Outline or Out of the Mist?

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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by Tzalaran » December 8th, 2009, 11:05 pm

i'm a believer in story architecture, but i can't say i outline extensively.

i generally set up the main points of the novel: set up, hook, first plot point, midpoint, pinch points, second plot point, and the resolution in mind before i start drafting. Until i have those all in mind and know about where they will each occur, drafting would be a never ending stream of words that went nowhere. Once i have the basic structure of the novel in mind, i let my knowledge of the setting flow and move the story step by step towards where it needs to go.

That's just what works for me.
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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by SmurfHead » December 8th, 2009, 11:51 pm

I do a little of both. A lot of things do occur to me as I'm writing, but I've learned to do a bit of pre-writing to save myself a lot of pain during the editing process later. I like to give myself parameters, but still keep things pretty loose. It was a tough balancing act, but I think I finally found a hybrid process that works. I outline based on the four-act structure, do a little bit of character development (not a lot, but enough to get a taste of what the MC and supporting cast want), and then go to town.

Jim Butcher's Livejournal (http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/) really helped me out here--particularly his bit about "story questions." It's stuff I really should have known by now, but somehow, I didn't quite understand that knowing your basic plot conflicts (plus conflicts for a sub-plot or two) could help me out when drafting.

So yay for outlining (at least a little bit)!
"Mind-bottling, isn't it? ...You know, when things are so crazy it gets your thoughts all trapped, like in a bottle?"

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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by BransfordGroupie » December 9th, 2009, 12:22 am

OtherLisa wrote:I wish I could outline, but I can't ever think of anything that way -- the one exception being my recent whack at a screenplay -- and that was because it was a genre piece and certain story conventions were clearly dictated by that.

Instead for the most part, I feel like I'm some observer of the scenes that are playing out in my own head, and I write down what I "see" and "hear." I get to know characters the same way -- by observing them.

Yes, this sounds utterly insane, and probably need medication.
OL if you are insane then I'll be seeing you in the meds cue :) I know exactly how you feel.
REVELATION: The Book of Angel - First draft complete :-)

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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by domynoe » December 9th, 2009, 12:04 pm

I am a control phreak and go beyond outlining. My entire process is here:


Now, I DO give myself permission to change things if I need to, and a lot in my first novel finished with this process is not the same as it was when I started. So even though it's completely a.r., I do listen tot he winds of creativity as well. It's just if I don't know where I'm going or don't know my story really well, I stall out. Took me 3 novel starts and 10 years to learn that lesson.

The novel I'm finishing with this is almost 20 years old. I tried to write it without any structure to follow 3 times. This 4th time with this process is going out to beta readers at the beginning of the year. After working on it so long, I'm pretty proud of that.

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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by Matthew Dicks » December 9th, 2009, 12:04 pm

This question was asked of me last year and I wrote a blog post about it.

In short, I am an "out of the mist" guy. If you're interested in more detail, here's the post.

Interesting question. As you probably know, every author is different. Perhaps the story behind my Something Missing will answer this for you.

The idea for SOMETHING MISSING began on a November evening in 2004. My wife and I were having dinner with close friends, Charles and Justine. During the course of the meal, Justine told us that she had lost an earring earlier that day and was hoping to find it when they returned home. I asked Justine how she knew that the earring had been misplaced. “Perhaps some clever thief came to your house and stole just one earring, so that you wouldn’t suspect theft.” This idea lodged itself in my mind throughout the evening, and when I arrived home later that night, I jotted down the idea on my ever-growing list of possible story ideas.

Fast forward three months later to February of 2005. My wife and I are in Boca Raton, Florida to spend a week with her grandmother. After a day without Internet access or cable television service and a dearth of decent reading material, I found myself in a desperate search of something to keep me busy. With my idea of a thief who steals items that go unnoticed still rolling around in my mind, I decided to give the story a try. I wasn’t sure if it would be a short story or something longer, but by the time the trip was done, the first three chapters of the novel were complete and I was well on my way.

When I began the book, I had no idea where the story might take me. I’ve since learned to embrace the unknown and allow the story to come to me. Stephen King calls this “unearthing the fossil,” though I wouldn't hear this expression until the book was nearly finished. A few years ago this would have sounded like nonsense to me, but now I believe it. There were many moments in the writing of Something Missing that I literally did not know what would happen next until I wrote it. In fact, as I closed in on the end of the book, I still didn’t know what my main character’s ultimate fate would be. I was writing the chapter in which much of the plot would be resolved when my wife called.

“I can’t talk. I’m about to find out what happens to Martin.”

“Really,” she said. “What happens?”

“I don’t know! I’m still writing it!”

If you are reading this chapter someday, remember that I experienced it just like you are: one word at a time.

Though many authors know exactly where their stories will ultimately go, I do not, and I’ve learned to trust this instinct. I start with character. I find a person who interests me, and then, in a vomit-provoking, disgustingly spiritual, earthy-crunchy way, I assume that the plot is already written in the character’s fate.

Once I’ve found the character, his or her fate is sealed. I just have to unearth it.

This philosophy seems to be working well in the book I am writing now as well. My main character, Milo, actually began his existence as a funeral home director, but after wrestling with him for three chapters, I finally put that book aside and planted Milo into the story in which he belonged. A story that’s still revealing itself to me.

Weird, huh?

But it’s true. I’d been trying to start a novel for more than five years before beginning SOMETHING MISSING, but each time, I thought that I needed to plan the story from beginning to end before starting to write. While many writers work this way, I have found that I am better off beginning with a glimmer of an idea and discovering the rest along the way. I leave the story to fate, and things have seemed to work out so far.

I like to tell this story because I worry that too many writers sit around, waiting for their one great idea to emerge, when that idea might already exist, waiting to be unearthed.

So if you’re waiting for the next great novel idea to reveal itself to you, why not pick up a pen and starting writing while you wait?

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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by iGremlin » December 9th, 2009, 12:06 pm

Is 'both' an acceptable answer? I usually start Out of the Mist and then once I get a handle on things and understand the scope of where I'm headed, I'll flesh things out with an outline of sorts to keep myself on task. It also depends on the project. I'm more likely to outline for a plot-driven project than a character-driven project. Even when I outline, I try to keep it to a minimum. One of the reasons I like to start Out of the Mist is I like surprises. I like learning things about characters that I didn't previously know and too much outlining limits that. For me, anyway.

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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by AshLMD » December 9th, 2009, 12:15 pm

First of all, I have to say that I'm SO excited that Nathan has his own message board now! There have been lots of times I've wanted to discuss things with fellow writers on his blog but didn't want to disrupt the flow of conversation in the comments section.

So. YAY!

Secondly, to answer the question, I do a little bit of both. I type out a very brief plot-outline, just to get a feel for what the story is about and where it's going, and then I type out a more extensive chapter-outline where I roughly plan out important events/dialogue/etc. Though, really, that part is more to help me remember things because I often plan out scenes and conversations in my mind long before I get them down on paper (or, on the screen, I suppose) but I'll likely forget them if I don't put it down in an outline to remind myself of where I was wanting to take a particular scene.

That being said, I'm completely open to random inspirations and flights of fancy and I don't mind reworking my outline to accommodate a new idea!


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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by Wryan » December 9th, 2009, 12:16 pm

I try very desperately to not be an Out of the Mister. I sit down and write outlines that map the story I have in mind very precisely. I think, "Oh, how clever I am, look at this brilliant story arc that I'm going to wedge in between Chapters 14 and 37!" And I get very smug for a while.

And then I start the actual writing, and no matter how hard I try, I tend to deviate from the outline I had. I usually blame characters -- they take the story to a much more interesting place than I could. I look at the outline I wrote up for the last project I finished, and what the final outcome looked like, and I can see a few faint traces of the outline. But by and large the story takes care of itself, whether I want it to go that way or not.

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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by StacySorrells » December 9th, 2009, 12:17 pm

Out of the Mist. When I'm writing novels or short stories I first write a crappy first draft. They may have outlined sections or a few sentances of notes, but mostly I have the need to get the story out of my head.

I have tried to write outlines but I never follow them. During the writing process, the fate of the charactor changes making the original outline pointless, so now I don't bother.

I believe that outlining is an excellent tool for non-fiction writing.

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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by g.jackson » December 9th, 2009, 12:22 pm

I am most comfortable in the mist, but i try to break out of my comfort zone to at least try to outline something - even if a brief summary of goals for each chapter - to give me focus and some sense of direction.

I also sometimes use screenwriting techniques - drafting a major dramatic question, premise, synopsis, and then an creating an actual story map - inciting incident, rising action - plot point 1, midpoint, plot point 2, climax, and resolution. Though fiction, especially novels, don't always fall into a traditional three-act structure like screenplays often do, the story map still can be a useful technique for nailing down a story's plot or at least for brainstorming.

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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by kelly.morgan » December 9th, 2009, 12:24 pm

Outline all the way. My outline for current wip took some time to flesh out and was my favorite part of writing. I've let things detour but I couldn't be in a situation where I didn't know where I was trying to go. I've tried out of the mist and it doesn't work.

Current genre is fantasy. For me though, I'd need to outline regardless of genre. You should see my list covered desk. Even if the plan goes south, I've got another.

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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by PatriciaGrier » December 9th, 2009, 12:29 pm

The story tells itself. I discover the details as I go, but the plot is written in my head before I start. I guess this is a compromise version, I outline, but don't write it down.

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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by Ayanna » December 9th, 2009, 1:26 pm

I am a writer who creates out of the mist. While in school pursuing my English Lit degree, many of my professors would demand the creation of outlines. I found these to be impossibly confining, and subsequently developed outlines that had little if anything to do with the final product, other than the premise and title. Throughout the years, as I have listened to and read about other authors’ processes, I began to think that I would never write a complete project because of my inability to outline a book from beginning to end.

Strangely, it was my experience working as a certified project manager that ultimately freed me from the constraints of outlining. I have successfully managed several large projects, but my unorthodox approach to project management, and my success at delivering on time and within budget, enabled me to recognize my unique strengths.

One of which, is my ability to know where I want to take the project and how to get there without physically mapping it out. It was through these experiences that I learned how my particular approach is organic and non-traditional but gets the job done. Unless one is dealing with a moral or ethical dilemma; in business as in life, the end result is all that matters.
Ayanna Nahmias

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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by bunderful » December 9th, 2009, 1:28 pm

I know what my story is going to be about. Have snippets of the story in my head from all different sections, but do not have an outline. I feel like that would constrain me. One of the most wonderful thing about writing is when you sit down and decide exactly how a scene is going to go, and your characters beg to differ. I have no idea how the novel I am writing right now is going to end, I have come up with lots of options, but I think that no matter what I decide, my characters and going to let me know how it ends when we get there. But I do make comments and notes to myself as I write - like: check back and make sure this makes sense, or - flesh out description of this character above etc. etc.

- Rena

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Re: Outline or Out of the Mist?

Post by Aimée » December 9th, 2009, 1:32 pm

I am an outline writer, but it's hard to get it right. As I write an outline, I always get new ideas for the story and add them into the outline, but then I have all the little details and I just can't seem to get started writing. However, when I try to sit down and write without an outline, I never get very far. I've discovered only to outline the main plot line and what my characters are like, and if I have any ideas for the story, I write them without adding them specifically into the outline, only the general idea; I do not write the story in order. I usually know the ending to the story from the very first word I write, but if half way through a character has something else in mind, I can change it. The outline is useful so you don't lose track of what is happening, and you don't write in a glitch like a factual mistake or a plot gap or something.

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