Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Dirty O-Word

That's right. *whispers* Outlining. I blogged a WiP Wednesday or two ago about this evil. And I thought it would be hilarious if I posted my outline. I know some of you aren't going to believe me. Like I'm one of those people you see on late night television with Jay Leno who doesn't know there is a South and a North Dakota. I swear I'm not. I swear I'm smart. Honestly. I even have the GPA to prove it. I just can't wrap my mind around outlining.

So here's what my feeble and pathetic attempts at outlining yielded.

And outline...go. These are chapters, BTW.

1. Intro to Penelopie - how she can feel death. Death is coming

2. Intro to Blake - backstory on their death partnership, world-building

3. Intro to Jayne - more on P's abilities - more about Blake

4. Blake asks Pen to the beach - backstory on what Pen's doing in her "family"

5. Characterization on Jayne, Sasha and Ruth.

6. Home life – real-life intro to Pen’s parents

7. Beach

8. Jayne’s death

And outline...out.

And that took me most of one day to do. I wanted to die (I still do). And I haven't worked on that novel since. I just can't go back to the horror waiting for me in that Word document. Can you really call that an outline? I mean look at number 7. It's one freaking word. How is that an outline?

I need therapy. Serious therapy. Does anyone know someone who's great with Outline: Fail patients? Please leave me their phone number in the comments.

Oh, and your insight on the dirty o-word would be appreciated too. kthxbai.


B.J. Anderson said...

Haha, hey that's a pretty good start!! :D I don't take the outline too seriously. I have a general idea to begin with and I scrawl a bunch of ideas down randomly in a notebook. Which is why I'd go to the funny farm if anyone ever found said notebook. Then I try to focus a bit more and outline chapters as I go. So I'll outline (very randomly still) two or three chapters at a time. I don't like to outline too many more than that because you just never know when your going to get an awesome idea later down the road. And I have one book I outlined from beginning to end and it never got written. Once I found out how it was going to end, I didn't care anymore, lol. :D Good luck with it all!

Tess said...

I think that's a fabulous outline. I leads your story forward while still allowing for the muse. Perfect, really.

Windy said...

So maybe my thoughts on outlining are a little different, but I don't start with one. I'm usually about 10K or more words in before an outline begins to form in my head and I really know where the story is going. Then I just go from there.

As for formatting, well, personally I use the one I was taught in AP American History my junior year of HS. (I know, nerd alert.) Each one of my key events has supporting events beneath with details on supporting events.

Hope that makes sense. And good luck!

Abby Annis said...

I tried to do an outline once. It ended up just being a brainstormed list of things I wanted to happen, in no particular order, and I only used about half. I write to see how the story ends. Where's the fun if you know exactly where it's going?

IMO, outlines (and synopses) should be given the lethal injection. Is that the insight you were looking for?

lisa and laura said...

Ok, this is kind of hilarious. Our outlines are totally random and filled with stuff like, "and they go on a ski trip, because who doesn't want to go on a ski trip when they're in high school!?"

BUT, I can't imagine writing without one. I'd be a wreck. I'm convinced our book would have no plot and wouldn't make any sense at all if we went commando.

P.S. If you're really interested in how we outline I can send you what we used for The Haunting of PB. I'm not sure I'll be able to dig up the whole thing, but I bet I can find an act or 2 in our e-mail archives. Lemme know.

Scott said...

Stop outling and just write! If this worked for you in the past, then it will work in the present. : )

As you know, I don't outline. My current project started with a sentence. I'm 3,000 words into the project with no outline.

Now, I do have a general idea of where I want to go. I have one question that is the 'outline' so to speak of my story: How does Seth go from living his life through others, to truly living his life for himself? So, I know where I'm beginning (Seth doing things he thinks he should do because other people think he should do them) and where I must end (Seth truly living his life for himself). The road ain't easy and thus my next project.

I have no clue - okay, I have a ton of clues and notes that I jotted down this weekend - what Seth will encounter from beginning to end. I'm just writing, drawing on real life somewhat, the lives of friends, family, and the depths of my sometimes depraved imagination.

For me, I think the ideas . . . this needs to happen, that needs to happen . . . that I write down in a nifty Word document titled "notes" is an outline of sorts, just no particular order as to when that stuff will happen, or even 'if' some of the stuff will happen.

For me, solely me, writing is an adventure. Life is not scripted. I never know what each day might bring. The same thing goes for my characters. For all your careful outlining, sometimes, the characters take off in different directions.

Go with your instinct, Elana. Outlining is obviously not working for you. Don't fret about a failed outline. Just write. We can't always force our brilliance, sometimes we just need to let it happening naturally . . . without an outline. : )

Elana Johnson said...

Thanks guys! I'm so glad I'm not the only who can't you-know-what. Tess, you are my new BFF. I mean it. *sniffs*

Lisa and Laura - send it to me! Now! Send it NOW!

Abby, lethal injections indeed. I'm all over that.

B.J. I'd be at that farm with you. When I tell my son to write something down in my notebook because I'm driving, he just rolls his eyes. Then he asks, "What are you going to do with that?" Like I won't be able to work in passing a cement truck on the right side into a novel. He obviously has no idea of my mad skillz. LOL.

And Scott - you are awesome. I think you've just gained yourself a new stalker, er, fan. Thanks soooo much!!

Michelle McLean said...

hehe, the few times I've attempted an outline it has looked EXACTLY like that...no joke. In fact, if I typed it up, I probably have it saved somewhere. I'll have to look.

And really, I think that is a perfect outline :D It gives you an idea of what you need to work for in each chapter, and you know what you are talking about, so one word entries work just fine :D

But I'd have to agree with Scott...forget the outline and just write. It has always worked before...why fix what ain't broke ;-)

C. N. Nevets said...

Hmm... I'll admit I have a hard time relating. I don't always do formal outlines, though I think a chapter outline can be super helpful. But I think a good sketch of the storyline of the novel, including roughly the same number of major points as there are going to be chapters, can be a great weapon against writer's block and a great tool for organizing and motivating yourself.

I think a lot of writers make outlining too hard on themselves and that's why it doesn't work for them. For one thing, we're used to thinking of an outline as being part of an English class assignment that we did (the whole assignment) in one evening.

The outline of a novel can takes days or weeks or longer to generate. No big deal! After all, when you write the outline, you're writing the storyline -- and you can and should take your time with that. So relax if it seems like it takes you "forever." The outline isn't supposed to be quick.

I also find that it's a whole lot easier to outline if I think in terms of action items rather than elements of literature.

So, for instance, rather than "Intro to George," I think in terms of, "George learns that he might lose his job." I think an outline is a lot tougher to grind out if I think in terms of what I hope to accomplish. Much easier to frame it in plot elements.

I'm not comfortable posting it online, but if you'd like to see the outline my wife Rose and I finished up yesterday for our collab novel, drop me an e-mail (c.n.nevets at gmail.com). Maybe you can see what I mean better.

That said, if you don't outline, you don't outline, and if you get published without an outline, you're still getting published. :-D

Jamie D. said...

Have you seen Holly Lisle's Notecard plotting? I did a note card outline for NaNoWriMo one year, and it really worked amazingly well. It's basically just a collage of scenes - one sentence or so to help keep things moving. I think you might like it...

I generally start without an outline, then when I'm getting around 8,000 words into it or so, I start outlining just a few chapters ahead. By "outlining" I mean "planning the next couple scenes" - usually it's just one sentence or a couple words. That's enough to keep me going through the middle, then I forge ahead once I near the end.

So why did I do the note card thing before NaNo that year? It's actually the only time I think about writing much before doing it...because I'm excited to start, and can't actually start writing yet. :-)

Unknown said...

Eh, don't worry about it. I think people get too caught up in the proper way to write.

Me? I just write. If I get stuck, then I might make a sketchy outline like the one you posted.

But don't psych yourself out over it! Just write!

Kathryn Hupp-Harris said...

Outlining is simple if you just remember the cardinal rules of hooking your readers: Torture your characters.

This makes outlining so much easier.

Each one of your scenes needs to have a goal. What is that goal? Once you've established that goal for that scene or chapter, thwart it. Keep your character from achieving whatever they set out to do until we get to the first major plot point that really gets the story spinning into motion.

As the story continues, your characters will get into deeper and deeper poopoo until everything unravels in the climax and the story comes to the make-or-break, everything-they-have-fought-and-suffered-for is on the line.

Your outline should include thwarted scene after thwarted scene of getting your characters into deeper poopoo until they find themselves up the creak . . .ya know.

Kathryn Hupp-Harris said...

Sorry . . .that was creek. :-)

Andrea Cremer said...

Hey Elana,

I totally empathize with your plight. I cannot outline. I started to write my own strategies here, but it got so long it turned into a full blog post. Check it out if you're interested.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Elana, outlining is not for everybody. And everybody does it differently. I just find it easier to organize my novel when I outline. And I usually do several. A loose one before, a very detailed one after the WIP's first draft is finished, and another loose one after I've had several great drafts and need to polish for any holes I missed earlier in my brilliant "organization".

Obviously, I haven't mastered it all yet.

Eric said...

Don't feel so bad Elana. I tried my hand at outlining, and I agonized over the entire process. Parts of it were useful (like thinking out where I was going with the story) but overall I have to say it didn't really help me. So maybe it isn't what you need.

Danyelle L. said...

I share your outlining pain. I can't outline. I mean, I could, but what the outline said and what the story did would be two completely different things.

I've had the Snowflake method recommended to me, but even that didn't work out.

I've tried to love 'em because (in theory) they could save a ton of time and make writing so much easier. Eventually I just had to accept that outlining and I are like plaid and polka dots--we shouldn't be seen together in public or private. :)

Unknown said...

As far as I'm concerned that *is* an outline. Yes, about as bare bones as you can get, but there it is. I just heard a successful author speak over the weekend that says sometimes he starts with the outline "The good guy wins." So, you're not as bad as you think. Maybe you're just trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Even if you have to delete a lot in the revising stage, you won't get a lot written if you're paralyzed by the O-word.

Of course, this is coming from someone trying to outline my latest WIP with more than sections that say: Something cool happens here. :)

Anonymous said...

I guess my question is why do you feel you need to outline now. Is it to fix the ending issues? Or is it to layer as you go? What is your goal? Once you figure out why you want to outline, maybe you'll decide you don't need to - maybe not.

I outline loosely - a collection of general ideas or scenes that move the plot forward...and like Kat said, I move from one torturous moment to another...building to the climax, (at least that is the goal.

Good luck....

Rebecca Knight said...

Your outline looks great to me! :)

Outlines are just "guidelines" to help keep you on track. I'm an outliner, so I blogged about what I do here:


Thanks for the post, Elana! You rock!

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