Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Progressing Through an Outline

I've tried different methods of writing my novels. One I just sat down and wrote with no preplanning. Not even the characters. I finished it but what a mess of revisions I had to tackle. It's still not marketable. A couple of novels were planned with very few words in columns under chapter numbers, with characters mapped out, and they went well. The last one I outlined with a lot more detail and found it easier than the others to actually write.

I decided to approach this young adult project a lot differently and do a detailed outline of the complete novel before actually writing the first chapter. It's tedious, to say the least, but it's working better than I imagined.  I type almost as fast as I think so this outline could be finished and ready in a very short time. Since this is a new area for me, I didn't want to rush things. There will be plenty of time to write later. I decided to use a pencil and a legal pad. Doing it the "old fashioned" way is allowing me to dwell in and enjoy the little world I've created. I never believed outlining could do that. (It certainly never did that for me in high school or college research papers!)

I've read an opinion by one writer that doing a detailed outline takes the fun out of writing the actual novel, that there are no surprises around the corner. He may be right. Another writer disagrees and says it doesn't affect that aspect in any way. What it does do, is give you a clear road map to where you want to wind up so you don't waste efforts on going off in the wrong direction. I think it just depends on what works for each writer. I'm only up to chapter eight in the outline...it will be a while before I know how it will affect my work.

What are some of your methods? Are you trying different things with different projects to find what works for you?

11 comments:

  1. Strict outlines, a la high school, don't work for me. I need to leave room for surprise. My outlines are more of a narrative, of me telling myself what the story is going to be. That gives me enough room and the characters enough room to let the story unfold when I get to the first draft.

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  2. I'm not a big outliner, but I've been trying to get into the habit since my stories tend to get pretty off-track if I don't have a plan of where they're going. I'm starting to realize, though, that only vague outlines really work for me. I tried to do a chapter-by-chapter one for a current WIP and I just couldn't do it. I kept thinking, "How can I know what happens in this chapter until I write it?" So vague outlines help keep me on track, but detailed ones just don't seem to want to work for me. Good luck with your project!

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  3. Andrea, Anna, I know what you both mean since I did the more detailed one that was more of a guide. It worked well and left lots of wiggle room. My major worry is when I actually start to write this one, if I will be bored already knowing everything. Keeping my fingers crossed that doesn't happen.

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  4. I'm a seat of the pants kind of writer. I can't seem to get down a proper outline, but I keep a file with notes that I can refer back to as I go to make sure I don't miss any key points or keep track of characters. Even if you do an outline, though, it is still YOUR book so if something surprises you, go for it! Nothing is set in stone after all.

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  5. This is great, Catherine. I wish I could work like this, because it just screams organization and smooth sailing. Maybe as I mature -- and as I make more and more mistakes that could've been avoided if I had been more organized -- I'll start plotting my novels better and getting my characters on paper before I write the book. The problem is, so many ideas come as I write and I change my mind even when I have an outline. I wonder if I'll ever change....

    Amy

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  6. Amy, you and Lisa sound like the same kind of "seat of the pants" writer. If it works for you then I wouldn't even think of changing.

    I'm still experimenting with longer works. When I write short stories I just sit down and write, no planning except for a simple plot idea. So far so good. When I do that with a novel length project, I spend too much time going back to previous chapters to change things.

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  7. One of these times I'm going to try the outline method. Part of me thinks I'd lose interest when I know how the story comes out, but I've done this enough times to know that surprises still show up in the third and fourth drafts.

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  8. If you're comfortable with an outline, go for it. Lots of writers prefer outlines as they have a clear view of where they're going with the story and characters.

    I just sit down and write. It works for me. There are revisions at the end, but that's to be expected! I like the journey of writing and being as surprised as the reader is. :)

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  9. Anne, I've been wondering when I actually start writing if I'll feel ho hum about it and lose interest. If so, then I'll put the outline away and turn the characters loose!
    Lisa, thanks for stopping by and commenting for the first time. Notesfromnadir is a great blog.

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  10. I'm always interested reading what works for other writers. It's so cool that everyone has different techniques that work for them.
    I'm still trying to find my perfect technique, but I tend to start with a loose outline and then go from there.

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  11. After working so hard on this detailed outline, I'm leaning toward the "loose outline" myself :)

    Thanks for stopping by, Terry!

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