What's your outline process like?

Pretty simple - I'm trying to work on something new, and I've got a core concept I think is fun that I want to work with, but I'm having trouble getting going in the right direction and I was just wondering how everyone goes about laying the ground work for their own work. I've done some reading about various methods on line, but haven't seen anything that feels right for me, so I was hoping to pick brains and test out the methods other people here use personally.

I'm either a discovery writer - no plan - or at most a bunch of pencil scrawls on a sheet of A4. Either way, you dont; necessarily need a huge outline if it doesn't naturally work for you.

I've been trying the whole discovery/gardener thing and that hasn't been working too well for me. I've found myself writing into a corner and having to pull something contrived out of the hat to resolve it.

I'm literally watching Brandon Sanderson's lectures right now and he just said something like "It's OK to just pull a new power out of nowhere as a discovery writer, just go back and edit some buildup in first." Obviously that's harder to do when you've already published the previous chapters in a web serial, but yeah. ;)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXAcA_y3l6M About halfway through if you're interested.

I'm a discovery writer. Sometimes I'll have general ideas about a scene that I want to include and I'll write in that direction but, generally speaking, I don't know what I'm going to write until I'm writing it. That works out okay because my serial is realistic fiction; if I wrote superhero stories, I don't know that I'd be able to keep myself from Deus Ex-ing my way out of every corner I found myself in.

Now, I say I'm a Pantser when asked. But that's not entirely true. The thing I'd suggest for you, and that I do myself. Best advice I've got. It's to build a skeleton. Have in mind your themes, beginning, end, AND every joint in-between. It's been really great to have arcs, for me. Basic beats to mark my moves in pacing and story. To progress to that final note.

Something I've wondered about when discussing writing help before is the way in which people differ. In plot progression.

Personally, I'm very 'on-task'. Always working towards the moments in my head which mark the character arcs, story arc. Everything towards that. They can change, but they're like a map. You know where you're going, but you've never been there before. New sights abound.

I've been happy with the result and it's been pretty easy, truthfully. Because even though I discover how things will happen, I know pretty well what kind of thing will happen. Write summaries which get reworked.

Cool thread. My advice, figure out what you're writing towards and for. And hold onto that. Good luck, Generally_Hostile!

Work backwards. Start with whatever is cool in your mind about the story and then make up the stuff that allows this to happen.

Black trenchcoat holds out hands to stop bullets means you need to put some background down, but the Matrix is born from the 'wow these dudes are so cool' feeling.

I'm a discovery writer to a point. Usually I tend to have a lot of groundwork done in my head and some on paper so I know where I am going. Usually I have characters, setting, and plot established. This extend varies. Sometimes I will write out a very vague timeline if I need some guidance for a more complex story. Usually stories told in more than one POV for example.

I personally find discovery, seat of the pants writing far more satisfying than structured writing. It keeps me excited, and I probably can't count the number of times I've had mini epiphanies in the middle of writing sessions that give me new solutions, dialogue, conflicts, etc, that can stem from the chapter I'm writing. Of course, serial writing can be tricky since you can't go back and edit, unless you've written up your entire edited manuscript and you're just releasing it one chunk at a time.

I feel like there's this belief that you have to either be a discovery writer or an avid planner. Maybe try something in the middle? A little planning wouldn't hurt, just not so much that you don't allow yourself wiggle room. Perhaps write a scene having a list of vague bullet points you want to hit, to be changed as you see fit, and go from there. Spontaneity with a destination in mind!

I tend to create a general outline while simultaneously daydreaming scenes that I might put into the story. The general outline isn't that specific. It's usually three points long with a description of the overall action in each section.

I think about an opening scene and start writing that scene. I then deal with the aftermath of that scene and ask how the main characters would respond. At the same time I keep in mind the overall plan and ask myself how to follow it, bearing in mind the natural inclinations of the characters involved.

Where appropriate, I slip in the scenes that I've been daydreaming--except when the scenes no longer work because the actual story has made them unusable and irrelevant.

Because I write from 900-1000 words per update, this generally means I know what happens at least three updates ahead of the one I'm writing, allowing me to always have a target to write toward. Because I've got a fairly abstract general outline though, I'm seldom writing exactly toward a specific ending--until 3000 words before that ending.

That said, I'm always thinking about the scenes I wrote previously (specifically what I left unexplained or unfinished), so I'm also building on what I wrote earlier. Thus, the endings are always the completion of what came before, but I didn't necessarily plan for that exact thing that happened. At the same time, I may well have daydreamed out details about that ending for much of the period I've been writing the book, so specific moments of the ending are very well planned (but never appeared in the outline).

For me, it's very close to how I ran roleplaying games. That's to say, I'd have an overall plan and expect it to get derailed or changed at any given moment, but then use the random zigs and zags to create a greater and less predictable whole.

^That's exactly how I write, except my chapters are 2000-3000 words long, so I never know what's going to happen next, haha. So many times when my characters ran off and did their own thing, destroying my daydreamed scenes, but it's a fun ride :)

This answer is a bit more fleshed out than you might be asking for, but I explain best through examples.

So, the process might go something like this:



Sarah walked down the street, squinting in annoyance against the sunlight. She hated this time of year, with the sun lancing into her eyes from the horizon right as she got off work. Even her sunglasses didn't help. She held up her hand as she...

(Whether I start with an outline or not, I keep the outline beneath the actual text of the story, so I can quickly check on where I'm going.)


1) Sarah is walking home from work. She cuts through a park. As she does, she sees a group of kids playing baseball. Then, a big thug dude is harassing them. Sarah goes over to stop him, is startled to notice his bestial features, which the kids don't seem to notice. However, once Sarah starts interjecting, other adults come to investigate, and the thug dude runs off.

2) That night, Sarah dreams of seeing a strange wizard-like figure who explains that she is one of those rare humans "sensitive to mystic forces". This enables her to see monsters hidden in the world. The wizard gives her a magic talisman, saying it will give her power. She wakes up and the talisman is there.

3) The next day, walking home again, Sarah is holding the talisman in her pocket. She sees the thug dude again, this time with a small posse. He's harassing the baseball kids again. Sarah goes over to intervene, and she feels the talisman charge her with power. She fights the group, and though the thug dude is strong (he's some kind of ogre-werewolf thing, figure it out later), she is able to punch him clear across the baseball field. The kids help her chase off the posse with their bats.


End Issue) Sarah talks to wizard and accepts role as defender of the city. Maybe set up for issue #2?


Either way, Issue #1 now wraps up here, and further plots to be explored in Issue #2


I'm a "destination" writer. I usually have the draft of the final (or climactic, at any rate) chapter written before I start the first chapter. Throughout the journey to get there, however, I'm more a discovery writer. Characters sometimes surprise me, sometimes even force me to rewrite chunks of the final chapter. To quote some hubbub about Fate vs Free Will I plan to slip into a story somewhere.

"Of course free will exists. What you eat for breakfast, what clothes you pick, who you fantasize about... these things are all your choice. But sometimes, some things are too important for human choice. It *must*, and therefor it *will*, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it. That is Fate."

That is how I write, and that is how the laws of the universes I write work.

I've been a discovery writer these past months. For me that means having a 'core' - a very specific line of dialogue or narration, a situation - from which I then try to spin a story.

That happens because I just tend to think that way instead of plots. Usually I notice something or while reading a thought strikes me, so I note it down, drop it into my cauldron of evil and a few weeks to months later I draw the deformed remnants into something resembling a plot.

Then I sit myself down, just the roughest outline in head and try to type away. Usually I take around 4 or 5 days for a chapter - I mostly write in the morning for an hour before I do anything else.

Problem is that doesn't necessarily coalesce into a coherent story, world or character. And because I never 'finish' them, before I write them, the plot changes a lot according to whatever ideas spring from the cauldron while I am still writing them. And that means it's really hard for me to do longer plot lines that really go along with all the other stuff. Well unless I have an enormous backlog and lots of editing and polishing that is.

So I am trying to change it at the moment by simply inserting another step - outlining basically. Lori was kind enough to let me peek into her behind the scenes-file and that has helped me tremendously. I think just by outlining what is going to happen this chapter, jot down the most important paragraphs, maybe a few lines I've come up with etc.

That way I get to look for plot holes and where I actually do not know what is going to happen before I am writing that scene - and consequently I wont have to stop when I am writing that scene and ponder a completely new plot. Which tends to drain my stamina for writing longer pieces really, really fast.

Also I have like doubled my writing speed.