A to Z Challenge 2013

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Outlines Are Premises...Sort Of


I had an awesome story idea this morning, and I decided to start a project on it. Rather than do my usual however (see, I'm learning), I grabbed a notepad and pencil and started writing a rough outline. Have no fear, all you pantsters out there. I have not gone to the darkside. I'm just trying to improve my writing so that I can still write by the seat of my pants - albeit within a rough framework.

As I started writing it out however, I noticed that instead of writing Chapter 1 - do this, Chapter 2, do that, I was writing ideas. I'm not completely disappointed in my process though, because I was able to map my way through the story (sort of).

One interesting thing I notice (looking back on it) is that I was thinking about some important things, such as why my MC wants to do this instead of that or why the antagonist(s) are in conflict. I scratched out this sentence or that one, realizing that it wasn't working. It was really fun.

Now I have a (extremely) rough framework, but at least I know the rough path the story should take. I know where to begin, what the middle will consist of (okay, a little shaky here, will need filling to be good), and how the story will end up. There's still plenty of room in there for being a pantster, which satisfies my creative muse quite fine.

The question I pose to all of you is this - what makes it an outline as opposed to a premise or synopsis? And does it really matter?

16 comments:

Elana Johnson said...

I'm totally not the right one to answer this, so I'll leave it to someone who's more organized than me.

But congrats on having new ideas! That's the best part of being an author. :)

Kat Harris said...

I couldn't even begin to answer this question. I write completely blind. I know the beginning, and I know the end. I make up the middle as I go along. Then I go back and fill in the blanks on the second draft.

I think every writer is different. I envy people who can outline an entire story beforehand.

Tere Kirkland said...

Ah. See, I think it's the word "outline" that scares most pantsers. I don't outline in the sense that I put roman numeral one at the top of a page and go from there. That's too limiting, and puts just as much stress on you as sitting down in front of the computer with a blank document open.

Ideas are good! Mostly what I do when I plot is to examine where I want the story to go, and I make a promise to myself that I'm not going to do any real typing until I know how the story is going to end. Of course, until I figure out that ending, I'm meeting my MC. I'll write "journal" entries in the voice of the pov character, or have ideas for backstory which sometimes help me to come up with an ending.

So it's all a very organic progress, not as precise and constrictive as writing a sequential outline. I think you're on the right track figuring out what your characters want.

Motivation is one of the elements I concentrate on the most before I start writing: What would make an action convincing, and why would the character do this rather than something else?

Keep going with the notebook until you've figured out what relationship your MC has to the plot, what I call plot-driven plotting.

Then when I'm writing, and the plot is mostly taken care of--though like everything else organic, it is prone to evolution--I concentrate on the characters and their development, more character driven.

Sounds confusing now that I read it back, but that's how the process works for me. Hope that helps!

Eric said...

Elana - I think you underestimate yourself, but thanks for stopping by anyway. You're right though, getting new ideas is so cool!

Kat - I know exactly how you feel. That's why this whole "re-making myself" into a process-driven writer is hard. The fact that you know the end when you write though is the reason you can do that and I can't. I have such trouble with endings.

Tere - Wow, thanks for such a lengthy and helpful response. You're right, that the word Outline is terrifying. And thinking about the motivations DID help me get to the end, which is usually troublesome for me. Thanks for the insights and advice.

jjdebenedictis said...

Congratulations on the new idea and all the awesome excitement that comes with that!

I think of a synopsis as a more detailed, blow-by-blow outline, but I suspect the distinction between those two things is one everybody defines differently. To me, a premise is essentially an idea; there's no structure yet.

Outlines don't scare me. Pantsing scares me. The possibility of having to toss out hundreds of hours of work gives me palpitations.

Erica said...

Sounds like the way I "outline" I really just call it that, but it's ideas too... I think however you want to get it down - as long as it works for you - should be good. It's nice to see you trying new methods - good luck with your new idea!

I'm part pantster, part outliner ;o)

Lady Glamis said...

I don't think it matters. As long as it's allowing you to get further in your story and write effectively, I don't think it matters what it's called. Synopsis, to me, is something you really write after the book is finished. I could be totally wrong. :)

Lost Wanderer said...

Excellent :-) Slowly slowly...we are dragging you over to the dark side

Iapetus999 said...

Come, my son, and feel the power of the Dark Side of Outlining. Yes, yes, good, feel the anger growing within you, your ability to Outline is strong. Now, strike down that pantser, and your training will be complete!

quixotic said...

Don't worry, you can still rough an outline and be considered a pantser. I do something very similar to you. I don't, however, think you have to label it as "outline" or "premise." Just do what works and forget the technical terms. End results are what matters and that is ideas and words.

Congrats on a new idea.

Kristi said...

Hmmm...think I'm a mixture of a pantser and an outliner...is that allowed?

I don't really like the word "outline" and agree with the other commenters...jotting ideas on paper seems more like a panster method and I'm a firm believer that sooner or later you have to do this to get your story to make sense in the end. Unless your characters don't like to ramble as much as mine do...and then you don't have anything to worry about at all.

Icy Roses said...

Not only do I think every writer is different in planning, I think every novel is different in planning. It's totally normal to have one book that is outlined and one book that just starts on a blank page one day and keeps going. Most people probably have a mix anyway. I can't imagine just pants-ing completely (that is the weirdest sentence ever, like pants-ing is an activity now). I hate outlines, so I can't do that either. So I just have random, unconnected notes.

Robyn Campbell said...

Eric, a lot of people write their synopsis before they write the book. So they use it as an outline. But it's a synopsis. And, I am doing that right now.

In my new WIP, I only have about five chapters done so I decided to write a synopsis. It will change and the story will evolve, but I will have the bare bones of a synopsis to let my agent know a bit about the book I am working on now. (I am querying agents at the end of the month.)

But as long as you are writing, that is great. No matter if it is a synopsis or outline. The rest will come. And then you will have a book. =)

Galen Kindley--Author said...

I want to do this kind of outline/planning as well. I'm encouraged, now that I see it has worked for you.

Best Wishes, Galen.

arlee bird said...

I guess it's all okay depending on whatever turns you on. I've always had this thing about just writing ideas when they come to me-- anything from a word, to a line of dialogue, to a character sketch, a title, or a brief synopsis. I have notebooks full of this stuff--the maybe someday files. Every once in a while I'll go and pull something out and use it.
I don't like formal outlines (too much like school), but I do like timelines.
Lee

kanishk said...

congrats on having new ideas! That's the best part of being an author

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