Jump to content

Welcome to Christian Writers!

We are a friendly community built around Christian writing, publishing, reading and fellowship. Register or sign in today to join in the fun!
Miss Erin

Thoughts On Outlining?!

Recommended Posts

I need some professional help here. While I thoroughly enjoy writing novels, a big hindrance to me making any hint of progress is the nasty task of outlining. For the life of me, I can't make a decent outline to save my life! (Hmm ...that sentence was odd.🤨

 

My problem is I tend to forget that outlines are basically the skeleton of a story; my outlines are so long and messy that they are practically the story in themselves! That's it! I've come up with a revolutionary new system of writing!! Forget the novel entirely! Make the outline your novel and send that to the publisher! Lol! 😂

 

But no, seriously, y'all, I need help. I make my outlines that way because I'm always afraid I might forget something important I need to put into the story and so I end up shoving in every last detail of every chapter and I end up never even finishing the book in the first place.

 

So ...how can I go about writing a decent outline that contains everything I need but leaves out all the ...um ...fluff?

 

I honestly think this is a primary cause of my writer's block! 😑

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I began my writing life as a Pantser and continued in that familiar groove for something like forty years. And then I discovered the Story Grid and developed a deep appreciation for understanding foundational story structure. I am now a Plantser, halfway between a Pantser and a Plotter. I think that's about the best I can do. (This pleases my little Ambivert heart to no end, heh.) 
https://storygrid.com/5-steps-to-a-worthwhile-outline/

I wrote the first draft of what would become my current WIP THE BLUE GOLEM in November of 2014. I crossed the 50k mark in good time but ran into a roadblock - I wanted to write this big ending epic action scene but it had no air. I told myself I was going to take December off and hit it hard again in January to finish it up. 

I didn't finish it in January, 2015. Fast forward to March, 2018. I signed up for Tim Grahl's course Launch A Bestseller. A week later, I got an email talking about the inaugural Story Grid course Level Up Your Craft. I thought it made sense to complete a novel before trying to sell it so I took that course. In the first three days I discovered I couldn't finish my novel because while my novel presents itself as a Fantasy / Noir, it's really a Thriller under-the-hood. That meant that the big Epic Action set piece wasn't the right genre. Furthermore, I had an even bigger problem - I was trying to write a Fourth Act after a perfectly good Ending Payoff. When you have your climax, you don't add another entire battle sequence. So I cut the action set piece, embraced my Thriller, and I was off to the races. I'm very close to having this book done and ready to submit for publication through Story Grid Publishing.

This last September I took Linda out to Lake Tahoe for a three day Plotting Madness Boot Camp with the expectation to plot out the sequel novel, THE BLACK SERPENT. I hoped to come away with ten solid, necessary plot points I could embellish out to a full novel. The first day I learned about ten must-have plot points. We went out to eat and then I had the rest of the evening free. While the other writers relaxed or went to bed, I got to work and applied what I'd learned to my very rough overarching idea. I worked until Midnight and fleshed out the outline:

  • Key Scene #1: The hook and the opening setup (first scenes)
  • Key Scene #2: The disturbance or opportunity (10% mark) which starts the new direction
  • Key Scene #3: First Pinch Point – usually introduces the force of the opposition (33%, also called ‘The First Plot Point’) and pushed the character along
  • Key Scene #4: Twist #1. Complication before the midpoint which impacts the protagonist’s path toward his goal (which is locked in around the 25% mark).
  • Key Scene #5: Midpoint. Character balancing on the knife’s edge – going forward means no going back.
  • Key Scene #6: Pinch Point 2. The opposition comes full force. New developments add tension and complications
  • Key Scene #7: Twist #2. Big complication that will lead to scene 8. Usually some reversal, betrayal, unforeseen complication
  • Key Scene #8: Dark night of the soul (turning point #4) – Utter hopelessness. Biggest danger and belief he will fail
  • Key Scene #9: The big climax moment when the hero reaches his goal and realizes his true essence
  • Key Scene #10: The End and Resolution which wraps it all up and shows the results of reaching the goal

On day two, I learned about action / reaction scenes and in the evening I worked out ten MORE scenes. Those I numbered #11 - 20 and I stubbed them in around my existing scenes:
image.png.bed21301385b20b38e59ae289a0ad076.png

 

Finally, on Day Three I learned about Sub-Plots and knitted those scenes in around the others. At the end of the boot camp, I'd worked from 7 - Midnight over three days (with time out for meals) and came away with THIRTY detailed plot points for my second novel. I can write scenes like nobody's business and now I know what scenes I'll be writing. 

What I'll be doing next is straight out of the Story Grid training. I'll create a one page Foolscap which will answer the editor's six core questions.

  • What’s the genre?
  • What are the conventions and obligatory scenes for that genre?
  • What’s the Point of View?
  • What are the objects of desire?
  • What’s the controlling idea/theme?
  • What is the Beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?

From there I'll bone up on the conventions and the obligatory scenes for the Crime genre (as the sequel is about the Global Life Value of Tyranny to Justice). For that I Googled 'Story Grid' + 'Crime'. That gave me a list of the elements Crime readers have come to expect in their novels and I'll see how many of them will be of use to me. 
https://storygrid.com/secrets-of-the-crime-genre/

 

Quote

 

Shawn Coyne describes obligatory scenes as “must-have scenes for paying off readers’ expectations as set up by the conventions of the genre.” In any genre, if you leave out an obligatory scene for that genre, you’ll have a story that doesn’t work.
 

The obligatory scenes of the Crime Genre are:

  • An inciting crime or an incitement to commit a crime. There must be victims, especially in stories where the event is seemingly victimless (e.g.the 2008 financial crisis). For most subgenres, the inciting crime is indicative of a master criminal. In the Heist or Caper subgenres, the inciting incident is often the bringing together of the crew or beginning the plan for the crime. 
  • The protagonist is actively trying to solve a crime or a puzzle and either bring the antagonist to justice or, in the case of heist and caper stories, escape justice themselves. 
  • There is a “speech in praise of the antagonist.” The cunning or brilliance of the antagonist must be praised by one or more characters or shown in a revelation. In a Caper or Heist story, the protagonist criminal usually praises those making their crime difficult to pull off. 
  • The protagonist must discover and understand the antagonist’s MacGuffin.
  • The protagonist learns what the external antagonist’s object of desire is. 
  • The protagonist’s initial strategy to outmaneuver the antagonist fails
  • Exposure of the criminal or the completion of the caper/heist is the core event of the crime story. This is the big scene audiences are waiting for. The global resolution of the story is when the criminal is brought to justice or gets away with the crime.

You'd think a Pantser would be overwhelmed by all this information, but instead I find it soothing. I don't have to re-invent the wheel. Knowing that these elements are required helps to know what to do next. It makes it easier for me to flesh out my rough idea into specific next steps. 

 

You can hear Shawn Coyne talk about how to write an outline here - he's super knowledgeable, really engaging, and fun to listen to:
https://storygrid.com/story-outlining/lesson-1/
https://storygrid.com/story-outlining/lesson-2/
https://storygrid.com/story-outlining/lesson-3/

 

You can also watch five short free videos with Shawn Coyne here:

 

 

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have to be honest and say I am not a great fan of serious plotters but having said that as a writer a degree of plotting is necessary to get the story going and to stay focused.

 

What Johne has posted is a very good starting point. I am reading The Story Grid book. it is helpful - it has most of what I have read before about plotting but presents it in a clear and logical way.

 

If you want a 'form' sheet  for writing an outline, I would recommend Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet. (just google it).  I use this for my previous novel and it helped me sort out the middle section which I was struggling with. The thing I like about Snyder's sheet is it concise and gives me a good starting point to work from. A more detailed breakdown can be done later.

Hope that helps.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you both for all your help!! 😊😊

 

Story Grid sounds like just what I need; I'm going to look into it right away. I think it'll really be a big help to me!! I can't thank you enough, Johne. 😉

 

Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet, huh? I'm gonna look into that, also. Sounds super helpful. Thanks, Shamrock! 😁

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
20 minutes ago, Erin Cook said:

Story Grid sounds like just what I need; I'm going to look into it right away. I think it'll really be a big help to me!!

When I first heard about the Story Grid, I ordered the book in 2015 and eagerly awaited its arrival. When it came I opened it up, shrieked at the apparent complexity, and closed it for three years. I should have had a little more fortitude.

The entire first section covers Shawn's rationale for writing it and set up his bona fides. It's an interesting section but section Two is where you get down to the real meat. Basically, Shawn argues that every unit of story can be broken to a Beginning Hook, a Middle Build, and an Ending Payoff. Furthermore, every one of those sections contains the same five elements: 

  • Inciting Incident: either Cause or Coincidence
  • Progressive Complication Turning Point:  Action or Revelation
  • Crisis: a question between a Best Bad Choice (like the lesser of two evils) or Irreconcilable Goods (you've been accepted to Harvard, Yale, and Liberty - you can choose one but not all three)
  • Climax: answers the question of the crisis
  • Resolution: brings everything to a close

That's fifteen scenes. If you can identify those fifteen scenes, you've got the skeleton for a novel!

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, Nicholas; your system sounds super helpful. I do outline before writing just about anything, but I just get so carried away with detail that my outlines become cluttered. I'm chomping at the bit to get to the real deal, but I feel as if I can't begin work on my novel until my entire outline is complete! And as long and detailed as mine are, it's not long before I want to quit. That's where the writer's block kicks in. I just need to cut out the excess and focus on the focal points of the story in my outlining and save the fluff for the novel. So I'll keep your system handy! 😊

 

Btw, Johne, I saved Story Grid's site to my homescreeb and am going to look into it more thoroughly. It's sounds like it might be my answer. 😉

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest N R

Just use the barest essential words to list what needs to be written in the scene! It sounds like you've got the same problem I had - not getting the feel for when you have enough plot, and it becomes overly complicated.

The key is barest minimum to tell the story, cut away the rest!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Erin Cook said:

But no, seriously, y'all, I need help. I make my outlines that way because I'm always afraid I might forget something important I need to put into the story and so I end up shoving in every last detail of every chapter and I end up never even finishing the book in the first place.

 

Erin, the wonderful thing about being the author is if you see something missing or don't like the way things are turning out, you can revise.  And revise. And revise again. To your heart's content. And the story may take a whole new turn that surprises and delights you. You don't need to expect your early draft(s) to be complete, or even coherent. You can save that for a later step.

 

Each time through, your work becomes more beautiful, more exquisite. You might start out just splitting a log into boards, Later you'd smooth them out, cut them to shape, and eventually finish a fine piece of furniture. You don't have to chop that finished chest of drawers out of a rough log.

 

Don't be afraid to let your rough draft be rough. You might find that smoothing things out can wait.

 

3 hours ago, Erin Cook said:

So ...how can I go about writing a decent outline that contains everything I need but leaves out all the ...um ...fluff?

 

It can contain as much, or as little as you want. Make parts of it minimal, and others detailed, just to see what will happen. No one but you will see the outline, so it matters not a bit, and you can add detail later if you absolutely need it. It's just a preliminary plan, and hopefully inspiration will strike and your'll go off in brand new directions, even better than your original idea. Eventually you'll set it aside, but until then, it's just a rough guide showing what you might do. don't force it to be any more than that.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Nicholas Reicher said:
  • 4% of writers are pants'ers
  • 96% of writers think they are pants'ers and are really planners

I didn't go looking for this but it popped up in my feed today... ;)
image.png.2e432fd96f9a1a20cb49524780131089.png

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Erin Cook said:

And as long and detailed as mine are, it's not long before I want to quit.

That's no fun...

 

I do use outlining, but I've never started a book with a whole outline finished.  I just maybe keep three or four scenes ahead of what I'm writing.  Of course, I have a main plot in my head (sometimes ;)), and that keeps me mostly on track. 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
20 minutes ago, carolinamtne said:

Thanks for asking this question, Erin, I don't have any suggestions to offer, but I sure picked up some useful hints from the answers hear.

Me too! Guess we've both learned something. 😉

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Erin Cook said:

I saved Story Grid's site to my homescreen and am going to look into it more thoroughly. It's sounds like it might be my answer.

Oh, yes! StoryGrid is awesome and even though the kinds of writing I work with is far simpler than a novel, the arcs and necessary pieces he draws out are invaluable. Have fun. 🙂

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've given it a lot of thought, trying to discern if I'm a planner or a pantser; after looking into the full definition of the word, I realize I must be a "plantser"--in between. (And I thought when you wrote "plantser" it was a typo, Johne, you sly dog! 😂)

 

I do love to plan, and very intricately. But my organized mind clashes with my rather impatient nature and tendency to itch to just get it done.

  • Like 1
  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, Celebrianne said:

Oh, yes! StoryGrid is awesome and even though the kinds of writing I work with is far simpler than a novel, the arcs and necessary pieces he draws out are invaluable. Have fun. 🙂

Thank you, Celebrianne! 😊

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Erin Cook said:

Thank you, Wes, that was so insightful! 😊😊😊

 

 

No problem; I hope it helps. Planning is really important... up until the point where it stifles the creative process. There's a balance, and we probably each have to find it in ourselves. I might be able to tell you what works best for me, but it might not be anything close to what works best for you. 

 

There's a reason that some people can be good at completing our sentences for us, however annoying it might be. A lot of our thinking is more predictable than we can imagine, and as a corollary, our story plotting can be, too.

 

By all means, experiment. make a good outline, try different types of outline, but always be on the lookout for that special moment where you find... something so much better. Then depart from the plan, and maybe make a new outline, or maybe explore and see where your creativity leads, first. Those breakout moments when a brand new world opens unexpectedly are exhilarating, magical, and far too rare. The more rigidly we're attached to an ironclad plan, the rarer those moments tend to be. 

 

Just don't get lost wandering around. eventually you have to get back to some kind of plan: whatever planning works best for you.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 11/27/2019 at 12:12 PM, Erin Cook said:

I might forget something important I need to put into the story and so I end up shoving in every last detail of every chapter and I end up never even finishing the book in the first place.

Does it help knowing it's not a "might?" It's a "will?" I always forget important stuff. Instead of plunking it where I finally remembered, I write it on my list doc. And, as I'm writing it there, I think where it should have gone. Usually I can figure that out too, so I also note where it belongs on that list. Say it belonged in Chapter 2. So I write Chapter 2

 

Then I continue on my merry way in the story, until it happens again. Whenever it happens again, I write it on my list.

 

By the time I'm done with the story, I have two things happening.

1. The ending is all wrong, and how do I fix that?

2. I have to go back and fix all the stuff I put on my list. (Also on my list are minor things I forgot or might forget along the way. Like were Dookie's eyes always blue? Who is sporting which tattoo? And what color does Ax call himself?)

 

So, then I go to that list and reorganize it into chronological order. That's why chapters were bolded, so I can see what goes in Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. I reorganize it so all that has to be fixed in the first chapter goes first, second seconded, etc. And when it's dealt with, it's deleted off the list.

 

The rest of the stuff, (What color were Dookie's eyes, and other things I forgot to add), simply sits on the list until it's dealt with. It's okay if it stays on the list forever. To this day, I know Dookie had bright blue eyes, and Axlerod thinks he's ginger, but Spaulding places him at burnt-umber.

 

Add to that, I'm now officially in my second draft, so I can do something I couldn't do before. I know how it ends, (even if the end still stinks, but I'll get there eventually to fix it), so now I can add foreshadowing. Cool stuff.

 

And here's the kicker, while I'm working on the second draft, I'm also figuring out that's not the right tattoo I wanted to use, therefore, I start a new list to fix that when I get to it.

 

Oh, and by the time I'm close to finishing the second draft from start to finish, the ending finally takes shape.

 

So, no. We're not going to remember everything the first time. I think that's the great part about being a writer. No one ever sees that, because we can fix it later. The readers only see the final version, so they have no need to learn how often we flopped before that. ;)

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 hours ago, Erin Cook said:

I've given it a lot of thought, trying to discern if I'm a planner or a pantser; after looking into the full definition of the word, I realize I must be a "plantser"--in between. (And I thought when you wrote "plantser" it was a typo, Johne, you sly dog! 😂)

 

I do love to plan, and very intricately. But my organized mind clashes with my rather impatient nature and tendency to itch to just get it done.

I have a theory in life. There are three kinds of people:

-- The ones who are all one certain way.

-- The ones who are the opposite certain way.

-- The ones in the middle.

 

This doesn't just work for pantser/plotter debates. It works for any debate.

 

And usually the first two group of people are a small minority, while the group in the middle is a large majority.

 

In this case, I think there are about 4% pantsers, 4% plotters, and the rest are various forms in the middle -- plantsers.

 

Plantsers can be very into plotting or very into pantsing, but they also know there is some of the other in them.

 

My stories are macro-plotted, but micro-pantsed. I HATE outlining, so it stays in my head. (BTW, totally worst-case scenario on how to write a book, however, I HATE outlining.) Because of that, I can give a general summary of what has to happen in every scene, BUT I never know exactly what it looks like, until I write it.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, Spaulding said:

I have a theory in life. There are three kinds of people:

-- The ones who are all one certain way.

-- The ones who are the opposite certain way.

-- The ones in the middle.

 

This doesn't just work for pantser/plotter debates. It works for any debate.

 

And usually the first two group of people are a small minority, while the group in the middle is a large majority.

 

That's absolutely correct... depending on who you are... Sort of...

 

I've noticed some people here occasionally mentioning their Meyers-Briggs personality type. According to the claim, everyone is actually a mix of opposing pairs of characteristics, where one of each pair is likely to dominate. (Though some might be toward the middle.) The pairs are shown as a string of four letters, where we each get scored with only one of each pair: I/E (Introvert,/Extravert), S/N (Sensing/INtuitive), T/F (Thinking/Feeling), and J/P (Judging/Perceiving).

 

That last pair embodies exactly what you've described. Those who are largely the Perceiving types will see much of the world as a continuum, or in shades of grey, rather than at the extremes. You've done this by pointing out "The ones in the middle." The Judging types might at least initially prefer to put everyone into one group or the other. For many people this binary classification will work, as most people will probably be more like the pantser or plotter description, but some will foil the system by being too much toward the middle.

 

People in either the Judging or Perceiving group will have their strengths and weaknesses, and we are most effective when we can realize where our preferred way of classifying things is helpful, and where it can break down. You've pointed out a place where using strict categories breaks down.

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
32 minutes ago, Nicholas Reicher said:

If no, you need to plan. @Johne and I have offered two different methodologies - his a more detailed, strict form of planning, mine with minimal planning - and both of us caution you'll need to adjust for your own methodology.

Agreed.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Nicholas Reicher said:

 @Wes B, you've got a very analytical way you see things and break them down. What kind of fiction do you write? I'll hazard a guess and say you load up on subplots, something a lot of people have problems with. I hope you've uploaded some of your writing for critique! I'd love to see how you approach subplot - it might help me to be more subtle when I write. 

 

Thank you... I suppose "analytical" would apply; I'm a retired engineer and programmer, so that's firmly in my wheelhouse. The analytical bent might explain why I'm currently working at nonfiction, with a strong storyteller feel to it, and (I think) a playful and quirky sense of humor.

 

I'm very much into Biblical history and background, and am particularly fascinated by the world that the commonfolk lived in. Besides trying to illuminate stories from parts of the Bible that many people might not be too familiar with, I'll also enjoy giving really odd and offbeat background info. 

 

I might explain why, when Paul told Titus that all Cretans were liars, he was actually making a literary reference, and that the people of Crete would have got the point immediately. I might explain why the most prime real estate in an ancient (or even medieval) city was the western end, how the various portions of the armies functioned in battle, or how the people used long pools of urine to bleach their linen. It's a strange/crazy/wild world.

 

But it's not presented as scholarly or lecture-like; it's more like animated dinner conversation. I have offered a number of critiques of others' work since I've been here. I've yet to post something of my own, but I've done enough to make my own posting appropriate, so I probably will, soon.
 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.