dramatic complication takes place in the denouement. Emotional equilibrium is satisfactorily restored.

When I outline I sketch the major crisis scenes for their import related to the complication, then sketch the minor reversal scenes between them, paying closest attention to making progress, minor reversals impeding forward progress, and increasing opposition up through the climax and progress thwarted and opposition decreasing up through the final crisis. I know the ending from knowing the beginning. Sometimes though, what I've sketched is a favorable outcome and by the time I've written up to it, I see it has to be an unfavorable outcome, or vice versa. My endings are all in the balance of realism's free will and poetic justice's predetermination and the weight of self-serving and self-sacrificing protagonist motivations.
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Re: Plot outlines

Post by sierramcconnell » October 27th, 2010, 3:24 pm

I hate the ABC outline. It's too restrictive and you'll change things as you write. It's like trying to trim the bonzai tree while it's a seed, forcing it into a glass box, to grow to that shape.

It's stiffling and it's not going to work.

"But I have to write this way, it's what plot point 1.A says!"

Yes, if you're a non-fiction writer, that's great. But you're a fiction writer. You have living characters. They say "author, be damned!" and do what you'll last expect.

I have an outline that is shaped like a pile of note cards. It's filled with ideas of what is generally going to happen from point a to b. What the main points of problem are. Bradley dies. Bradley becomes Angelic Undead (or so he thinks). Bradley does this...and this and this. Then we learn this and this and that.

There are no Points. No A B C. It's just a bunch of ideas in a straight rush. There's a timeline on a notebook page, but that's what happened in the past between Caliel (Cael) and Fidelis. It's what causes everything else to topple. It's what made the problem. The main conflict that involves Bradley because we all know that not everything revolves around THAT GUY.

But even with all those note cards and that one long page, it doesn't mention these five characters over here. It doesn't mention the breakfast table scene. It doesn't mention the opening scene with the rooftop and the cats. It doesn't mention Finney's past. It doesn't mention a lot of things, because writing is alive.

It can't be confined to bullet points unless you're doing a book report.

And that comes after the publishing.
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Re: Plot outlines

Post by polymath » October 27th, 2010, 4:32 pm

Here's my outline template;

Introductions
Inciting crisis
First rising action
Second rising action
Third rising action
Climax
Tragic crisis
First falling action
Second falling action
Third falling action
Final crisis
Denouement

For a novel I'd divide that outline into twelve chapters with however many subchapter scenes as needed. At least one scene or three or more. I require that a dramatic unit be a complete action, meaning at least one reversal take place in each dramatic unit. If a scene or group of scenes runs long in the word count, then more chapters are indicated. My logic for length divisions based on word count is to allow readers to timely finish a dramatic unit before circumstances beyond their control force them to take a reluctant break.

Basing the bullet point outline format on the above;

 I. Title
  A. Chapter 1 introductions
   1. Scene one
    a. first cause
    b. complication and purpose
    c. characters
     i. self-serving and self-sacrificing motivations
     ii. stakes
    d. setting
     i. time, place, and situation
     ii. influence on characters
    e. minor reversal
    f. emotional equilibrium upset
   2. Plus-N-scenes
    a. ditto above
    b. escalating emotional disequilibrium
  B. Chapter 2 Inciting crisis
   1. N-scenes
    a. ditto above
    b. major reversal
   2. Beginning completed
  C. Chapter 3 first rising action
   1. N-scenes
    a. ditto above
    b. first effort to address main dramatic complication
  D. Chapter 4 second rising action
   1. N-scenes
    a. ditto above
  E. Chapter 5 third rising action
   1. N-scenes
  F. Chapter 6 climax
   1. N-scenes
  G. Chapter 7 tragic crisis
   1. Major reversal
   2. N-scenes
  H. Chapter 8 first falling action
   1. N-scenes
    a. minor letdown
  I. Chapter 9 second falling action
   1. N-scenes
    a. ditto above
  J. Chapter 10 third falling action
   1. N-scenes
   2. Middle complete
  K. Chapter 11 final crisis
   1. Major reversal
    a. final cause
   2. N-scenes
  L. Denouement
   1. N-scenes
    a. final outcome of the main dramatic complication
    b. emotional equilibrium restored
   2. Ending complete

That outline doesn't include discourse, theme, resonance nor rhetoric aesthetics. Thus the reliance on a formal outline is only part of my process. I also do use the outline to select voice, narrative distance, and other aesthetics and nuances for fleshing out the outline skeleton. I sketch those separately, trying on voices, tropes, narrators, and settings and character traits for relevance to the theme and the plot.
Last edited by polymath on November 1st, 2010, 10:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Plot outlines

Post by bcomet » October 27th, 2010, 4:49 pm

Amazing sierramcconnell.

And you think you're not a writer?

I think you just revealed how much you are.

I agree, writing is alive. (or should be buried)

Anyway, for what it's worth, Mike, I think you can have both. You can have an outline and then let the story breathe and form organically, spontaneously too.

My outline tells me I am going from here to there with stops at these various places. And then I get lost, find myself, discover magical unexpected places, treasure maps along the way.

It's like going out on a date. You book a table at a certain restaurant. You have tickets to a concert.
But then on the way to a restaurant...
You have trouble finding a parking spot. You have to park somewhere unexpected. As you walk the unfamiliar route to the restaurant, it starts to rain. You rush for shelter into this exceptional looking tapas place and, hey, it's dry and looks good and you stay and eat an incredible meal. While you're there, a tornado sweeps through the town.
You know you'll never get across town to the concert. Then the electricity goes off just as an unexpected famous singer who is related to the restaurant owner is about to do an after-dinner set. A lost dog runs in through the restaurant's front door for shelter from hail pouring down on the street outside. But somehow the tapas place is a good strong building and the owner stokes the fire up. Everyone's finished their dinner. He serves complimentary wine and ice cream (it's going to melt anyway) and dessert as all the guests pull their chairs and tables in close. The famous singer sings without a mike. The dog creeps up next to the fire and relaxes, grateful for the warmth and shelter. The owner gives the dog table scraps.Everybody is charmed by the dog and the intimate concert ad of course, shelter from the storm. The dog is a stray and you volunteer to take him home with you (and of course he's a keeper) and the date could not have predictably gone any better and, so of course, you get lucky...
Oh, yeah, and then, back to the outline with the girl on board and a new dog sidekick, who, later on, will alert you when that dangerous fellow walks back onto the next page...

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Re: Plot outlines

Post by Margo » October 28th, 2010, 12:29 pm

I've been using this for bare minimum plotting:

Act I
Inciting Incident
First Plot Point

ActII
First Pitch Point
Mid-Point Twist
Second Pitch Point
Second Plot Point

Act III
Final Confrontation
Aftermath


I am also experimenting with incorporating action, reaction, and complication in each chapter with each one dominating a scene.

I'm also outlining my scenes using this template:

http://urbanpsychopomp.blogspot.com/201 ... lding.html
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Re: Plot outlines

Post by bcomet » October 28th, 2010, 1:58 pm

I really really really love the

...and then what happened???

method too!

Just Four Words - Neil Gaiman – introduction to Stories: All-New Tales
by Neil Gaiman, Al Sarrantonio

http://www.amazon.com/Stories-All-New-T ... 0061230928

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Re: Plot outlines

Post by Robin » October 28th, 2010, 10:31 pm

How did I miss this thread?? So much info. Have you guys tried the Snowflake method or any of the writing software like YWriter? Did they help?
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Re: Plot outlines

Post by Margo » October 29th, 2010, 1:39 am

Robin wrote:Have you guys tried the Snowflake method or any of the writing software like YWriter? Did they help?
I've been working with the Borg Outline, which reminds me of the Snowflake Method, and I like it. However, I think playing with Dramatica Pro was most helpful, because it conceptualizes things in a slightly different way than I do but is still easy to understand.
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Re: Plot outlines

Post by sbs_mjc1 » October 29th, 2010, 5:20 am

Mike Dickson wrote: Good I need to talk wth obsessive outliners. How is this layout in your opinion?
Actually, Michael and I printed out a large calander (Julian days, because-- historical accuracy overkill?). We actually started with ''Day 0'', which was the incident that kicks off the novel, then talked out the logical series of events (well, X character would do Y because he's loyal to his country come hell or high water, but that means he'd be arrested pronto, since no one's going to believe his crazy story...) and figured out how many days stuff would take. So we had a calander of events of which character was doing what when, including people who didn't appear in the text but whose actions were important behind the scenes. Then we picked out self contained scenes from that outline (ie, the actual plot-relevant stuff), and pieced it all together.
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Re: Plot outlines

Post by Mike Dickson » October 29th, 2010, 7:50 am

Robin wrote:How did I miss this thread?? So much info. Have you guys tried the Snowflake method or any of the writing software like YWriter? Did they help?
I have the snowflake method software. In my opinion it's not as easy as it looks. For example, as a beginner, I have been studying the craft of writing fiction for a couple of years. Over that time I've read how to create characters, dialogue, setting, creating tension, etc. I'm certainly no expert and lack experience but I can tell you nearly verbatum what I'm supposed to be doing. Anyway, writing a long synopsis is completely different then what I have learned in the last couple years. I've tried it, many times, and for the life of me I have the most difficult time condensing my plots into 90 or so sentences all of which must move the plot along. That's in part why I started this thread, the rest being I find learning about writing wicked exciting. I'd rather read a book on plot forward and backward disecting it piece by piece than make my own plot.

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Re: Plot outlines

Post by Mike Dickson » October 29th, 2010, 8:03 am

polymath wrote:Here's my outline template;

Introductions
Inciting crisis
First rising action
Second rising action
Third rising action
Climax
Tragic crisis
First falling action
Second falling action
Third falling action
Final crisis
Denouement

For a novel I'd divide that outline into twelve chapters with however many subchapter scenes as needed. At least one scene or three or more. I require that a dramatic unit be a complete action, meaning at least one reversal take place in each dramatic unit. If a scene or group of scenes runs long in the word count, then more chapters are indicated. My logic for length divisions based on word count is to allow readers to timely finish a dramatic unit before circumstances beyond their control force them to take a reluctant break.

Basing the bullet point outline format on the above;

 I. Title
  A. Chapter 1 introductions
   1. Scene one
    a. first cause
    b. complication and purpose
    c. characters
     i. self-serving and self-sacrificing motivations
     ii. stakes
    d. setting
     i. time, place, and situation
     ii. influence on characters
    e. minor reversal
    f. emotional equilibrium upset
   2. Plus-N-scenes
    a. ditto above
    b. escalating emotional disequilibrium
  B. Chapter 2 Inciting crisis
   1. N-scenes
    a. ditto above
    b. major reversal
   2. Beginning completed
  C. Chapter 3 first rising action
   1. N-scenes
    a. ditto above
    b. first effort to address main dramatic complication
  D. Chapter 4 second rising action
   1. N-scenes
    a. ditto above
  E. Chapter 5 third rising action
   1. N-scenes
  F. Chapter 6 climax
   1. N-scenes
  G. Chapter 7 tragic crisis
   1. Major reversal
   2. N-scenes
  F. Chapter 8 first falling action
   1. N-scenes
    a. minor letdown
  H. Chapter 9 second falling action
   1. N-scenes
    a. ditto above
  I. Chapter 10 third falling action
   1. N-scenes
   2. Middle complete
  J. Chapter 11 final crisis
   1. Major reversal
    a. final cause
   2. N-scenes
  K. Denouement
   1. N-scenes
    a. final outcome of the main dramatic complication
    b. emotional equilibrium restored
   2. Ending complete

That outline doesn't include discourse, theme, resonance nor rhetoric aesthetics. Thus the reliance on a formal outline is only part of my process. I also do use the outline to select voice, narrative distance, and other aesthetics and nuances for fleshing out the outline skeleton. I sketch those separately, trying on voices, tropes, narrators, and settings and character traits for relevance to the theme and the plot.
Polymath, I love this. I don't understand it all, but I love it anyway. I was reading around the www a while back and saw an article about plot outlines and scenes. I don't have the link but in a nutshell it said the scene outline should be this.

Scene 1
A. Goal
B. Conflict
C. Disaster

Scene 2
A. Reaction
B. Dilemma
C. Decision

What do you make of that?

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polymath
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Re: Plot outlines

Post by polymath » October 29th, 2010, 11:48 am

Mike Dickson wrote:Polymath, I love this. I don't understand it all, but I love it anyway. I was reading around the www a while back and saw an article about plot outlines and scenes. I don't have the link but in a nutshell it said the scene outline should be this.

Scene 1
A. Goal
B. Conflict
C. Disaster

Scene 2
A. Reaction
B. Dilemma
C. Decision

What do you make of that?
Looks to me like a derivative of the Swain Bickham Scene and Sequel, Motivation Reaction Unit method. Dwight Swain Techniques of the Selling Writer, 1982, University of Oklahoma Press. Jack M. Bickham, Scene and Structure, 1999, Writers Digest Books. Both Swain and Bickham were contemporaneous writing professors at the University of Oklahoma, Swain the creative writing program, Bickham the journalism program. Bickham wrote The Apple Dumpling Gang, 1971, and published seventy-five or so other novels. Swain mostly published short stories in pulp magazines before concentrating on writing how-to's later in his writing career. I expect Swain and Bickham shared collaboration on writing methods. They cite each other, and build on each other's theories.

A large consensus of writers swear by the Swain Bickham method. I'm not so enamored. I picked up some insights from their books, but their terminologies are somewhat--I don't know--cutesy, contrary, derivative, narrowly focused, maybe, inventive at least. A scene means one thing to me, same with sequel. Having scene and sequel mean multiple things is a little distracting. And the motivation reaction unit method to me makes a burdensome monodirectional complexity of cause and effect, causation. My take on Scene and Sequel is that it's a derivative of action and reaction and perception and cognition's role in causation too. I don't feel that either Swain or Bickham had a fully realized conscious grasp on tension and antagonism's roles. But their works are for all intents and purposes a good glimpse at some of the essential characteristics of causation.

To demonstrate, rearranging the order of the example given;

Scene 1
A. Disaster
B. Conflict
C. Goal

Scene 2
A. Decision
B. Dilemma
C. Reaction

or any other logical causal arrangement. A disaster can cause a conflict (antagonism's purpose and complication) and incite a goal, for instance, a flood, an invasion of bug-eyed monsters, etc.

I have a bit of disagreement with the way some writing consensuses use the term conflict. It's a term with many meanings taken on a pick and choose as needed basis. The literary method meaning as I know it is a diametric opposition of clashing forces, most closely related to antagonism and outcomes and stakes. The generic conflict forces of opposition being purpose and complication. More specifically, life and death, riches or rags, acceptance or rejection, salvation or damnation, success or failure, and so on.

Conflict meaning a clash of wills to me is a simple way of looking at contention and confrontation, and one that has many pitfalls for a writer. Early middle Twentieth century films tended to use that definition without realizing the larger ramifications of conflict. Actors invariably yelled at each other when they were emotionally aroused. Bosses screamed at underlings, arguing lovers yelled at each other, nemeses clashing raised their voices. All a bit too melodramatic, too pat, too simple, too predictable, in my opinion. Many writers also use that simple definition of conflict when discussing writing, and it shows in their writing from lacking the clash of the larger opposing antagonism forces of purpose and complication.

My listing of an interpersonal interaction spectrum;
Codetermination; mutual effort to accomplish a mutual purpose
Cooperation; simultaneous effort to accomplish a shared purpose
Coordination; reciprocal efforts to accomplish a purpose
Contention; competitive effort to accomplish a purpose
Conflict; clashing efforts to accomplish a purpose
Confrontation; open clash
Conflagration; all-out, no-holds-barred clash
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