Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire


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Post May 24, 2011, 07:22:33 AM

Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire

This topic is nice and straightforward.

I am middle of the road about outlines. All my stories emerge with an iconic scenario that is either interesting or funny. (Otherwise I just get parody stock cardboard figures kinda staring at each other.) Then I rough out a few of the supporting episodes before and after.

When the easy incidents are all safely written, only then do I outline, because then I start examining shifts in perspective, setting, story angles, and so on. For me it's key to have the easy fun scenarios roughed out to inform the outline.

I think a lot of writers might have an internal outline going that simply isn't written down, but is emerging on the fly. (Otherwise the chunk of words would be total gibberish. "Once upon a time, with great sadness, the hero of the land died. Then, he was born. Ten years later he drank a glass of milk." Blecch.)
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Post May 24, 2011, 12:49:01 PM

Re: Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire

I find that I frequently write outlines for stories. But in nearly every case those outlines get left behind as the characters begin taking over and telling me new things I'd never thought of on my own. On the other hand, I suppose my "Timeline of Bethdish" is really nothing more than a series outline. I do find myself having it on display on one screen while I'm writing in another, and with research materials on several other screens, too.

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Post May 24, 2011, 09:19:26 PM

Re: Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire

Vila wrote:I find that I frequently write outlines for stories. But in nearly every case those outlines get left behind as the characters begin taking over and telling me new things I'd never thought of on my own.


I think it's important to remember that an outline isn't a suicide pact. It's just a plan, and like most plans, it will rarely survive first contact with the enemy. :)
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Post May 25, 2011, 07:29:27 AM

Re: Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire

Many time I use my poems as an outline, and a guide to what I want to convey. I include the lines too when I am able.

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Post May 25, 2011, 08:07:16 AM

Re: Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire

doc wrote:I think it's important to remember that an outline isn't a suicide pact. It's just a plan, and like most plans, it will rarely survive first contact with the enemy. :)



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Post June 04, 2011, 12:28:11 PM

Re: Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire

My little exercise in writing the worst story ever written adds some light here. This is the second time that I have been able to use a setup-rules post as a story guide. I suppose it really works best for comedy pieces that are allowed to creak under the weight of too many required inclusions.

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Post June 04, 2011, 12:29:41 PM

Re: Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire

rick tornello wrote:Many time I use my poems as an outline, and a guide to what I want to convey. I include the lines too when I am able.

RT


This part is fascinating. Are you saying you begin with a prior poem expressing a mood and later turn it into a story!?

I can sometimes do that with songs, which are musical poems.
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Post June 04, 2011, 04:35:51 PM

Re: Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire

In my novel project, I am relying more on timelines than any kind of outline. Maybe I'm obsessive about sequence . . . I keep track of what happened when (in two calendar systems, one ours and one for the planet the aliens are from) and how old each character is at the point of each significant event in the story. I also include certain other information, such as the names of characters and their relationships.

It's all under the category of world-building.

This became a necessity for me not too far into the work on the project. Once I'm no longer confused by the combinations of who, what, where, and when, I can place a character in a situation and let them be themselves.

It helps. It doesn't write the story for me.
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Post June 04, 2011, 05:42:44 PM

Re: Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire

Lester Curtis wrote:In my novel project, I am relying more on timelines than any kind of outline.


A timeline is just one form of an outline. :)
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Post June 04, 2011, 08:08:10 PM

Re: Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire

A timeline is just one form of an outline. :)
Yes. Call it a subset.

I've gone through several variations.
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Post June 21, 2011, 12:39:30 AM

Re: Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire

I am just starting to break my writer's block.

From that vantage, I'm still middle-road about outlines - I'll visualize half of an outline in my mind, at the very raw "why am I even writing this story" level. But lately my better stories need what I will call a "hook", which is the key moment of the plot concept that prevents the dreaded curse of writing into a corner. Without that hook, I don't even bother writing anything at all anymore. Someone elsewhere challenged me to write a political story and it took me years to figure out the last couple of hooks.

Once the hooks are figured out, the outline for me becomes more of an anti-blunder device, catching stuff like "Oh. Right. He can't say hi to Mom next scene because he's still on the business trip."
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Post June 21, 2011, 01:04:02 AM

Re: Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire

Once the hooks are figured out, the outline for me becomes more of an anti-blunder device, catching stuff like "Oh. Right. He can't say hi to Mom next scene because he's still on the business trip."
My timeline saved me from such a blunder just recently . . . I was writing a scene in which my main character's two younger brothers appear, and I was beginning to write it as though they were still little kids, when in actuality they were old enough to have kids of their own . . . this timeline is now the most-used tool I have.
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Post June 21, 2011, 01:14:09 AM

Re: Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire

The web comic xkcd had a strip with another neat method - drawing "character location by story time". Graphically you see who was where during the story, such as plotting points of each scene with more than one caracter then drawing lines.

It provides a surprising visual saying if you have a linear story flow, or an overly complex plot, etc. With a little practice it might identify if you "stranded" someone in Tokyo but forgot to fly them home.

Same idea, if your axis scale changes, is the "oops they are adults" thing you caught.
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Post June 21, 2011, 10:36:05 AM

Re: Thoughts on Writing #29: Outlines by Seanan McGuire

I also recently drew up a family tree for the main character's family . . . had to do it just to keep track of names, but it adds another layer of information. And mentioning it just reminded me that it needs another connecting line.

As to:
drawing "character location by story time

-- if I wanted to, I could just add another column or two to my timeline with that information in it, but I haven't had any trouble along those lines yet.
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