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What is your outlining process?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Firefly, Aug 6, 2019.

  1. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    I typically do a hybrid approach. Half pantser. Half outliner.

    This is true of longer works, novellas and novel-sized, but not for shorts stories.

    For shorts, I work from a strict outline because the scope is so limited. Few characters. Few story lines. Everything concise.

    For longer works though, I like to know what I'm aiming for in each chapter. At the header of a chapter, I'll write out chapter goals. One to three lines (sometimes 4-5 if it's a big chapter) that clearly state those chapter goals. By goals I mean, what I'm giving to the reader. For example, a chapter header might read, Jackie reveals she's more than what she portrays. This helps me stay on track & keep the story moving forward. Everything in this chapter must adhere to the listed chapter goals.

    At the end of each chapter, I'll list out the specific parts of scenes that take us from event A to B to C, etc. There's a good deal of brainstorming in this task as I figure out the best ways to show or depict those events. What events would be most interesting or provide the most emotion? What events might cause the reader's interest to pique or cause them to ask questions that I can later pay off in satisfying ways? I won't write anything in that chapter until I have a solid feel for how I'm going to do this. Sometimes there are lines of dialogue that spring to mind while I'm brainstorming. I'll write those down in this footer outline for later, just in case. Sometimes I use them. Sometimes I don't.

    All the rest, meaning, what happens to get from point A to B, and then B to C, is dynamic. It's unplanned (for the most part). It's pantsed. I need to have that creative wiggle room to make the writing fun. And quite often, something occurs within that space that takes me in a new direction. That shift can change the following planned occurrences at times, or even shift the entirety of the remaining story. Often those moments are far better than I'd originally planned, and I attribute that to knowing the characters and plot far better as the story moves along.
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I do this thing where I dialogue a scene as the first step to writing it. Most of the time it's essentially a paragraph by paragraph outline covering about 3/4ths of the scene. I've never once felt trapped or limited by that, or like the creativity was done and now I'm just filling out the form. It's more like, now I get to focus on creative wordplay or finding the best way to nail down the emotion. To me there's always another layer of the work challenging me to step up.
    Firefly likes this.
  3. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I used to think I had an outlining process, but I think it's more of a philosophy rather than a process - because the actual way I do it, changes all the time.

    The basic idea is to reiterate on an idea while adding more and more details with each iteration. At some point, I have enough of an idea of what's going to happen that I can begin telling myself the story.

    Telling myself the story, is the first draft. There's a quote about it somewhere, and while I've forgotten who it's from, it works out great for me as a way to look at it.

    The actual outlining though, is really just as simple as the above. I start with the basic idea, and then I add a few details, which means I might have a log line, or a few sentences, or so.
    Then I go over that, and add more details again, and maybe it's a few paragraphs now. Repeat as necessary, until the story is there.
  4. I've always been kind of a pantser, but I usually come up with a basic "trajectory" for the plot and try to work out what kinds of conflicts I want to mess with, what kind of people my characters are (on some level), and what kinds of cool ideas I want to include. But it's never super structured and usually, I end up making a lot up as I go along.

    Every time I try to make a detailed outline, my brain is just like "nahhhh" the moment I hit the page and scraps it. If I go too detailed, I never get to the page because I bored myself with the outline.

    For me, screwing around and not knowing quite what will happen is really important to actually staying interested in the story. With my last book I figured out a pretty good plan-to-no-plan ratio and that consisted of characters, basic things about who those characters are, a basic idea of what the climax might be, and some ideas for events in between. But a LOT happened purely improvised. The climax as I imagined it turned out to be totally different and I couldn't have precisely anticipated the ending. Lots of plot points just happened. I need some idea of a direction to go in and a firm driving force for the characters of some kind, but anything beyond that becomes constricting.
  5. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    Basically, outlining around journey, change and theme.
  6. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    We write very detailed outlines. This, for example, turned into three chapters. There are three of us and we meet in voice chat every day to discuss the direction the story is going in and to nail down the action of both the chapter plot, the book's plot, and the series metaplot and how they all tie in together. This system gives us a very smooth, cohesive narrative voice so no one can tell where one author ends and the others begin. 20190830_171322.jpg
  7. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Anymore, apart from short 'concept' stories, I don't write a tale without having at least some notion of the beginning, middle, and end.

    I also envision the tale in 'scenes' or 'mental movie clips' as to how things work out. The trick is to write these scenes in a convincing manner and place them in the correct order. For short stories - say six or ten such clips, getting the order right isn't that difficult. No outline needed. I can manage longer works - up to around 25,000 words, give or take without a scene list, but novel length works, well that's too much.

    For novels, I create an outline immediately prior to the actual writing. It lists each chapter, and then gives a very short description of each envisioned scene - anywhere from one word to a couple of sentences for that chapter. New movie clip scenes occur to me as I write, plus there are issues with scenes not fitting together as they should. Often, despite the outline, I get into sequence issues eight or ten chapters in, and end up redoing the outline. (reordering the mental movie clips.)

    Much of the rewriting process involves reordering these mental movie clips yet again, and adding new ones to fill in the gaps - which is what I am doing now with 'Empire: Spiral.'
  8. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    I don't have one. :alien:
  9. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    Pantsing has its virtues.
  10. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    Currently, I have no process. I am swamped in the world of college papers to turn in....ugh, it is an endless sea, and full of citations. I hate citations.

    When I have a process again, I am planning on doing a full outline to see if it benefits me. In the past, I have not used one.
  11. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    I don't exactly pants though. Maybe it's more like an outline in my head with intuition/pictures of scenes.

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