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Planning out a story

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  • Planning out a story

    For any of you that write fiction, how do you plan out your story? Whether it's a short story or a novel. Do you outline, wing it, or something else? If you outline, is there any particular method you follow?

    I've got some ideas for my own writing, but planning is something of a hangup. I'm curious if any of you have any ideas on it.
    I DENOUNCE DONALD J. TRUMP AND ALL HIS IMMORAL ACTS.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Zymologist View Post
    For any of you that write fiction, how do you plan out your story? Whether it's a short story or a novel. Do you outline, wing it, or something else? If you outline, is there any particular method you follow?

    I've got some ideas for my own writing, but planning is something of a hangup. I'm curious if any of you have any ideas on it.
    Personally, I usually create a very informal sort of outline, when I start, as well as some rough character sketches for any of my principle players. I'll then flesh out my ideas from there into short narratives which begin to flesh out the outline. I then build upon those narratives and connect them into a story, using the editing process to smooth out apparent seams in the flow.
    "[Mathematics] is the revealer of every genuine truth, for it knows every hidden secret, and bears the key to every subtlety of letters; whoever, then, has the effrontery to pursue physics while neglecting mathematics should know from the start he will never make his entry through the portals of wisdom."
    --Thomas Bradwardine, De Continuo (c. 1325)

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Boxing Pythagoras View Post
      Personally, I usually create a very informal sort of outline, when I start, as well as some rough character sketches for any of my principle players. I'll then flesh out my ideas from there into short narratives which begin to flesh out the outline. I then build upon those narratives and connect them into a story, using the editing process to smooth out apparent seams in the flow.
      If you don't mind, I have a bunch of follow-up questions.

      Firstly, and for my own curiosity, what do you write? Do you do it mostly for fun, or do you plan on getting published?

      For more specifics....

      When you do an informal outline, do you start with, for example, a broad, very basic, three-part outline? Such as: A - beginning, B - middle, C - end? I'm thinking of doing something along these lines, and then just going through the outline multiple times and adding a level of depth each time: each major subsection receiving a handful of subpoints, and then sub-subpoints, etc.

      When you start an outline, what do you typically have on hand? I mean, do you start with just a basic idea for a book, or do you start with a plot, or a character? Right now, all I've got is an idea. I could do a variety of plots with this idea, but it's just an idea at this point.

      From experience, I know that if I just wing the writing, I end up meandering. Badly. I have to have some sort of idea of where I'm going with it, and the words come a lot easier.
      I DENOUNCE DONALD J. TRUMP AND ALL HIS IMMORAL ACTS.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Zymologist View Post
        If you don't mind, I have a bunch of follow-up questions.
        I don't mind, at all!

        Firstly, and for my own curiosity, what do you write? Do you do it mostly for fun, or do you plan on getting published?
        Mostly for fun. I've toyed around with the idea of writing for publication, but I've not yet made a serious attempt at it.

        When you do an informal outline, do you start with, for example, a broad, very basic, three-part outline? Such as: A - beginning, B - middle, C - end? I'm thinking of doing something along these lines, and then just going through the outline multiple times and adding a level of depth each time: each major subsection receiving a handful of subpoints, and then sub-subpoints, etc.
        Not necessarily a 3-part outline, but the general idea is the same. I lay out a bunch of ideas in roughly chronological order, and then I flesh them out.

        When you start an outline, what do you typically have on hand? I mean, do you start with just a basic idea for a book, or do you start with a plot, or a character? Right now, all I've got is an idea. I could do a variety of plots with this idea, but it's just an idea at this point.
        I usually start with a character, and I find that the character tends to inform the basic idea of the story. This may well be due to the fact that I'm also a fairly avid Tabletop Roleplaying Gamer, so character generally tends to focus the story for me.

        From experience, I know that if I just wing the writing, I end up meandering. Badly. I have to have some sort of idea of where I'm going with it, and the words come a lot easier.
        I absolutely know what you mean, there. I used to just wing it, and my stories ended up all over the place. I once wrote a story about a group of teenagers whose experience together in an obscure sport drove them to form a secret society in order to build a time machine which actually ended up being a display for rendering a person's innermost dreams.
        "[Mathematics] is the revealer of every genuine truth, for it knows every hidden secret, and bears the key to every subtlety of letters; whoever, then, has the effrontery to pursue physics while neglecting mathematics should know from the start he will never make his entry through the portals of wisdom."
        --Thomas Bradwardine, De Continuo (c. 1325)

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Boxing Pythagoras View Post
          I don't mind, at all!

          Mostly for fun. I've toyed around with the idea of writing for publication, but I've not yet made a serious attempt at it.

          Not necessarily a 3-part outline, but the general idea is the same. I lay out a bunch of ideas in roughly chronological order, and then I flesh them out.

          I usually start with a character, and I find that the character tends to inform the basic idea of the story. This may well be due to the fact that I'm also a fairly avid Tabletop Roleplaying Gamer, so character generally tends to focus the story for me.

          I absolutely know what you mean, there. I used to just wing it, and my stories ended up all over the place. I once wrote a story about a group of teenagers whose experience together in an obscure sport drove them to form a secret society in order to build a time machine which actually ended up being a display for rendering a person's innermost dreams.
          Cool, thanks. Do you write short stories?

          A couple years ago I started trying to write a novel. It was fun, and good practice, but it was awful. Since then, my idea for this novel (since I do still plan to write one) has undergone a ton of major revisions, but I recently decided to write some short stories instead, in the same setting. Right now, I've got three finished: one, which is not good at all, though I posted it on here in my excitement. Silly me. And then the other two, which I think are far superior. But now I'm thinking back to writing a full-fledged novel. I really think I can do it--it's just tough to get my ideas in order and actually have a plot and characters that are worth something.
          I DENOUNCE DONALD J. TRUMP AND ALL HIS IMMORAL ACTS.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Zymologist View Post
            Cool, thanks. Do you write short stories?

            A couple years ago I started trying to write a novel. It was fun, and good practice, but it was awful. Since then, my idea for this novel (since I do still plan to write one) has undergone a ton of major revisions, but I recently decided to write some short stories instead, in the same setting. Right now, I've got three finished: one, which is not good at all, though I posted it on here in my excitement. Silly me. And then the other two, which I think are far superior. But now I'm thinking back to writing a full-fledged novel. I really think I can do it--it's just tough to get my ideas in order and actually have a plot and characters that are worth something.
            Yeah, pretty much all my writing thus far has been short stories. My longest single story was only around 50 pages, so certainly far short of novel length. I'd love to be able to take the time to pen out a whole novel, at some point, but I haven't yet made the attempt.
            "[Mathematics] is the revealer of every genuine truth, for it knows every hidden secret, and bears the key to every subtlety of letters; whoever, then, has the effrontery to pursue physics while neglecting mathematics should know from the start he will never make his entry through the portals of wisdom."
            --Thomas Bradwardine, De Continuo (c. 1325)

            Comment


            • #7
              I rarely outline. I know you're "supposed to" and whatnot, but I personally feel that I sometimes need the spontaneity of just winging it to get the juices flowing. With this, once you hit on an idea that you find enjoyable, much of the story kind of just writes itself. Afterwards, you can go back to edit some parts and unify them into a cohesive whole. But that's just my $0.02; some people feel that they have to outline to get a strong, solid direction, so more power to you if you're one of them.
              Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.--Isaiah 1:17

              I don't think that all forms o[f] slavery are inherently immoral.--seer

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by square_peg View Post
                I rarely outline. I know you're "supposed to" and whatnot, but I personally feel that I sometimes need the spontaneity of just winging it to get the juices flowing. With this, once you hit on an idea that you find enjoyable, much of the story kind of just writes itself. Afterwards, you can go back to edit some parts and unify them into a cohesive whole. But that's just my $0.02; some people feel that they have to outline to get a strong, solid direction, so more power to you if you're one of them.
                Do you write short stories, or novels?

                I'm torn. I've read some blog posts by authors that are arguing for outlining, and they make a pretty good case. But I've also read some authors arguing that seat-of-the-pants writing is more organic and is better, and they also make a good case.

                I know it's one of those "whatever works for you" kind of things, but that means work on my part. Not even work on writing (which I'm well-acquainted with), but work on the method of writing. I need to work on how I'm going to do it. It's hard.
                I DENOUNCE DONALD J. TRUMP AND ALL HIS IMMORAL ACTS.

                Comment


                • #9
                  I sometimes do and sometimes not. Depends on the story and how solid it is in my head. I generally have a idea of the basic plot and where I'm going to end up - but sometimes I let the characters lead just to see what happens. Sure, it meanders, but I can clean that up in editing if I plan on publishing and those meanders sometimes lead to very good plot lines or other stories.

                  My novella is partially plotted but largely character driven. That was intentional - I want to use it for a jumping off point for something else.

                  "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." - Jim Elliot


                  "Forgiveness is the way of love." Gary Chapman

                  My Personal Blog

                  My Novella blog (Current Novella Begins on 7/25/14)

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Zymologist View Post
                    Do you write short stories, or novels?

                    I'm torn. I've read some blog posts by authors that are arguing for outlining, and they make a pretty good case. But I've also read some authors arguing that seat-of-the-pants writing is more organic and is better, and they also make a good case.

                    I know it's one of those "whatever works for you" kind of things, but that means work on my part. Not even work on writing (which I'm well-acquainted with), but work on the method of writing. I need to work on how I'm going to do it. It's hard.

                    Write a couple of really short stories. Do one outlined and the other not. See what you like about each and write down what you thought of the processes. Then either pick one or blend your own. Don't overthink this - there's a lot more work in the mechanics of writing and you don't want to bog down in just the creative start.

                    "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." - Jim Elliot


                    "Forgiveness is the way of love." Gary Chapman

                    My Personal Blog

                    My Novella blog (Current Novella Begins on 7/25/14)

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by square_peg View Post
                      I rarely outline. I know you're "supposed to" and whatnot, but I personally feel that I sometimes need the spontaneity of just winging it to get the juices flowing. With this, once you hit on an idea that you find enjoyable, much of the story kind of just writes itself. Afterwards, you can go back to edit some parts and unify them into a cohesive whole. But that's just my $0.02; some people feel that they have to outline to get a strong, solid direction, so more power to you if you're one of them.

                      I think it's the individual. For some an outline is essential - for others, it's a straight jacket.

                      "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." - Jim Elliot


                      "Forgiveness is the way of love." Gary Chapman

                      My Personal Blog

                      My Novella blog (Current Novella Begins on 7/25/14)

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Teallaura View Post
                        Write a couple of really short stories. Do one outlined and the other not. See what you like about each and write down what you thought of the processes. Then either pick one or blend your own. Don't overthink this - there's a lot more work in the mechanics of writing and you don't want to bog down in just the creative start.
                        Interestingly, I didn't actually outline any of the short stories that I wrote. Even more interestingly, the one that had the most concrete idea behind it at the start ended up being the one I'm most dissatisfied with. One of the others (my personal favorite) literally started with nothing more than an image in my head, and the other one basically started with some ideas for in-story jokes. Maybe I should take that as a hint....
                        I DENOUNCE DONALD J. TRUMP AND ALL HIS IMMORAL ACTS.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Zymologist View Post
                          For any of you that write fiction, how do you plan out your story? Whether it's a short story or a novel. Do you outline, wing it, or something else? If you outline, is there any particular method you follow?

                          I've got some ideas for my own writing, but planning is something of a hangup. I'm curious if any of you have any ideas on it.
                          It depends on the story, on the length, and most importantly on the writer. Last year I wrote a fable and a handful of short stories. None of them had any planning beyond an idea of what I thought was going to happen. For the longest short story, I actually had a pretty well developed idea in my head, but there wasn't anything written in outline form. I also finished the novel I started for National Novel Writing Month 2013, and I did a lot of world building for a series that probably won't be started for a couple of years. For that project, I'm planning to put together a fairly complete history of the world before I get started. In most cases, I'm predominantly a "pantser", especially for NaNo novels. For the 2014 NaNo, I had a pretty rough time getting started. I managed to get a few chapters in, but it wasn't until I sat down and put together a pretty decent outline that I really managed to get words down at any speed. Even then, I only outlined to the end of the first act, and I didn't keep completely to it.

                          I've some links on it I can give you later. One of the challenges with writing an outline is how you format it. I know people that write outlines of chapters and individual scenes within a chapter to the point that they're planning out approximately how many words each scene and chapter should end up being. That's great for them, but that would drive me crazy. I tend to outline more in story arcs, but then most of my novels have been in an Act format. For example, my 2014 NaNo Novel has three acts. The first act includes discovery of racial powers, and the rise to power of notable individuals. The second act is a consolidation of power by those who ascended at the end of the first act, and it includes a war between two of the races. The third act is a clash between the 'winner' of the second act with the remaining race. It's only in the third act that the deeper story line of creation vs destruction really comes to a head. Now, you'll notice that just the description I've given here could be used as a rough outline. I've already identified what needs to happen in each act, and I've established how it ties into the story as a whole. I could (and did) create outlines for the major players in the first act. While I could still do this in the second act, it might not be as effective given the increased consolidation of separate story lines. By the time I've reached the third act, there's almost not a point in doing that since the story lines will have meshed into one.

                          It comes down to personal needs and taste. There are well-known, published authors that can't start at all until they have a good outline in place. There are others than can sit down and pound out a novel without much outlining (if any). Arguments for and against any method are pretty silly, in my opinion. If you're reading those, especially in blog form, I would strongly recommend simply reading them not as what you should do, but as ideas for how you might go about it. Take them with several grains of salt. There's not a wrong way to do it. You really just need to play around with a few different things and see what works. A complete outline can really help you get words down when it comes to writing the thing, but it may take far too long for you to decide the outline is 'ready' and actually get started writing. On the other hand, starting without any outline might mean you fizzle out quickly because you've no sense of where the story is going. If nothing else, it might help you keep plots and characters straight if you have at least a general idea of who should be doing what and when. For myself, I tend to get started without much of an outline and then try to put together some bullet points once I get a little farther in.

                          At the end of the day, the hardest part of writing tends to be just doing it. Don't get too hung up on how to get started and just get started. The novel writing challenge in November is great for that. As you go along, pay attention to gaps in your thinking or places where you struggle. Try putting together some short outlines or something to help those, and see how it goes. You might end up doing short sketches and being fine, or you might find that you need something a lot more complex in order to realize your ideas. The only way to find out is to practice it.
                          I'm not here anymore.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Carrikature View Post
                            It depends on the story, on the length, and most importantly on the writer. Last year I wrote a fable and a handful of short stories. None of them had any planning beyond an idea of what I thought was going to happen. For the longest short story, I actually had a pretty well developed idea in my head, but there wasn't anything written in outline form. I also finished the novel I started for National Novel Writing Month 2013, and I did a lot of world building for a series that probably won't be started for a couple of years. For that project, I'm planning to put together a fairly complete history of the world before I get started. In most cases, I'm predominantly a "pantser", especially for NaNo novels. For the 2014 NaNo, I had a pretty rough time getting started. I managed to get a few chapters in, but it wasn't until I sat down and put together a pretty decent outline that I really managed to get words down at any speed. Even then, I only outlined to the end of the first act, and I didn't keep completely to it.

                            I've some links on it I can give you later. One of the challenges with writing an outline is how you format it. I know people that write outlines of chapters and individual scenes within a chapter to the point that they're planning out approximately how many words each scene and chapter should end up being. That's great for them, but that would drive me crazy. I tend to outline more in story arcs, but then most of my novels have been in an Act format. For example, my 2014 NaNo Novel has three acts. The first act includes discovery of racial powers, and the rise to power of notable individuals. The second act is a consolidation of power by those who ascended at the end of the first act, and it includes a war between two of the races. The third act is a clash between the 'winner' of the second act with the remaining race. It's only in the third act that the deeper story line of creation vs destruction really comes to a head. Now, you'll notice that just the description I've given here could be used as a rough outline. I've already identified what needs to happen in each act, and I've established how it ties into the story as a whole. I could (and did) create outlines for the major players in the first act. While I could still do this in the second act, it might not be as effective given the increased consolidation of separate story lines. By the time I've reached the third act, there's almost not a point in doing that since the story lines will have meshed into one.

                            It comes down to personal needs and taste. There are well-known, published authors that can't start at all until they have a good outline in place. There are others than can sit down and pound out a novel without much outlining (if any). Arguments for and against any method are pretty silly, in my opinion. If you're reading those, especially in blog form, I would strongly recommend simply reading them not as what you should do, but as ideas for how you might go about it. Take them with several grains of salt. There's not a wrong way to do it. You really just need to play around with a few different things and see what works. A complete outline can really help you get words down when it comes to writing the thing, but it may take far too long for you to decide the outline is 'ready' and actually get started writing. On the other hand, starting without any outline might mean you fizzle out quickly because you've no sense of where the story is going. If nothing else, it might help you keep plots and characters straight if you have at least a general idea of who should be doing what and when. For myself, I tend to get started without much of an outline and then try to put together some bullet points once I get a little farther in.

                            At the end of the day, the hardest part of writing tends to be just doing it. Don't get too hung up on how to get started and just get started. The novel writing challenge in November is great for that. As you go along, pay attention to gaps in your thinking or places where you struggle. Try putting together some short outlines or something to help those, and see how it goes. You might end up doing short sketches and being fine, or you might find that you need something a lot more complex in order to realize your ideas. The only way to find out is to practice it.
                            Interesting, thanks. I've (sort of) thought about doing the November novel writing challenge, but it just doesn't really appeal to me. I can't imagine that anything I wrote in that month would be at all good anyway.
                            I DENOUNCE DONALD J. TRUMP AND ALL HIS IMMORAL ACTS.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Zymologist View Post
                              Interesting, thanks. I've (sort of) thought about doing the November novel writing challenge, but it just doesn't really appeal to me. I can't imagine that anything I wrote in that month would be at all good anyway.
                              The idea is to get a novel finished - not necessarily polished. And you're too hard on yourself.

                              "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." - Jim Elliot


                              "Forgiveness is the way of love." Gary Chapman

                              My Personal Blog

                              My Novella blog (Current Novella Begins on 7/25/14)

                              Comment

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