Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Outlining Update

I know you're all dying to know how I fared on my outlines this month. I suppose it's time for a status update.

Goal: Have three different outlines for three Shiny New Ideas ready to send off by Sept. 1. With each outline, include sample pages (about 50).

What I Actually Achieved: Two full outlines, with sample pages for both ideas. One with 93 pages, one with 57.

Grade: 2 out of 3 ain't bad, right? 66%? Okay, that's a D. Whatever.

So, how did I--self-proclaimed hater of outlines (and holy cow, are they hard!!)--do it?

So many of you provided links and whatnot to help. I'll admit that most of what I read made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. My brain just doesn't think that way. I loathe the Three Act Structure with every fiber in my heart and liver. Loathe.

But in the end, the explanations Alex Sokoloff's blog provided me with something that made a tiny bit of sense. I read her posts and took notes.

And then I started outlining. I learned several things from doing this:

1. My MC wasn't the most important character. I had to fix that up real fast.

2. Outlining is exactly like pantsing, except you make the crap up BEFORE you actually write it. Go figure.

And for the official record, outlining is MUCH harder. It's like concentrated thinking. With pantsing you can spread out the thinking over weeks or months. With outlining, it's like eating frozen orange juice concentrate straight from the can. It makes you cringe and pucker and salivate like a Great Dane. AND it's nasty. 


3. Outlining causes me to stare aimlessly more than anything else. Seriously, I wasted hours of my life just staring.

4. The thought of outlining keeps me off the computer. Good thing I have a stack of books three feet high. And I have now seen every Chopped and Office episode.

5. Never write "outline" on your to-do list. You'll never cross it off. Ev-er. You just keep doing it until the breath has been sucked out of your body. Don't believe me? Try it.

So are you an outliner or a pantser? A little of both? What have you learned from outlining?

75 comments:

Ted Cross said...

You do it the hard way! You should see my post on outlining for pantsers. Anyhow, I would give you a much better grade than 'D' for that effort. It's far more than I have ever done with outlining.

Laura Pauling said...

I'm an outliner. And yes, it's hard. It takes a good month, for me. I try and work on them when I'm revising the previous novel. So in away, it's spread out. I need the time to think and work plot out. But I tried pantsing but once I realized that most of it was pretty useless, I went back to outline. Maybe pantsing is a learned skill. And I love Alex S. blog. Very helpful.

Mary Brebner said...

OMG--you totally had me laughing because that's exactly how I feel about outlining. Frozen concentrated orange juice straight from the can. Heehee!

I reluctantly outline, though the second half of it usually ends up completely different than how I outlined it. *sigh*

Connie said...

Pantser here. Outlining an entire novel before writing it would probably kill me.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I don't mind outlining as I go, but I'd hate to have to outline a future story and like figure it all out before I write it.

But good for you. You've overcome a hurtle I'm guessing all published writers have to overcome.

Renae said...

Oh my gosh! I love your description of outlining! I am a total pantser...I like to make the crap up as I go. The only thing I have ever learned from outlining is that it gives me a headahe!

Congrats to you for getting so much done. I'm certain I would have had a massive meltdown!

paulgreci said...

Great post. I love your outlining descriptions!! Frozen concentrate all the way!!

I write a rough outline first--sometimes.

The Golden Eagle said...

Sometimes I'm an outliner, and sometimes I'm a pantser. It usually depends on the type of story I'm writing.

lynnrush said...

Oh gosh. I had a little anxiety attack reading this. . .

I'm a pantser to the core. Really. The only amount of "planning" I do is write out a mind map that looks like total chaos to anyone but me and think about a story while riding my bike for hours on end. (that part's my fav)

The idea of having to do an outlines really freaks me out to no end.

Slamdunk said...

With your description of outlining, I am thinking that 2 out of 3 is great. So, nicely done.

Christine Fonseca said...

You know how proud I am of you, right??? And you already know I am a die hard outliner...and...yes...REoutliner!

Deni Krueger said...

The only time I outlined was a flop. I wrote, and rewrote the first 10 pages until I couldn't take it anymore. And then I threw away the outline and wrote the story the way it was supposed to be.

Deni Krueger said...

The only time I outlined was a flop. I wrote, and rewrote the first 10 pages until I couldn't take it anymore. And then I threw away the outline and wrote the story the way it was supposed to be.

storyqueen said...

I bow at your awesomeness.

And two out of three is amazing!

Shelley

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

I'm so a pantser but trying to cross over ugh! My new program that I am in love with is the oneNote program, yeah!! I make brief outlines and highlight and snip in pics and all sorts of coolness. Oh and I doodle, like scribble on your book cover doodle :)

Dude you are my hero for doing the outline thing!

Michelle McLean said...

2 out of 3 is incredible! Very well done :D I have been dabbling in outlining and it's been going pretty well so far. Time will tell LOL

Jaydee Morgan said...

I'm an outliner by nature - always have been and I love the three-act structure! I'm weird, I know, but I need the structure of the outline before my creativity can be turned loose. With no outline to guide me, I'd be writing with no direction, no rhyme or reason and no end in sight. Let's just say, it wouldn't be pretty.

Stephanie McGee said...

LOL Congrats on finishing the outlines. Now, get off the computer and go finish that third one!

I hate outlining. At least, I hate it in detail. I have to have some sort of synopsis and some sort of breakdown as a loose guide when I set out on a first draft. So I guess I'm a mix of both pantser and plotter.

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm a panster, often with an overall picture of where I'm going.

You have to keep us updated. Once you write, is it easier now that you've got the outline? Or does it feel like a noose? Do you refer to the outline often? Or not at all?

As you can see, I'm curious.

Christina Lee said...

I love #2! I never did it for "real" either--more like plot points, but I doubt that would count!

Lynn Colt said...

I hate outlining for the reasons you mentioned, but my writing is much better the more I outline, so I've got to do it. Ack. Outlining a new story is on my list of goals for September.

Lydia Sharp said...

I'm a mix of both. An in-betweener. Hey, whatever works, right?

Kelly Bryson said...

I just wrote my first outline after declaring myself a pantser, and it was like you said- I made junk up *before* instead of during. I like it. I might want to become a professional outliner. Let somebody else ghost write all my amazing ideas. Like James Patterson, right? Nice OJ analogy. And I spend a lot of time trying to go go to sleep, but just lying there, thinking. And thinking.

Falen (Sarah) said...

HAHAHAHAHA!!! ohhh, i so know about the staring aimlessly. I do that so much.
Outlining isn't hard for me, because before i get to that step, i've imagined (in me head) much of what happens in the story. So it's just converting my thoughts onto paper

Meredith said...

You're so right--outlining is like pantsing, but in a concentrated, painful form. Congrats on finishing two outlines! And yay for watching The Office instead of working :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

One of my writer friends and I were discussing last night our outlining techniques. She will write one point per scene, which she fleshes out once she's figured out all the scenes. Me. I know where I'm starting and where I'm going to finish, but I'm pretty clueless about the middle, except for some ideas I've written down. I don't have any three acts figured out. Then I write 7-14 plot points per scene. I have no real idea where I'm going. I just know where I want to end up.

I realized last night, that's like being a panster, only instead of doing it in first draft, I'm panstering my outline. ;)

Angela said...

I'm with you on outlining. Pantsing is so much more fun, but then it usually results in my having to cut my manuscript down by at least 50% when I'm finished--another frustrating, time consuming job.

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm more a pantster than outliner - although I do have the ending scene in mind before I start (usually) so I have an idea where I'm going.

The thought on outlining - and on paper! - terrifies me.

Indigo said...

Pantser all the way. However, I'm not opposed to outlining a 2nd draft, after I have all the key ingredients. (Hugs)Indigo

Martin said...

Too funny, Elana. I about shot coffee out my nose at the "don't put OUTLINE on your todo list" point. God, that's true!

I'm a pantser who needs to be an outliner. The 105,000 word novel I'm shopping around right now was 165,000 words in first draft. I don't want to go through that slashing act again. Had to kill WAY too many of my darlings.

Thanks for the insight and the laugh.

Bish Denham said...

I say CONGRATULATIONS! Job well done! Pat on the back! Outlining is hard for some of us. I have learned to do a little of both.

I write up a very rough sketch of each chapter, anywhere from a sentence or two to sometimes a whole page. This seems to work well for me. It gives me room to breathe, but keeps me on course, keeps me from getting too side-tracked.

Myrna Foster said...

I'm a pantser, but sometimes I need an outline to see where I'm going. I don't stress over sticking to the outline if the story takes me somewhere else though.

This isn't school. Sometimes two out of three is great! :o)

Carol Kilgore said...

Where IS the camera? I'm both, and I'm learning to outline a section at a time. Baby steps. Your achievement is awesome! It gives me hope.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Congratulations. Two out of three ain't bad, as the song says. lol.

I'm a pantser at heart, but I've done some plotting. I agree with you on the Three Act Structure. *shudders*

Jamie Burch said...

I'd say that's progress! Way to go! Good luck with the rest of your goals. You can do it!

I'm an outliner, but still in the beginning stages of finding what works for me. As I write, new ideas pop up, so it's not a strict outline.

Go, Elana!

Elana Johnson said...

Whew. Thanks everyone. Maybe 66% isn't as bad as I thought. And hey, if I can make you laugh, that's a success right there. :D

Nicole Zoltack said...

I'm a panster. However, when I have a deadline, I try to outline even if it' just a skeleton one. It helps me focus and I can write so much faster when I have even that skinny outline.

So maybe I should outline more...

Melissa said...

I'm a little of both, so I guess that makes me a pantliner:)

I had a very basic outline when I started writing. I knew the beginning, middle, and ending, but everything else I made up as I wrote.

Elle Strauss said...

Actually, I'm blogging about this tomorrow. I'm a bit of both-er. I like the 3 act structure and I outline just enough to identify key plot points. Then the rest is pantsing. My experience is that so many great ideas come in the moment, I couldn't possibly have come up with them while straining my teeth with concentrated orange juice! To each their own, I say. :)

Lisa_Gibson said...

I'm for sure a pantster. I might do the occasional list with bullet points. Bullet points that I later try to cram into my brain or I send them richocheting around the manuscript somewhere. :) I don't envy you. Love this whole portion: "With outlining, it's like eating frozen orange juice concentrate straight from the can. It makes you cringe and pucker and salivate like a Great Dane. AND it's nasty." Made me laugh for a bit. Thanks for that.
Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

WindyA said...

A bit of both, personally, though I've only recently started to try out the outlining thing too.

Glad you found something that works for you and 2/3 ain't bad!

Taffy said...

YOU are too funny girl!

I outlined the first MS I started. Then I pantsered. I looked back at the outline and found I had left out a few key scenes so I pantsered them. The ending totally changed from the one I had in the outline also. But I just did a mix of both.
ALL the other stories I've worked on had no outline. I've decided I like a loose outline.

John Sankovich said...

I've tried both, outlining worked better for Screenplays, but for novels I have a hard time doing an outline. I don't know what it is. I've tried to do it a few times unsuccessfully. I like the discovery with pantsing because it makes writing more of an adventure than a checklist with things that need to be accomplished before the ending. I see how they can both work though, I just have trouble outlining, maybe I'll try it again with my next project.

selestiele said...

I have a rough idea/outline of key plot points, but I let my characters get to those points in whatever way they deem necessary. Although I recently changed a major plot device and am now fighting with the original outline to make it work.

Steena Holmes said...

I used to be a panster until my recent novel. I discovered outlining suits me, I write faster/better with an outline. I stick to my outline 75% of the time too - and allow my creative chocolate candies to provide the other 25% in panster fashion.
My current WIP that I'm working on - I'm outlining. On paper. Now I have no excuse. I can do this anywhere.

Carolyn V. said...

Way to go on the outlining Elana!

I'm a little of both an outliner and a pantser. But I just love to get down and begin the writing. =)

Liza said...

I love my pants and hyperventilate if I have to outline.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Ooh, nothing I like better than corrupting a pantser! ;)

Thanks for the shoutout, Elana. I totally believe - anything - ANYTHING at all that works is gold. 66%? You rock.

- Alex

ali said...

I love ya Elana. Sometimes I wish I could keep a little E in my pocket to pick me up on dreary days. You make me smile. Always.

Okay so, um. I think I'm an outliner. And I don't call it staring into space--I call it Dreaming (a la Terry Brooks). I can write pantser-style, but I always end up trashing my stuff and starting over--WITH AN OUTLINE. So I'm learning to write only the first bit panster-style (since that's how my ideas come to me) but then quick-as-I-can getting down to the nitty gritty of outlining. Saves my bacon time and again.

Don't believe me? Just ask me about COG. Uh yeah. Trashed like 40K of it because when I went back to work out my world-building problems, I discovered that the way I was writing it wasn't gonna work. Yeah.

Pam Torres said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pam Torres said...

Great information. You're one busy writer!

Krispy said...

I think the super concentrated effort of outlining is what keeps me from doing it. It is daunting. It is scary. I don't know if I have that much brain power to spare.

On the other hand, I often think while I'm pantsing along how much an outline would help. :P

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

I am a connect-the-dotser. I like to know my major plot points and turning points and ending before I stop--but those are usually just dumped in a loose synopsis-like thing I spend a couple days on as I 'think' the plot through. Then I pants the rest as I go from plot point to plot point.

I LOATHE outlining. And nothing guarantees a flat, lifeless book more (for me at least) than working from a rigid outline. For some reason it makes me lost all the fun in my story and turn it formulaic.

Tamika: said...

I definitely like outlining in the lose sense of the word, nothing too formal. I just need a brief idea of where my characters are running off to, and what their conflicts and goals are.

I like have part of the puzzle before starting, it excites me:)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I prefer to outline. Hell, I don't even leave the house without a map and a plan!

Holly Ruggiero, Southpaw said...

I am absolutely determined to outline my next book – it’s on my to do list. :)

Holly Ruggiero, Southpaw said...

I am absolutely determined to outline my next book – it’s on my to do list. :)

Patti said...

Definitely a pantser. I tried outlining once and it took all the fun out of writing.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Pantser - big time! I love your #5. it's perfect. :-)

Terry Stonecrop said...

So panster, here! Funny post! I relate:)

I tried outlining once. I never wrote the story. The thrill was gone...

Larissa said...

I can't outline. The most I can do is make notes about things I think of that will have to come up later, like: Make-out scene, she runs, finds xyz at home. And I usually only do that if I have to stop writing when I'm in a groove, or if I think of something that has to come much later, but I think I'll forget it.

And I love how what I just wrote would only make sense to a writer (it did make sense, didn't it?).

;)

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Elana--please send a paramedic...I just fell out of my chair! I might have broken something....I thought you were a sworn pantser. I was following in your awesome footsteps and now, what am I supposed to do????

Kelly Lyman said...

This post is hilarious! I'm totally LOL right now and my husband is looking at me weird. I'm in the process of trying to outline AND do character profile right now for my new project...it's not going so well. I just stare at the computer screen until I can't take it anymore and I just turn it off. I was able to write a very rough outline for the first 10 chapters, but part of me thinks that I only wrote those ideas down to say that I actually did something. I think I'm gonna stop while I'm ahead and just start writing.

Jamie said...

I'm glad Alex Sokoloff's blog helped -- it set off an ah-ha moment for me, too. (And I love her "whatever works is good" motto.)

Lynda Young said...

I'm a little of both. I do find outlining painful but I see the benefits of it so I keep trying. Is there a benefit of knocking one's head against a wall?

Christine Danek said...

Well, i was a panster which has created my revisions to take a friggin year and has made me rewrite huge sections of my WiP. With my new idea, I'm trying to outline but loosely. I'm not sure how that's going to go.
You're line with the orange juice cracked me up. Hilarious.
Good luck!

Kristi Faith said...

I can say with 100% certainty that I feel the same way you do about outlines. Why were they easier in high school? I seem to remember getting really good grades on those. Dang it. Of course, maybe I don't remember correctly. Maybe I don't want to remember correctly....

Oh..outlines? They suck! They have benefits in the long run, but my patience is not always thick enough.

Jessica Nelson said...

Oh man, sounds scary. Do you have to outline for your agent?

Ishta Mercurio said...

I'm a pantser by nature. I learned to do outlines in high school, but at my core I'm a total pantser. Outlining feels like putting myself in shackles; it feels like I'm trying to force a roomful of nervous energy into a 4" x 4" box. It makes me want to get up and run laps every few minutes just to get the energy out. It's bad for me.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Oddly, though, the shorter a piece the easier the outline comes to me, and I find that for my picture books an outline almost always eventually becomes essential and is no problem to do. But that may be because they're so dang short. Outlining a novel is rather a different kettle of (usually raw) fish.

lisanowak said...

Now didn't I warn you not to sit and stare at the screen? When you're trying to come up with your plot you need to do some sort of mindless physical activity, like take a walk or wash dishes. Or better yet, brainstorm with a couple of friends. Of course it sucks if you just stare at the screen.

BTW, you can't judge how well you like outlining until after you finish the first draft. That's when you'll see the results of your work.

Claire Dawn said...

Pantser for life!!!

Although I do have a few conversations and scenes in my head before i start tapping away on the keyboard.

Melanie Avila said...

I'm a casual outliner.

I loved this post, especially the part about not putting outline on your todo list. I tend to put edit on there and yeah, it NEVER gets crossed off.

I adore your orange juice analogy!

Dominique said...

I like your description of outlining as concentrated thinking. It seems accurate, and is probably why I should outline more than I do. I could get all that thinking out there early.

Most of my outlines are so skimpy I'm practically a pantster, so I think I get both sides of the debate. I can't deny though that often when I write, I swear to myself that in the future I will outline more. We'll see.

foldingfields said...

so funny! Your staring comment is spot-on for me! I am trying not to be a pantser because I know in the long run it will be a lot easier the next time around. Well done, you!

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