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Outlining your Goals

September 14, 2010

Hello again bloggers. This week we are discussing the topic of setting realistic writing goals or outlining. I’m going to try and touch on both of these because I think they go hand in hand.

I used to be a panster. No outline, no character sketches, just go! It was the worst thing I ever did. While I had a story there, it was written so poorly that it sickens me to see the first drafts of some of my stories. I had characters with magically changing hair and eye color, thier personalities would take a sudden 180! The plot would jump and skip and go off on a side direction – completely out of control.

So I tried writing notes and keeping them in a notebook. This quickly became disorganized so I switched to loose paper in a three ring binder. It really made a difference in my writing but even still, I felt like my stories were missing something and I couldn’t figure out why.

I took a workshop earlier this summer about outlining and plotting. The workshop used the book JD mentioned yesterday First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S. Wiesner. I enjoyed it so much, I actually bought the book. Do I follow her steps completely? No. But I do use many of them.

I write very, very detailed character and setting sketches using the sketch worksheets in Karen’s book. I added a few things of my own of course, to work with my fantasy level stories. I also made a few changes to make them work with my series. In Karen’s book, I believe she says to make new sketches for each book of a series (or maybe I heard it somewhere else). I think that is a waste of valuable time and paper. When I go to outline/plan the second or third book, I merely add to what is already there. I don’t create brand new sketches.

Now when it comes to actual plot outlines and summaries, I don’t do this. Occasionally I’ll write down a few notes or ideas in a bulleted list, but I don’t actually outline the story in order or anything like that. It doesn’t hinder my creativity when I do, I just don’t like to do it. Since I character and setting sketch so deeply, I get extremely excited about the story and just want to write it.

Before I edit any story however, I always write an outline. I don’t know why I do this, but it seems to help me stay on track. Usually as I go to edit, I come up with great ideas for scenes or things to add that take away from the main plot of the story. So, I have to have an outline handy to make sure I stay on track.

How does this relate to setting realstic goals? Well first point, if you don’t know how you write, you can’t set any time frame or goal to complete anything, in my opinion. I can say that I can sketch and write a full draft in a month – without the crazyness of NaNoWriMo. However, editing takes at a bare minimum, three months. (And that’s not counting my main WIP that has taken forever – that’s how badly it was written the first time.) So, I realistically set a goal to write a new book and have it finished in the next four months. Extra time given for when life gets in the way and to make sure I don’t skip school and things like that.

Also, sketching and outlining the way I do helps me to stay focused – so that four month goal I can actually keep. Without focus, it would take me much longer to write and edit a book! My main WIP is a perfect example of this. I’ve been working on this story for EIGHT YEARS! But I have many other stories that are ready and waiting for a final polish or even the first edit.

Sketching out details greatly helps and I recommend this method even to pansters. At least get some notes written down about the setting and characters to help you stay on track – without hindering any of the plot. It works great for me – and I wish I used this method years ago.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2010 10:19 am

    This does sound like a book I could dip my toe in, and think I’ll get it. Two people I respect like it. That’s enough for me.

    I’m impressed you write fast and still do outlining, so maybe there’s hope for me. I hear you on reworking a mismanaged manuscript: my first one was re-written about 32 times (at least the first 10 chapters were). That’s a lot of time and work.

    I agree getting the characters and a general idea of the plot works, and perhaps using the pages for the GMC would help. I have a free critique with Margie Lawson I have to use before next month, and know she’ll have a field day mining the crud out of one of my WIPs. I’ll be a willing victim. I’m interested in getting better, not right.

    And when I get the first half of the book down, I do start a chapter by chapter sentence description, as well as who’s POV I’m in. Sometimes I post these on a big sticky pad, and then write the timeline underneath so I don’t have the morning happening after the evening love scene…OMG. Those sticky poster-sized pages I put on the wall if I’m stuck, and that helps me to finish the book. And I outline in red the sex scenes, in blue the action and in green if it is a chapter mostly description that I know I’ll have to redo.

    I guess what I’ve come to is that I think when I write. I can’t think when I outline. Like you said, knowing what works, what style we are, is what is most important. But I’m still a panster. If I plan away too much, what I write is not compelling enough. As Nora Roberts said, “Easier to edit something on the page than a blank page.”

    Great ideas, and thank for sharing them with us!

    • September 14, 2010 12:36 pm

      Those post-its sound strangely like an outline you’ve just put on the wall!! 😉

      • September 14, 2010 8:45 pm

        Yes (she says while she spits out her coffee). But, a la David, God Forbid I would become a plotter. And I’m sure I never will…

        I only do it when I get into the book. If I did it beforehand, I wouldn’t know what to put in the boxes!! LOL!

        But I’m learning, I’m learning, I’m learning.

  2. September 14, 2010 10:45 am

    It is a great book. I also bought the sequel to it “From First Draft to Finish Novel” that shows you how to write and fully edit a book in 60 days. It highlights what it talked about in Book 1 for the writing aspect then goes into editing/polishing. It also includes some information about writing a query and synopsis. Like I said, I don’t use all her steps or methods, but it certainly helps and if I ever do want to try full outlining, I have her book as a handy reference.

    I like your sticky note idea. I used to do the same thing myself, but when my son realized he can pull things off my tack board, I had to stop doing that! We are about to move at the end of this month and I’ll have my own office then – so I can return to that. I make maps of my fantasy worlds and it would be great to hang those up again. I print out a big copy of the map and track travel routes and times for the characters. I put a pushpin in a location then write a time like “Day 1: Chapter 1/2” or something like that on the map. It’s a huge help for me so that I can keep track of the time line and what happens in certain chapters of the book. I look forward to having the maps up again in the new house.

    Yes, I think I’m still a panster at heart but at least having the character and setting sketches really helps to keep me organized – and everything the same throughout the book. I recommend doing these sketches to any type of writer – plotters or pansters. I guess you could say I’m a “sketcher”! LOL.

    • September 14, 2010 12:37 pm

      Hey – and are you still going into Basic this month? I’m sorry I’ve been caught up with so many things I forgot to ask you about that.

  3. September 14, 2010 10:52 am

    Sharon, I’m starting to think they shouldn’t call it “outlining”. Maybe if they left it at sketching/notes/research/time lines, then we’d see more authors going “Oh yeah, I do that.” Because really, all outlining is is putting your notes and ideas on paper, in a manner that easy for you to follow and fall back on. You just happen to use sticky-notes instead of paper. Though I still recommend everyone try outlining BEFORE you write. Try it. Just once.

    Ana – I did the same thing with my character sketches between books 1 and 2. Age, looks, personality, etc stays the same, so why write a whole new sketch? I just add to it. Mostly what I add is the new internal and external conflict for the book as well as the characters’ motivation, feelings, etc. Actually, that way I can see how they grow and develop from book to book.

    • September 14, 2010 12:39 pm

      I seriously need to buy that book – for the worksheets alone. I thought I’d do note cards with characters and stuff but I never got around to it. I have some memory issues due to Lyme Disease, and it has made keeping all the details about eye color and such really hard!

  4. September 14, 2010 11:18 am

    I went on Amazon, invested the .27 and the .90 and bought both the books. Thanks and I’ll read them over. JD, you’re probably right about the definitions. Sketches (I never colored in the lines as a child either) sounds more like me.

    Hey, but I’m always willing to learn, and that’s why I keep showing up here. Thanks, ladies.

  5. September 14, 2010 11:30 am

    Amazon is great isn’t it? I’m sure you’ll enjoy them Sharon. I’m certain that some part of it will help you – and even if you don’t use her method, perhaps it’ll help you cement yours. Either way, I think it’s a great resource for any writer to have in their library. I have mine right next to me on my desk for easy access!

    And I totally agree with JD too. I think more people do ‘outlining’ than they realize. It’s all part of the planning process however you want to call it.

  6. September 14, 2010 12:41 pm

    Great posts this week, ladies!! I swear I think I need to outline my life right now I’m feeling so damn crazy.

  7. September 14, 2010 2:44 pm

    I was supposed to yes, CJ. There were some complication with my paperwork and I was actually ‘fired’ from the Guard. *shrug* I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.

    • September 14, 2010 7:15 pm

      So sorry, but with the war going on and the guard still being treated like a back door draft, I’m relived to hear it. You’re exactly right, it wasn’t meant to be.

  8. September 14, 2010 4:20 pm

    Ilove learning new things… For example, I never knew that I wasn’t a panster until today. (Forsooth, egads and little faeries… I’d never even heard of the word “panster” before now!) But now I know what one is, I am sure I will never become one… It must be the engineer in me 🙂

  9. September 15, 2010 2:58 am

    Nice combo, Ana! I couldn’t make up my mind which one to do.

    I can vouch for both the book and for Margie Lawson! (Sharon you lucky dog!)

    David – you really never heard of panster before? Whoa! I kinda stratal the fence – like I do everything in life.

    Ellisson – deep breath. Breathe in…, Breathe out. With as much as you do, it’s a wonder you haven’t gone plumb crazy before now! I don’t know how you do it!

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