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Outline an Outline For Me: Outlining Struggles

Now that NaNo is over and I'm starting something new (yet again), I'm faced with my old outlining struggle.

How do I outline?
What's a good method and what will work for me?
How do I keep my focus when I just want to delve in and write?
How do I know where I want my story to go?
Is this going to ruin the story for me?
Will my characters still be able to lead me if I’ve plotted their path?

My questions in the realm of outlining go on and on. I contribute this to the fact that I've always been a "pants" writer; as in, I write by the seat of my pants. Or so the saying goes. I feel that I need to learn to outline to push myself further as a novelist (as opposed to just being a writer) but every time I give it a go I end up distracted, frustrated, and/or disheartened. Outlines ruin my euphoric new-novel high and subsequently scare me away.

So what’s the answer to my problem? Well, I think my options are as follows: Learn to finish novels without an outline, use my first draft as my outline, or find a method that doesn’t bog me down and ruin the story for me.

I’ve tried various “methods” and have tackled the advice of others with some success, but I’ve never succeeded in making a complete outline. They always fail me (or is it that I fail them?) Most recently I tried the Snowflake Method, as you may or may not remember, for my NaNo novel and the one previous to it. It’s not bad, tedious maybe, but I don’t feel like it’s working for me. Both of the stories I used this method for have larger holes in them than anything I’ve ever written pants-style. Of course, that might have a lot to do with me not completing the steps of the method more than the method itself. So…I guess it’s back to research and trial and error while I try to figure this out.

Tell me though, if you please. What is your opinion on outlines? Are they necessary? Did you struggle to become an outliner? Is there a method to your outlining madness? Do you have a method you’d like to share? An outlining success story? Advice?

Anything – I’ll take it!


PJ Hoover said...

I've done very detailed outlines and not so detailed ones. I've never written with nothing, and I think both a lot of work and not much work can work (lots of works) depending on the story and your mood and the alignment of the stars.
So, that said, I think it's nice to try a variety of ways to see what works.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

I outline as I go - both documents open. I wold outline what you have and then see how it looks. YOu can switch it around. I blogged about my process awhile back.


If you have a mac - I hear scrivener is good. My friend uses it


Jill Wheeler said...

I've only written 1.75 novels so far, and one of those was from an outline. The outline made it sooo much easier. When I got stuck, I could just look at the outline and see where I needed to go next.

I didn't let it hinder my freedom, either. If I felt like doing something different, I did, but noted it on the outline.

My outline wasn't very detailed, though. It was basically a list of scenes with a summary of what I want to happen.

Heather Hansen said...

First -- congrats on finishing NaNo. I realize I forgot to leave a comment. Whoops. :D I'm so proud of you!!!

As far as outlining... I've struggled NOT to outline. I used to do it religiously. But I've found that it henders me. I still keep running questions to be answered, and lots of notes. I plot where I think it might go.

My thoughts -- do what works for you. It's just a draft. And we all know, there will be many more of those to flesh out the plot.

Stephanie J said...

I'm a plotter! I really didn't realize how much of a plotter I was until my little (big!) breakdown a few weeks ago (thank you for your wonderful words on that. Not only did I cry about my novel but after I posted I teared up at everyone's support). Right now I have a general outline that broken out by turning points and approximate word counts at those points. Like Jill said, it helps me see where I need to go. I think it's key to keep in mind that an outline isn't some agreement signed in blood. It can be flexible! You might also try storyboarding... it's not so formal as an outline and might make you feel a little bit more free in the creative sense.

Casey Something said...

Thanks for an inside look on your outlining processes and opinions everyone!

I'm going to try a little bit of this and a little bit of that and see what gets me the farthest. My goal for the week is going to be several pages of outlining. Hopefully I can get this story together. It's hard for me because I'm so used to letting the story evolve as I write.