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Before you start writing the book -- doing a story outline.

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by wickedwritah, Sep 26, 2007.

  1. wickedwritah

    wickedwritah Guest

    Before you start writing the book, do you do any pre-work?
    Do you flesh out a story line on paper/keyboard, and follow that?
    Or do you just let your writing carry you?
  2. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    Fiction or non-fiction?

    In either case, the short answer to outlining for books is always 'yes.'

    Your writing won't - and can't - carry you through an entire book.

    That said, your outline might be very short, a simple schematic of want you want where - a series of index cards. Or it might be incredibly detailed - the equivalent of a storyboard with every scene planned - if you're dealing with a complex set of components in a complex setting. Outlines vary by author and project.

    And they almost always change once you start writing.

    But starting without some longer view of the architecture and sequence of what you're trying to do virtually guarantees that you'll stall before you get halfway through.

    I await more and better contributions from the other Workshop deacons. Or is it proctors? I can never remember.
  3. wickedwritah

    wickedwritah Guest

    Thanks, jg. I want to put something together fiction-wise, and every time I work on it, I put it aside after two chapters and stop.

    Of course, I have no friggin clue where the thing is going and nothing scripted out, and I know that's a major problem.
  4. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    Wicked -

    With fiction it's important to know where and how you're going to begin, and where and how you're going to end.

    The middle - the arc of the conflict, the fate of certain characters and the plotting of the occurrences that drive the story - can and should be broadly planned in advance as well. Those things might change as you write, according to inspiration and circumstance, but you have to have in your mind the basic scheme of how to get from A to B to C, and so on, to Z.

    Otherwise you'll keep sputtering and stalling, as seems to be the case here.
  5. dawgpounddiehard

    dawgpounddiehard Active Member

    I haven't ventured into fiction writing yet... although that is an area I would like to start. I'm hesitate because I'm not sure how to actually get started.


    An outline is a great tool that has helped me tremendously for larger enterprise stories I've done. Even some feature stories, I've jotted down a short one to keep my thoughts straight.
  6. In Exile

    In Exile Member

    This is in regard to nonfiction, but I think it all holds true for writing of all kinds. I start with a very brief outline - literally a line or two for each chapter/idea, then as I go on I hope and allow for something organic in the process to push through and change the details of the outline and structure as I move along. I think one of the great lessons of writing is to learn to hear your own words, to become sensitive to the direction they are pushing you, and not to be a dictator and try to force a story one way - if you find yourself doing that, there is usually another story trying to get out, which is the one you should have been working at all along. In my few excursions into fiction, this is even more true. When characters want to take off on their own, let them.

    A long time ago one of my writing teachers told me to really pay attention when you "accidentally" use the wrong word, or a word or phrase whose meaning is not readily apparent, or even a misspelling. These are often clues that tell you that the writing, this piece of work that develops its own machine of meaning as you pile on word upon word, might want to go another way. You have to keep your ear to the ground to hear that. Another way to find the story is to, literally, listen to yourself, read the story out loud to a recorder and play it back. You will hear where you stumble, where the story is forced, and where it flows.

    Not to get too mystical here, but as one of the old dead poets once said, the perfect poem "has an infinitely small vocabulary." It's the same with everything you write. If it's a 700-word story, there are only 700 correct words, in the right combination, for that particular story. If it's a 7,000-word feature, or a 170,000 word book, or 17 syllable haiku, that still holds true.
  7. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Mr Exile,

    You're talking to a guy who once wrote a 7,000-word outline for a 4,000-word magazine piece. Every magazine piece I do has a paragraph-by-paragraph outline behind it. Book-work, more or less the same. Maybe a little more spontaneous, less controlled as deadline nears, but as close to a controlled project as I can get. Some people presume that I do outlines for posts on this board. Only sometimes.

    YHS, etc
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