Posted in Outlining, Writing

Why I Outline As I Write

Most people outline before they being writing their novel.

If we learned anything last week, it’s that we can outline before, during, and after we write the novel.

This isn’t something I realized I could do until recently, though. I always thought I had to outline before I started writing. Last year for Camp NaNo I didn’t finish my outline in time and ended up outlining as I wrote the novel.

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After spending the time before the writing process to outline and adding additional writing time to outline some more as I put words to paper, I discovered a brand new world and realized that I had been outlining all wrong.

I mean, for me, anyway.

I used to outline each scene, picking out plot points and important things here and there before I began to write. Then as I wrote, I tried my best to stick to it. Of course, outlines always change and characters have a mind of their own and decide to change course without telling you.

So, as I wrote my novel I stuck with the guideline, changing it as I saw fit. I added to it when I wrote new things, rearranging the scenes, and taking some away. In the end, it was a pretty big mess. I found myself working more on the outline than the actual novel. I was spending more time trying to figure out what I was trying to say rather than just saying it.

For the next novel, I decided to outline differently. I summarized each chapter before writing as well as made a list of characters, plot points I hoped to get across, settings, and more. I realized summarizing the chapters would allow me more wiggle room rather than practically writing the story scene by scene, just minus the extra details and words.

Then I started writing.

As I wrote, I realized something else. Why can’t I map out each scene like I had before as I wrote? By the time I get to the editing stage, the scene map would be more accurate than the chapter summary allowing me to find certain points easier and understand more of what’s going on, what to edit, and how to edit.

In the end, I have a list of characters, settings, and more, alongside a rough summary of each chapter, and then an accurate map of each and every scene.

It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s actually not that bad at all. My mind works in strange ways and it helps.

So, that’s why I outline before and during the writing process. Will this work for you? I don’t know, but feel free to give it a shot. It can’t hurt.

How do you typically outline? Do you outline as you write, too? Let me know in the comments below!

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Posted in Outlining, Writing

Should You Outline Before, During, Or After Writing?

We talked about researching for your novel at any time of the writing process. Research when you feel it’s right. But when should you outline for your novel?

You may be thinking, “Before you write the story… duh.”

And that would be the logical time, especially if you’re a planner. But what if you’re not a planner? Or what if you are, but your mind just works differently?

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I outline before I write and during the writing process. This is mainly because I want to remember every detail and make sure I’m making sense along the way. Plus, it helps with the editing process later on.

Outlining before writing

I’ve talked about 4 outlining methods and then 3 more methods afterward. Most of them are typically used before you write, but you can use those methods whenever you want.

I don’t think I need to tell you that outlining before you write probably makes the most sense and it’s most likely what most people do. The point of outlining is that you have a good idea of what your novel is about and where you want it to go so you don’t get stuck on the side of the writing road.

If that’s how you feel, then outlining before you begin writing the main story is a good idea.

Outlining during writing

I find it helpful to get some outlining done during the writing process. I keep a list of scenes and what happens in each one as I write them. This helps me remember what exactly happens when I edit.

I do this mainly because outlines are like guidelines and the story can stray pretty far from the outline once you begin writing.

So, outlining during the writing process can break you out of the story a bit, but it’s also a pretty good idea to keep track of the changes from your original outline. Or, keep track of what happens especially if you don’t have an outline or any notes.

Outlining after writing

I’ll admit that I don’t think I’ve ever outlined after the writing process was complete. If I did, I don’t remember it.

But I do think outlining after writing the main story can be beneficial. Just like keeping track of what happens as you write, you can easily recap everything that happened once you’ve finished.

Once you start editing, summarize each chapter as you read through them. This will help zero-in on what you’ve written. It’ll help you remember what happens from chapter to chapter and be easier to catch plot holes and the like.

In Conclusion…

Can you outline at any of those times for one novel? Yes. Outline, write, outline, edit, outline. Why not? It sounds like a lot of work, but I’m sure it would be worth it in the end. It’ll save a lot of headache later.

Personally, I outline before and during for each novel. I find it helpful and it works for me. If you’re a planner, switch up when you outline. You might get something new out of it.

When do you outline for your novel? Let me know in the comments below!

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Posted in Outlining, Writing

When Should You Conduct Research For Your Novel?

People always say to write what you know. And that’s great, but then your novel would be pretty limited, wouldn’t it?

I find writing to be a great opportunity to write about something you don’t know. Find something that interests you that you never pursued and look into it more.

For example, when I was younger, before I decided to be a teacher and realized I wanted to write, I dreamed of being a spy or a detective. I had those play spy kits with notepads and pretend handcuffs and glasses that you would see behind you–the whole nine yards.

And look at me now: I write mystery novels. I’ve studied the police exam to get a feel of what it’s like. I solve puzzles and riddles in mystery video games (one where I’m a defense lawyer). I have books where I study what it’s like to be a police officer or detective, looked up various ways to die and the consequences of murder, and much more.

Let me tell you, it’s not very glamorous.

But when do you conduct that research? Do you cram the information into your mind before you begin? Maybe you research a bit here and there in the moment as you write? Or maybe you just free write, bold scenes you’re unsure of and do the research part after you finish writing?

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Here’s your answer: You can research anytime.

That’s it. The end. See you tomorrow.

Well, I did decide to start a post about this, so I guess I’ll elaborate…

Research before writing

There are two reasons you should research before you start writing your novel:

1. You’re a planner.
2. You have a decent list of topics you need to look into or else the first draft of your novel will make absolutely no sense.

When I first started my mystery novel way back when I decided to do the research after. I knew I had a lot to look into and instead of spending a few months trying to learn it all, I figured I would just have the research component be part of the editing process. Or, look small things up along the way.

I love to outline, so I made a list of things I didn’t know, things I would probably need to know or the sake of my novel. I listed them but didn’t bother to look into them right away. Needless the say, the first draft of my novel wasn’t very good, to say the least.

I’ve done research before writing a novel and let me tell you, it’s a lot of notes to dig through as you write. And it slows the actual writing part down a bit.

Research during writing

I’ll admit, I find this one to be the most effective. If you need to know certain tidbits here and there, a quick Google search in the middle of your writing isn’t so bad. If you have something large to expand on, then it may be easier to make a note of it and just go back to it in the editing process.

The perks of researching as you write are as follows:

1. It saves you a bit of time when editing.
2. It gives you a small break in the middle of writing.

While it saves you time with editing, I know you’re thinking that it doesn’t save you time writing at all. But, it gives you a break with the writing.

If you’re on a roll, bold what you don’t know, and move on. Keep writing if your imagination allows it. However, if you notice that your flow has slowed down and you keep thinking back to that one spot you’re unsure of, stop.

Researching in the middle of your writing will give your brain a quick break. It’ll help you figure out where to go next, based on your research, and you may even come up with new ideas.

Research after writing

So you’ve finished a novel and it doesn’t make any sense. You have a list of topics to research, big and small.

Well, go ahead and get started.

Doing your research when you finish the novel helps your editing process get underway as you expand on certain scenes and realize others may not work out as well now.

Then again, you may end you being in for some serious rewriting. Editing is always a long process and adding the research part will make it seem longer. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You should take your time with it after all.

In Conclusion…

Is researching part of the outlining process or the editing process? Who really knows?

In the end, it’s up to you, up to the novel, and is an in-the-moment kind of thing.

I personally research at any stage of the novel, but I’ll admit I mostly research during and at the end of writing the novel. When you research before you may not know all the information you actually need.

Plus, I’ve always enjoyed researching as long as it wasn’t for a paper for school.

When do you typically research for your novels? How do you go about it? Let me know in the comments below!

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Posted in Outlining, Writing

3 More Outlining Methods That Help Your Novel Along

Yesterday we touched upon four outlining methods for your novel. I decided to split the post up because there are three more ways to outline.

These are the ways I outline my own novel.

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Summary

This method is pretty straight forward. You write a basic synopsis for your novel. Play around with various summaries for your story.

Write a one-sentence summary. Write a paragraph summary. Write a whole page summarizing the novel.

Summarizing gives you a good idea about what you want the point of the story to be and allow you to think about how you want to get there.

Of course, it’s sometimes easier to write a summary for your story after you’ve finished the novel. So take this one as you will.

How I use this method:

Similar to the free writing from yesterday’s post, I tend to babble out the beginning, middle, and end of my story. I actually haven’t used this method in a long time, but I used to find it helpful because it allowed me to figure out how to get from point A to point B.

Flashlight Outline

This one is pretty similar to summarizing your novel. Flashlight outline is summarizing each chapter. “In chapter one, this will happen. In chapter two, that will happen.”

You summarize each chapter without the minor details and description. This one is great so you don’t end a chapter and have to ask, “now what?” You know what you want to accomplish in each chapter and you know how to get from one idea to the next.

How I use this method:

The flashlight method is something I’ve always used, even way back when I first started writing fan fiction. And I just found out that this method has an actual name!

I use this method now before I begin any novel writing. I write a summary of each chapter, some being a paragraph long, others being a page or two depending on my thought process that day. It helps me to know what’s going to happen next and why it happens. Do I always follow it? No, but it’s a good guideline.

Scene Map

Instead of planning out each chapter, plan out each scene. It seems like a little more work, but you get a little more out of it over the chapter summary. More detail is added and you can figure out what you want to happen when. It’s easier to move around a scene from one chapter to the next rather than reworking an entire chapter.

How I use this method:

In addition to the flashlight method, I currently use the scene map. I used to do the scene map before I began writing, but now I outline a bit different.

I flashlight before writing and I use the scene map during my writing. I outline first and then outline a little deeper as I write the story.

The scene map helps me know what I wrote and when (I include the page numbers). This helps me refer back if I forget something so I don’t have to go scrolling through pages upon pages of text. It’s always easier to move scenes around in the editing process.

I use sticky notes in a notebook so they’re easy to pick up and rearrange if need be. I also have a back page dedicated to “deleted scenes.”

I think this method, along with the flashlight, is the way to go. It is for me, anyway.

Do you use any of these methods? Or do you outline in a different way? Or not at all? Let me know in the comments below!

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Posted in Outlining, Writing

4 Easy Outlining Methods: Find What Works Best For You

Outlining is hard. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re working on, outlining your novel is a tricky thing. Sure, it may help you in the long run, but it still requires time and thinking.

There are many different ways to outline a novel and you need to choose what works best with your line of thinking. Or, you can outline different novels in different ways. Like I said, it’s all up to you.

To ensure this post isn’t too long, I’ll be talking about four outlining methods today. I’ll have three more for you guys tomorrow.

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The Snowflake Method

I remember my teachers talking about this method in school when we had to outline our essays. It was never anything that I truly understood (for whatever reason) and I never enjoyed using this method.

With that said, the snowflake method is pretty simple. Snowflakes are complex, no two ever look alike. The idea behind this method is to slowly expand upon your idea and your plot.

You start with one idea, write it down. Then you add on to that idea bit by bit slowly developing the plot and getting new ideas and a new understanding for your own novel.

It’s easy, it’s careful planning, and it takes time.

The Skeletal Outline

Exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. I’m sure you all recognize this one from school.

This is the basic outline of your plot. The beginning, middle, and end in a nutshell. You show what’s going to happen and when.

You’ll know the basic gist of your novel leaving plenty of wiggle room to add in things as you write.

Contextual Outline

This type of outline isn’t so much about the plot, but about the mechanics of your novel.

If you’re writing a Harry Potter type story, you need to make sure you have a good understanding of your magic system. Otherwise nothing you write is going to make any sense.

Make a list of spells, what they mean, how they’re pronounced. Are some spells are going to be more important than others (the three killing curses, for example)? What are the rules of the magic? Do you need a wand or can you just flick your wrist?

That’s just an example. Contextual outlining builds your world, the general rules of your novel, characters, and everything in between. Just not necessarily your plot, which you may just wing it.

Free Writing

Sure you can free write your novel without having to outline anything. Or you can free write your outline.

Free writing your outline means you just babble on and on about your novel and plot. “This is going to happen to Character A and then Character B will come along and do this. After that, Character B will die, but Character A will end up prevailing and save the world.”

You’re more or less writing the story without the major details. You’re just getting the bare bones down on paper to make sure you don’t forget any ideas.

You can also write certain scenes and lines that you’ve thought of and you want to go into the novel at some point.

In conclusion…

As I said, there are many ways to outline and novel. I have seven different ways (three of which we’ll talk about tomorrow since those are the methods I use), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other methods out there.

Everyone works differently.

Do you outline your novels in any of these four ways? Or do you use a different method? Let me know in the comments below!

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Posted in Outlining, Writing

Is Outlining A Good Idea?

If you know me, then you know that I love to outline before I write any of my novels. But outlining isn’t for everyone.

But how do you figure out if outlining works for you or not? Well, you just have to use trial and error. Outline and story and see how it goes for you.

To save you a little bit of time, I’ve compiled a list of pros and cons for you.

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PROS

You won’t get stuck.

If you outline your novel you’ll always know where to go next. You won’t write a scene and say to yourself, “now what?” The goal for your characters has been clearly set and you can keep moving right along. Also, if you stop writing for a day or two, it’ll be easy to pick up right where you left off.

Plotholes should be easier to find.

Have you ever written something and then realized it doesn’t match up with what you had written in the first book or even in the first chapter? Outlining and keeping notes will help you keep tabs on everything and everyone in the book. Hopefully, you won’t write yourself into a hole. Don’t be bringing back dead characters… well, unless the rules of your story allow it.

Character development will be easier.

If you outline, you’ll need to plan your characters’ growth throughout the story. Your protagonist will be at one place in the beginning and will change throughout and be different by the end. Or they should anyway. By outlining the scenes and plot points, you’ll map out all your characters’ growth making it easier to make them more realistic and get from point A to point B.

CONS

Takes away some creativity.

An outline is more like a guideline. You don’t have to follow it, but some people find it easier to follow it as it is. If that’s the case, then outlining can take away some spontaneity in your writing. Sometimes our characters want to do something a certain way, but if the outline says otherwise… well, you should listen to the characters. But everyone has a different opinion on that.

The story may be too short having to add on words later.

When it comes to outlining, it’s very easy to get from the beginning of the story to the end right away. Certain description and fun filler dialogue may not be added because you’re focusing too much on following your outline. The scenes may come out a lot shorter than they would have if you winged it.

It’s an extra step.

When it comes to writing a novel, the first draft especially, most people just like to get it done. First drafts are always crap, the real writing doesn’t begin until you begin the edits. I find that outlines take away some steps from the editing process, but some people find it easier to just write that first draft as fast as they can to get straight to the edits.

Whether you should outline or not can depend on two things:

1. Your personality and how you write
2. The project you’re working on

Whether you’re organized or not, outlining may be perfect for you. If you’re writing a mystery novel, outlining may be the way to go. If you’re writing an adventure novel, then winging it may seem best. It’s all up to you… and up to your characters, really.

Do you usually outline your novels? Or do you like to wing it? Let me know in the comments below!

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