Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Outlining My WiP - Does That Count As Writing?

My WiP is whipping me. Really hard. This idea is not totally fleshed out and it's killing me. And my characters are supposed to be the dead ones! Argh!

So instead of doing actual writing on the story, per say, I've been compiling information about my characters. And yes, even making a basic plot outline (*shudders*) of where I want things to go and all that. It's going to be a mystery, so I have to do some planning. I need motivation. I need things to line up. I need my alternate world to make sense. Maybe this whole I-don't-outline thing is what's killing me. So I gave it a try. Seriously, I don't know how anyone outlines. It was a complete and utter nightmare and I only felt more frustrated afterward. Like I didn't accomplish a friggin' thing except neglect my child and eat a lot of Swedish fish. I need someone to post on outlining. Anyone?

But the whole character profiling has been helpful. I've been really focusing on weaving in some small details about each person that will end up being important to the mystery. Of course, I don't know who the culprit will be (heck, I don't even know what the mystery is! Death? Maybe. Something stolen? Perhaps. I really don't know yet), but I do know I want this novel to have interesting and quirky characters, so I've been more focused on that. I feel like this is an element that is always missing in my first drafts, and I'm trying to get some things down FIRST this time.

It's been interesting. Different. A little exciting, but mostly frustrating. Like I said in a post last week, I don't really know the characters, so this whole writing-down-traits has been difficult and slow in coming. Which is probably a good thing with how busy I've been in my real life.

So anyway. I had about 4 K in my actual novel. It didn't work with my new "outline" (and trust me that has to be in quotes. Those of you who outline, I really don't know how you do it. It's become the dirty O-word at my house) and so all 4,000 words got the axe. Toldja I wasn't afraid of the delete key.

I have at least that much (4 K) in my character bible. Stuff you probably wouldn't need to know, but that *I* need to know. This helped me so much that I started writing again on Monday and wrote about 2000 words that day! At least I knew where to start and where I wanted to go. And those are two pretty important things in writing.

So how's your writing coming along? Post your own version of Work in Progress Wednesday. Feel free to steal the WiP graphic and be sure to wave from the bandwagon!


Sherry Ficklin said...

Outlining toatly counts as writing!! It's the hardest part (for me anyway). When you outline, try to leave it vague. Like sign posts rather than an entire road. This need to happen, then this needs to happen, but let the characters get there themselves. I've found that if I get too rigid with an outline, my characters go all willy nilly and do what they want to anyway.

Scott said...

Outlinging counts as writing. Editing counts as writing.

I've struggled with this same issue for years. I always felt that I wasn't actually writing during the editing phase. I mean, yeah, I'd make revisions, change sentences, remove paragraphs, but I wasn't really 'writing'. A very dear friend of mine pointed out that editing, outling, even just thinking about the project is part of the writing process.

As for outlining . . . I don't do it, not in the past, not in the present, and hopefully not in the future. I start with a basic idea and free-write. I normally have an idea of what I want to happen to Character A, B, C, etc., but those plans sometimes change as I write. Go figure.

As for my characters . . . I start with the basics and go from there. I normally start an Excel worksheet and list the basics: hair color, eye color, height, build, car they drive, favorite books, movies, drinks, food, family stuff, how long they've been friends with the other characters, job, favorite color, quirks they have, and all the other stuff that makes them (to me at least) relatable. This is what works for me. Does all this info make it into the final product? Heck no, but a lot of it does. Sometimes, the small things about the characters - like the fact that Stephanie Plum eats peanut butter and olive sandwiches - makes all the difference to me as a reader.

Keep writing . . . even if it's an outline. : )

Tess said...

Ick, I despise plotting and outlining :s I am always inspired when I read posts like this, however....they remind me that it does help/does make the actual writing better. And, I say it totally counts!

Bowman said...

Because of all the negativity concerning outlines, I wrote my first novel mostly based on mental notes. Um, that didn't go so well. Later Mr. Bailey convinced me to outline, and I'm loving it.

True, it might be lame to work with a 3-act structure, but it's better than typing blind. So I have my outline broken into three acts, and each act is broken into scenes (which I summarize with one sentence or paragraph). Now when I get to the keyboard, I don't worry about what to write, because I know where the story is going, and because of character profiles (which are below the outline), I know enough about my characters to make each scene real. Still, there's room for flexibility; as in, I can add or adjust scenes when needed. So far, so cool.

Windy said...

Well, when you outline, you gotta write stuff down, right? It isn't like you keep it all in your head, so literally, outlining is writing. In regards to what you really mean, I agree with Sherry, it totally counts. You're getting the story together. It's going to be told in a more literary way eventually, but when you look at the outline, YOU know what the story is. Basically anyway. So yes, it counts. Totally.

And, umm, I gotta say, I used to be so totally against the outline thing too. But lately, it's been coming up a lot for me too. Not until after I've done some writing though, and gotten a sense of what the story might be.

Oh yeah, waving from the bandwagon!

Jamie D. said...

I can outline or not - it depends on the project. I rarely start with an outline, but generally end up starting one at some point. With my blog serial, I wrote a good 6000 words or so, *then* started outlining. I'm outlining each chapter as I go and maybe one ahead, just really vague points, which is helping to keep things going straight.

I will say that out of my three finished drafts, I picked the one that I worked from a rough outline to was the best "1st draft" I had. But my "outline" was just a collection of color-coded index cards with scene ideas/characters/plot problems on them, not a traditional style outline.

I'm currently working on a short story, and just downloaded ywriter yesterday to try. So far, it's made a basic outline insanely easy to create, so I'm loving that.

But I didn't answer your question. For me, whether outlining is writing or not depends on the style. An outline with just random sentences describing what I want to write about isn't "writing", but an outline with a few sentences or paragraphs that could be included in the actual scene is. But I get literal like that - don't mind me!

In any case, you made *progress* on the project as a whole, which is what's really important...every little bit will help get the writing done!

Traci said...

That counts for sure! :-)

Unknown said...

Sounds like your struggling along perfectly. Srsly (tm).

I think each book is different. With some I've outlined, with others no. Some I wing it with characters, other I need a bio.

I have found highlighting different events that will occur in the book helps. And knowing at least a bit about the ending is a MUST.

Keep on writing! You're doin' fine!

Danyelle L. said...

Definitely counts!

I feel your pain. I have a WIP that's flirting with me. Showing me the possibility of a scene here, dropping a name there. It's in a completely new genre that I've never written in before.

*pulls out hair*

What do you say we duct tape our characters to a chair until they talk?

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I was reading your excellent as always post, and everything was going along fine until I hit the words "Swedish fish", then all I could think was "mmmm, Swedish fish. I want some Swedish fish."

Okay, let me try and pull my mind back on track. Yes, outlining definitely counts. I do mine very loosely though, sometimes just getting down the major action beats, or else figuring out the basic events of each chapter. I really hate the outlining process, but if I don't do it I just start hitting walls once I'm 20K words in. Maybe getting reading up on screenwriting 3 act structure will help too - I work off that a lot too.

Good luck with whatever you do!

Michelle D. Argyle said...

I'm going to do a post on outlining soon, as I'm doing it right now with my current WIP. It's a weird process and I need to talk about it soon on my blog or The Literary Lab.

Bill, the Wildcat said...

Outlining really is a mystery to me. I've talked to many successful writers who do it. I've not attempted to outline, and the prospect of it is frightening to me. That said, I fall into a similar camp as brian_ohio. I do think a writer needs some idea of where it's all going. Even if you don't outline, in the traditional sense, you need to have an idea of what the key moments will be. I think of those moments as the things that are unavoidable, no matter what the characters say or do, that moment will happen. More important is just knowing where it's all going, even if it's a rough concept. Where should the main character's arc take him/her? What things must be resolved? I think the only problem with outlining is the same problem writers run into when they edit a rough draft. They've already married themselves to the course of the story, so much so, that they're willing to let the characters do things that make no sense, either in term's of the character's nature or just flat-out common sense. Outlines can help figure out where characters and plot need to go, but it can be the final word. The characters need to dictate the path within the final work. At least, that's how I see it... but I've come to appreciate every writer has their on path... perhaps every story does, too.

Anonymous said...

I love the picture in my head of you actually...OUTLINING. Srsly, I am impressed with the progress...even if it feels like you haven't made any. And you know I am only an email/chat away if you need to talk through any plot points....

Donna McDine said...

I agree...outlining is definitely writing. As well as editing. It's all part of the writing. The easy and the difficult.

Best wishes for your continued success,
Donna McDine

Katie Anderson said...

So weird! I have never outlined either, but am starting to do the SAME THING! And I have also started a notebook and am asking myself things about the characters!

And I also have dreaded every *worthless step!

But I am assured that NO step is worthless and it will all pay off in the end :-)

I had to ask Lila how to do it. I am trying their method of one Act at a time. Oh! And I'm using that link on my blog called "screenplay structure." Go look at it.

Annie Louden said...

I LOLed about neglecting your kid and too many Swedish fish.

I hate outlining, too, but I really think not doing it keeps me from moving forward, because I just don't know where I'm going.

When I wrote my first novel I had an advisor (it was for college), and I was just writing blindly, like 10 pages a week, and she would read my pages and point out things that were happening, or themes that were emerging, that I hadn't even noticed b/c I was stuck in the writing. But I would run with her observations, and more story would get written.

Hmm, so I guess my point is, you can have someone do the lightest read of a few pages and tell you what they notice, or you could try to read your stuff over and be objective and ask "What is emerging here?"

Elana Johnson said...

Thanks everyone! I knew it counted, I just knew it.

And christine, if you had actually seen me trying to outline, you would still be laughing.

Bill, the Wildcat, I like your idea of "key moments". I have those. I just have no idea how to get to them...

Good points Annie! Thanks!

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