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Outlining a half-written first draft/second draft

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Stardust, Aug 5, 2018.

  1. Stardust

    Stardust Dreamer

    Hello everyone.:)

    A few years ago, I had an idea for a story and immediately began writing on it, pantser-style. I wrote maybe 100,000 words, over a period of a few months, before I came to a screeching halt. I wasn't happy with where it was going. I had done scarcely any world-building, character development, or planning beforehand, and it was showing in the writing, though I loved the story's potential.
    So, I started over. I began working on what I called the 'second' draft (though I never finished the first). It was looking a lot more promising; my characters had more depth, the setting was richer. And by that point I had planned most of the story's major events, right up to a sequel. I was excited about the vision I had of it.
    But. In spite of all this, my writing process was messy, and I found myself deeply confused about what to write more often than not.
    Cue: lots of overthinking and hopeless re-re-rewriting......
    Now I have come to a screeching halt yet again, and I see that although the story still has potential (to me anyway, and a writing friend I've allowed to look over it), it's a Hot Mess. It just feels too... chaotic to finish now, this way.
    I've got a huge writer's block, and have had for the past several months now. I think the only way to rescue the story is to... deep breath... rewrite it from the beginning again... But this time with a proper, extensive outline, so I don't get lost and confused again.

    I know there are articles out there about outlining a first draft––the Snowflake Method, for one. But I have found none about outlining a second draft, and since I have never outlined a first draft in the first place, I'm confused. How should I go about it?
    I want to see this story finished, but I'm stuck.

    I'll be grateful for anything. Any input at all.


    PS. Sorry if this entry is difficult to understand. I'm too confused myself to make much sense. Feel free to ask if anything is unclear!
    PPS. Also sorry about the length. I decided I'd have to go into detail so you know where I'm coming from.

    Summary: I've got a messy, half-written story that I need to rewrite, this time with a detailed outline, and I've got no idea how to go about outlining it.
  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I'm not sure I do either. :LOL:

    What, particularly, seems messy about what you have?

    There are nearby threads on Character Goals, Finding Conflict, and Plot, that have been on my mind recently vis-a-vis structuring a story, and I suspect I might attempt here to regurgitate a lot of what I've said in those, heh, so...I don't want to do that.

    Maybe you need to find clarity in what you've set up to be the goals and conflict in the story, the relative importance of various goals and how the conflict will be designed around those, to find a clearer plot outline. The events that happen in the novel should be included to draw out these things, give a sense of progress, without a lot of hopping, skipping about and seemingly disconnected interludes re: plot. Maybe. I don't know what kind of mess you are seeing in your previous drafts; but whittling the story down to the basics before setting on a course to outline the plot and story is probably always good advice.
    Stardust likes this.
  3. Stardust

    Stardust Dreamer

    Haha! No wonder :LOL:

    That is actually very helpful. I've been obsessing over just the things you mentioned lately. Especially character motivations/goals. I feel like my characters have good personalities and backstories, but their motivations are a bit flimsy. Mostly things just seem to happen to my protagonist; she's sort of passive. Then again, the story does focus on her inner journey, and that's how I want to keep it, but maybe not to that extent.

    I'll look up the threads you linked to. Thanks so much.
  4. DylanRS

    DylanRS Dreamer

    Try writing a Wikipedia-style plot summary that covers every major beat. Don't look at anything you've written so far. Try to make it fascinating to someone who for whatever reason is never going to read your book, and for whatever reason gets a lot of satisfaction from just reading the summarized version. Stop at the furthest point in the story so far and then reflect on where you wanna go.

    Think of some of the stories you've encountered that you thought handled their pacing exceptionally well. Also of some of the stories that did it poorly. Just think about them. And, in my opinion, one of the best things to do for early drafts that feel messy and directionless is to forget about them for a bit. Perhaps you could wait til then to do your summary from memory.

    All of my advice is mostly likely coming from your level. I am not an expert.
    Stardust likes this.
  5. Stardust

    Stardust Dreamer


    I probably should take a break. It's hard, though – I keep thinking about it even when I'm not writing! :geek:

    Anyway, I'll go read some summaries on Wikipedia now and study how it's done. It's been a while since I read any.
    Thank you for your suggestion and time.
  6. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

    Hello - I’m in the same boat, only a little down the rapids—on the other side of a 21k word outline, working on my second/third/does-anything-count-if-it-wasn’t-finished draft. With an outline, it’s a whole new beast. I can actually see down the road, and I know where I am on the map. What the motivations are. Where the tension should be. What to build up to. I’m still struggling through the first act, because I’m not a prolific or effortless writer, but I’m doing it without the angst and deep-seated doubt of the previous draft.

    Three things to research! 1) Story structure. 2) Character arcs. 3) Scene structure.

    Story structure: Take a look at this post from the Fiction University blog. It lists a bunch of different methods you can dive into, and what kind of writer might find what useful.
    Fiction University: 5 Ways to Structure (and Plot) Your Novel

    I ended up taking to K.M. Weiland’s detailed and somewhat prescriptive three-act structure, because it fit well with the story already in my head. Somebody on this forum linked me to it, I think. You can find that here:
    How to Structure Your Story's Outline (How to Outline for NaNoWriMo, Pt. 7) - Helping Writers Become Authors

    Character arcs: I’m still struggling with this, out of everything—let’s lump Theme in here as well. But you want to know your characters goals and motivations—what they want—and the lie/flaw/wound that’s holding them back from the truth—what they need. When they get that, their arc and the book is over. I don’t have a link handy for this one, but I’m sure KM Weiland has a good post or two. I ended up buying her books on structure and arcs and found them rather useful, but on a budget I’d recommend her podcast, which covers a lot of the same ground.

    Scene structure: The above will focus on fixing your story as a whole, but this is what helped me to start fixing the subtler problems I felt on a scene level. First heard this on the Writing Excuses podcast—very much recommended. For every Scene (meaning a unit of story movement, not corresponding to a chapter or scene breaks):

    Goal > Conflict > Disaster/Outcome/Yes-But/No-And > Reaction > Dilemma > Decision. (Scene > Sequel)

    There are plenty of places you can read up on this, Weiland covers it in her book on structure as well.

    Outlining: I started with a bare-bones sketch of the story, major events in order. Fleshed that out and lined up the pacing with three-act structure. Pondered character arc a lot. Only once I was confident in the structure, I began writing a small summary of each of the scenes. For each, I listed the appropriate parts of scene structure. This helped me work through a lot of holes—if her motivation is this, why isn’t she acting on it? What really is the result of this scene? Who’s at cross-purposes right now? Goals and conflict were hard for me to pin down, but once I did, that really was the heart of the scene—not simply what happens, but why it happens, and what the emotional and external fallout is.

    This stuff may feel prescriptive and fake, but when you start applying it to your own story it comes alive, sparks ideas for fixing things. Because you’re working on a story with a history on the page, you have to be willing to let it change from “the way the story goes”. You’ll find a lot of your ideas already fit into structure, because it’s unconscious—but if something feels broken, toss it. For me at least, it’s a lot easier to trust your instincts when you have some story principles to back them up.

    More than anything else, this process means thinking hard about your story, and putting work in. Hot showers, long walks, ink in the notebook. For some people outlining may be too much, too rigid, and it’s possible to end up in the same place with instinct alone, writing draft after draft, but... I struggle too much with drafting to enjoy throwing out page after page without a map of where I’m going. Sounds like you may be coming from the same place. Hope that helps.
    Stardust likes this.
  7. Stardust

    Stardust Dreamer

    Oh, how good it is to hear from someone who is in the same boat! And who has reached a crossroads and managed to steer the right way, towards calmer waters. You are an inspiration.

    Now I know it can be done, and looking through the structure list in the first link, I finally feel excited about writing again!
    I think my story corresponds surprisingly well with The Hero's Journey structure, except I'll have to deviate towards the ending; my protagonist is not supposed to succeed before book 2. I'm considering the three-act-structure too, though. Haven't decided yet.
    Can't wait to get started on this, though!!

    Nimue, you have no idea how happy I am that you took the time to respond the way you did. Somehow you managed to break your advice down into pieces that I actually feel capable of putting together. It will still be a lot of work, but I shall no longer have to fumble in the dark. Getting my Vision on paper is what I wanted all along, and it's been impossible without a clear plan guiding me from point to point, reminding me where to place my focus.
    I'm gushing now, but I just can't thank you enough.

    PS. Since we are sort of going through the same process... Maybe we could keep in touch, and keep each other updated about how it's going for us every now and again? No pressure, but maybe we both would find it inspiring? I sent you a friend request; feel free to accept (or not) :)
  8. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    You might find it helpful to also study plot points. Those are in every story anyway, and if you educate yourself properly on them that understanding will give you an idea of how story flows and is structured.
  9. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

    Haha, I'm not so sure about being an inspiration - maybe save that for somebody who's finished drafts, edited their book, wonder of wonders? I'm not an expert on any of this, but I can claim experience in...getting into structure and outlining after wandering in the wilderness for years not finishing drafts. Specifically. So I had to try and help! I haven't been on the forum much lately due to the aforementioned getting my act together, but I do lurk sometimes, and you're welcome to message me if you want to talk about this selfsame boat we're standing in.

    Structuring series is, from what I've absorbed, a little more complicated, but it essentially boils down to having one great big overall structure, with a sound structure for each book within it. Like how Book 1 of trilogies is often all about discovery and choosing to get involved - very much Act 1 of a larger story - but still lets the protagonist win his first victory - a fulfilling climax. So you really have two maps, for book and series, rather than just one, and both of them need to work. Thank goodness I'm working on a standalone right now, but the next project is begging me for size and scope... *shivers*
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I've been down that road. It's unpaved, filled with potholes big enough to swallow a metaphor. What I did with my mess, er, novel was to outline what I had actually written. Not what I thought I'd written or intended to write, but the very words, as if I were outlining another person's work.

    It was grueling, brutal, and disheartening. And salutary. I was able to see where the story lagged, but also able to identify parts that were working. When it came to the second draft, I was writing large chunks of new material, other large chunks to replace stuff I threw out, and a great deal of revision of passages. It was like starting over, but I had started over with a genuine plan.

    I did it again. It was still pretty brutal, but it was on this pass that I really was able to concentrate (because I could see!) on character development.

    In short, I find outlining to be much more useful as a way of examining what I've written than in planning what I haven't.
  11. Stardust

    Stardust Dreamer

    I'm at it! Thank youu!

    To someone in my position, you're definitely an inspiration. There is something heroic about not giving up, and making an effort to try new things. But of course, finishing the book is the ultimate payoff.
    And awesome! I won't spam down your inbox, I promise, but you may hear from me (if I don't end up too shy) :)

    Hmmmm... I was thinking of making it a duology (that's the word, right... right?) at first; but now that I'm learning about structure, I'm starting to realise that I had planned to cram way too much into the ending (last third) of book 1. So... Now it seems more likely that it will end up a trilogy, with the aforementioned planned ending of book 1 taking up the bulk of book 2. Whew! This will take me years :LOL:
    But I'll be sure to keep the three-act-structure in mind now, both on a smaller (novel) scale and on a larger (trilogy) scale. I might take some liberties with it, however...
    Lucky you, by the way, working on a standalone! (Have you already got an idea for the next project?)

    Wow... That's tough. And a good way of viewing the outlining process... a form of tightening up the revision, rather than shaping the entire novel from "scratch". But in order to do that the way you did, you must have finished the first draft (like, the whole thing, beginning to end) before outlining?
    Thanks for your input.
    Nimue likes this.
  12. Helen

    Helen Sage

    It's the same thing, you're just refining in the later drafts.

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