How to make outlining a story enjoyable & effective?

kaida

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I realize this is a rather elementary question but something I struggle with the most is the outline for my stories. Usually, I wing it and build my story as I go but I realized that while it might be the easier path, that's not very effective in building character and worlds. And my current story is one I really care about (for once lmao) and I want to do a good job on it, but outlining has always been my weakness because I lose motivation very easily.

Is there any technique that you do to keep your outlines enjoyable to create while also being effective? I'd love to hear some suggestions ^-^ I'm really open to anything.

How do you incorporate stuff like plot twists or motifs in your outlining as well?
 

FriendlyDragon

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There are a number of ways to outline a story. I can probably break it down into three sections: Characters, Setting/World, Plot. (Note that this isn't the only way to do things. Just suggestions.)

Characters
What I like to do and from what I've read, other people do as well, is create a sort of character profile like you would for a criminal or something. It describes the appearance and personalities of the character as well as their relationships and abilities. I would create one that encompasses what the character would be like at the end of the story. Do this for the main characters such as the protags and supporting characters. Don't forget to do these for enemies as well as you can create more realistic and relateable antagonists.

Setting/World
There are a number of ways to do this part. For the world as a whole, one could make artwork of the various places that would come into play. You could also write small descriptions about the areas as if you were summarizing a real place in the world. Alternatively, you can create a document where you essentially create a guidebook or history book on this world of yours. Then for the setting (different than the world), you need to isolate the locations that the story will actually take place in. Once you do that, put in some conflicts that are necessary and viola, you have your setting. (This was really simplified, but I hope you get the general idea and know the difference between setting and world.)

Plot
This is where you really sink your teeth into the story. Like any outline, it can vary from general bullet points and notes, to full blown paragraphs that summarize the events that are happening. What you need to do for sure though is make sure that you have the conflicts that you need as well as the motivations for these conflicts. You need to determine the end result of these conflicts and how it affects either the setting or the characters involved. And then there's your plot outline along with general descriptions of the pieces so that you don't get lost.
 

AliceShiki

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The best writing advice I ever heard was: "Writing is different for each person and everyone has their own methods of doing it."

As in... You should write the way you're comfortable with.

If you wanna try making an outline, by all means go ahead... But if it demotivates you I'd say you should keep winging it.

Personally speaking, I tried outlining before and I hated the final result so much that I decided to never outline again. That's what worked for me at least, so... Do what you find best.

I'm afraid I can't offer any outlining advice as I don't do it, but figured I'd give advice on rather or not you should outline in the first place.
 

CupcakeNinja

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I realize this is a rather elementary question but something I struggle with the most is the outline for my stories. Usually, I wing it and build my story as I go but I realized that while it might be the easier path, that's not very effective in building character and worlds. And my current story is one I really care about (for once lmao) and I want to do a good job on it, but outlining has always been my weakness because I lose motivation very easily.

Is there any technique that you do to keep your outlines enjoyable to create while also being effective? I'd love to hear some suggestions ^-^ I'm really open to anything.

How do you incorporate stuff like plot twists or motifs in your outlining as well?
Dude, you just need to plan your characters out. Then get high and have shit go crazy. Works for me. World building? Not as great for that but fuck it you'll CERTAINLY create some interesting tales

Trust me fam. Ganja is the key. Let the fumes flow through you.
 

hawlol

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I like to draw a main plot timeline with the beggining and the end. Then adding the key points into the middle.

If there are side stories, I draw a paralell timeline under it, starting from where in the main plot it begins and ends.

It's a good way to not go overboard with side stories and to make a skeleton of the main points you must follow. It prevents me from sidetracking too much while keeping things clean in a drawing.

It's also good to already have the characters in mind when writing the plot points to avoid them feeling unatural/ only doing things to further the plot that contradicts their personality.
 

XianPiete

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Is there any technique that you do to keep your outlines enjoyable to create while also being effective?

Write what you know and love. As for it being effective, that's up to the person reading what you wrote to decide. Just write the story you are inspired to write and don't worry about anything else. Once you start trying to write to expectations you'll start to hate what you are writing.
 

NiQuinn

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Setting/World
There are a number of ways to do this part. For the world as a whole, one could make artwork of the various places that would come into play. You could also write small descriptions about the areas as if you were summarizing a real place in the world. Alternatively, you can create a document where you essentially create a guidebook or history book on this world of yours. Then for the setting (different than the world), you need to isolate the locations that the story will actually take place in. Once you do that, put in some conflicts that are necessary and viola, you have your setting. (This was really simplified, but I hope you get the general idea and know the difference between setting and world.)

What I did was actually grabbed pictures of landscapes and/or landmarks for each general place to help me visualize a certain location. It does actually help and even provides a more concrete idea of how to write about a certain culture of the place. For example, one location I have is mostly winter all year round. From that, I can infer what locals would do to survive and what they physically would look like. I don't go into detail but the images help me enough that I know how to write about it.

Plot
This is where you really sink your teeth into the story. Like any outline, it can vary from general bullet points and notes, to full blown paragraphs that summarize the events that are happening. What you need to do for sure though is make sure that you have the conflicts that you need as well as the motivations for these conflicts. You need to determine the end result of these conflicts and how it affects either the setting or the characters involved. And then there's your plot outline along with general descriptions of the pieces so that you don't get lost.

It's different for everyone. I used to be a pantser but it's hard for me to stay on point when I did that. Outlining does great. It's not for everyone though. At the very least, if you are serious about your story, by all that is good and pure, write down your beginning, middle, and end. I CAN'T STRESS THIS ENOUGH. It's important to know how you'll end the story. It's also important to know the middle because it's going to help the spine of your story. However, I still find the ending to be more important.

Once you've listed down your main plot points, then you can even leave out the rest of the meticulous outlining if you'd like. Go with what you're comfortable with. If you force yourself to adhere to a certain plan, you might end overthinking.
 

FriendlyDragon

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I CAN'T STRESS THIS ENOUGH. It's important to know how you'll end the story. It's also important to know the middle because it's going to help the spine of your story. However, I still find the ending to be more important.
Absolutely. With out an ending, stories will just ramble on until the author is forced to end it in some way.
 

NotaNuffian

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To me, outlining a story gives me a good idea whether the story will work or not, which is why I had been dropping ideas like flies in summer and had decided to wing it and now am horribly regreting the notion.

To me, writing is existing like Meeseeks, my passion is long dead, but I still would like to write something, even if it is this stupid crap that I am agonisingly try to squeeze out.

Though my method is the same, just create a character profile for those with major roles like being MC's foil, mentor or even just someone that will offhand drop hints and breakthroughs.

Plot: this is something I hate the most, because I will often try to give my MC just a simple end, no absolute power, not The One, just a simple end where he can walk away mostly unscathed. Like Sherlock puts it, get a start and an end and the middle can be the wildest shit you ever want to have.

Background: worse than doing reseacrh for my work ffs. Check the economics, check the feasibility of chemical, mechanical and electronics. If you do magic, good luck as you can literally twist and leeroy, so ground yourself with some selfmade rules and definitely not break them.
 
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Emyliine

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I agree with AliceShiki. Every writer's process is different, and outlining doesn't automatically make a great story. So if you care about your story, that is likely enough to make it good.

But here's another secret people don't seem to be saying.... write your story. And there's your outline. Just because it's written doesn't mean it's finished. Look at the story then, if you'd like you can try to compile the main plot points and scenes into an actual "outline" or onto note cards, but just... look at the story as a whole. If you want to move scenes around, whole chapters around... if you want to change a character's arc, etc, then do it.

If that still doesn't cut it for you, try this. Tell your story out loud. You can find an actual (hopefully patient) person or just talk to a wall. Feel free to backtrack or go around in circles or talk for an hour about a single scene and two seconds on another. Just go through the whole story as though you're telling it enthusiastically to someone and you want them to know all the important details. This does two things, 1) helps you.... outline your story lol and 2) will probably give you ideas as you go through either for more scenes, how to better a scene, plot twists, ways to foreshadow, etc. And it's usually very fun because unlike in writing there are no rules. Just blab away and eventually you will know the beginning, middle, and end, and write it down. If you were messaging a friend online, you can go look back through what you've already written and it's easier to pull the important bits from that. (Literally some of my "outlines" are just screen captures from texts to friends.)

Basically, just like with actual books, the finished polished product of an outline looks clean and streamlined but in reality the process of making it is almost always messy. And if it doesn't help you, don't sweat it. It's not at all necessary to make a good book.
 

TLCsDestiny

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What I have seen with popular manga, anime or shows is that is always an ultimate goal: greatest general. Hokage. Get back to the normal world. Survival of planet.
Then there's the extras: 300 man squad to 1000 man squad. Getting more powerful to save a friend. Beating the boss at the end. Finding technology and understanding it.
Then there's smaller goals: getting someone's head. Talking to someone of why they are wrong. Living in vr world. And meeting different people.
The way I figure is that you need an ultimate goal, then an extra goal and smaller ones lol

My novels aren't really like this tho.
I tend to write the place, characters and a plot and let them take me to where i wanna go.
Alot of people have already stated about writing what you love and I agree to that.
But if you wanna write something that you wish to be popular...it's another story. A much harder story...A story that probably takes a long time to organize.
 

ddevans

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I don't know if it's because outlines are an expert-level technique, but I've never successfully followed one that I've felt positively about. By the time I get around to the events that 'need' to take place, I imagine I have better ideas. Maybe they aren't better ideas, actually, but it feels better to go with them than to take marching orders from my past self. Who cares about that guy, he's dead!

They have been useful in a negative sense. When I'm really stuck I go to an outline (or a mind map) and it will become clear that what I had in mind wasn't going to work. Usually because of an excess of complexity. This is why I can't release things on a chapter basis--my writing has a tendency to grow in complexity when left unchecked. That's the kind of thing an outline is meant to stop, but if you are a gardener the only recourse is pruning.

Mostly it's my grand-strategic outlines that fail. Maybe a mini-outline work work? Tactical outline? Next few chapters outline? I'll have to try that.
 

AliceShiki

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I don't know if it's because outlines are an expert-level technique, but I've never successfully followed one that I've felt positively about. By the time I get around to the events that 'need' to take place, I imagine I have better ideas. Maybe they aren't better ideas, actually, but it feels better to go with them than to take marching orders from my past self. Who cares about that guy, he's dead!

They have been useful in a negative sense. When I'm really stuck I go to an outline (or a mind map) and it will become clear that what I had in mind wasn't going to work. Usually because of an excess of complexity. This is why I can't release things on a chapter basis--my writing has a tendency to grow in complexity when left unchecked. That's the kind of thing an outline is meant to stop, but if you are a gardener the only recourse is pruning.

Mostly it's my grand-strategic outlines that fail. Maybe a mini-outline work work? Tactical outline? Next few chapters outline? I'll have to try that.
I don't think it's bad to not follow your own outline... I mean, at the end of the day, an outline is just a plan you have for how things will develop, if you think they'll be better in another way, there is no reason to stop yourself from making a change.

One of the few things I had planned from the start of my last novel, was how it was going to end... And well, by the time I reached the ending, I just didn't feel like it was going to be a good ending, so... I changed it, on the very last chapter I changed my plans and I think it worked out well... Teeheehee~
 

CautiousTitan

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I'm not sure if this will help but I always keep a mental outline of my story at all times. I wouldn't call it "winging it" so to speak but I always know what the next 5 chapters are going to be. I don't write a complete outline because I want the story to be organic. I think my case is unique since my IQ and Creativity are high but I think the general takeaway is that every creative process is unique. Character Profiles are things I do write down, however. Those are unavoidable lol. Have a general idea of the beginning, middle, and end and then fill in the rest as you go. Know the destination but explore the journey some more, you know?
 

DetectiveRed

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When I outline I try and do it mostly through discussion. I'll talk to people about my story and get a good idea of what I want to do before I end up writing the final product. When I'm in those discussions I try to take notes as well. It makes it easier. I really like the idea of having a writing buddy or group. It always helps when spitballing and outlining ideas.
If you don't have that then I guess you should try and just figure out a couple of things for a plot outline.
  • What is the conflict of the story?
  • How do you want things to end?
  • Who are your characters?
Those things can be as vague as you like but if you can get a little bit down about them it will make it so much less tedious making a basic plot outline since it will build to those points.
 

Mejiro

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It does depend a lot on the type of story - my own story does have an overarching plot (sorta) but a lot of it is episodic, so I have a rough note of the overall plotline, but the actual stuff in each chapter is only for the surrounding arc of 20-or-so chapters. Wheras if the story is one single, overarching thing, then you need to have a tighter handle on the plot.
 

ddevans

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I don't think it's bad to not follow your own outline... I mean, at the end of the day, an outline is just a plan you have for how things will develop
Sure, but like, my outlines fail instantly. Within two chapters. Clearly it's absurd, at least for me, to plan far ahead.

Maybe the advice from my perspective is an attenuating outline. Rather than planning in detail from the start, plan in progressively decreasing levels of detail? I have no idea.
 

Yiphen

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I think it depends on whether you want your story to have a defined end or not. If you do, then it would be good to have a general idea of the direction the story will progress (Like character development), but if you haven't planned any sort of ending, then just make sure that each chapter is like the more in-depth version of some general event you want to happen in it.
 

Ram5

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Planning is definitely important, check out terrible writing advice on youtube, it had covered about that subject.
 

kaida

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When I outline I try and do it mostly through discussion. I'll talk to people about my story and get a good idea of what I want to do before I end up writing the final product. When I'm in those discussions I try to take notes as well. It makes it easier. I really like the idea of having a writing buddy or group. It always helps when spitballing and outlining ideas.
If you don't have that then I guess you should try and just figure out a couple of things for a plot outline.
  • What is the conflict of the story?
  • How do you want things to end?
  • Who are your characters?
Those things can be as vague as you like but if you can get a little bit down about them it will make it so much less tedious making a basic plot outline since it will build to those points.

Interesting! I've read a couple of replies on here that suggest sharing with someone else or talking about it out loud. From what I've gathered, it all also seems to lead to the three main points you mentioned. I like the idea of not having a super-specific outline and letting things flesh out on their own.
 
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