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I'm thinking that I might need to make an outline for my fanfiction to actually get off the ground. I've been so scattered lately and stretched-thin-feeling that I'm afraid that's the only way I can focus on it for more than fifteen minutes. But I dislike outlines in general.

I dislike them because I've found that when I make them, for just about everything, I overthink their content and overload them with too many specific details (either that or I make things so vague that I can't follow my thoughts on it later). And it bogs me down so much that it becomes useless, and I discard it.

I have significant trouble with organization in general, and in everything but essays, it's a challenge for me to completely organize my thoughts and ideas, and to plan things out. And for this project, I have so freaking many ideas and stray thoughts, and little details that change and create a cascade of change throughout the rest of it that I find that I can't make a proper, consistent outline. I've tried many times.

I need help. Does anyone have any suggestions or formats that worked particularly well for them? Does anyone else have this problem with outlines/organizing?
My teacher's a panda
For me, when I have a ton of ideas, which is often the case, I end up wasting a lot of paper. Outlines are for plots and scenes and details just don't belong. What I do is I have a separate sheet of paper for <i>everything</i>. I'll have a sheet for listing every character I think of that might belong in the story, with a very brief description of each. Then I'll have another sheet for each individual character to go more in-depth into their personality and history. Then I'll have another sheet for the history of the characters and the setting, the backstory of the world. Then another sheet for objects. Another sheet for locations. Another sheet for powers. Another sheet for anything else that I have in my head. I'll have sheets with drawings, another sheet with graphs, another sheets with lines of dialogue. The idea is to take all of the garbage floating around in your head out onto paper so that you free yourself to focus on the actual story. You have all the extra details laying about somewhere in your large pile of papers to be inserted back into your story later, but for now, you should be able to focus on the key events of the story.

Rainbows hurt.
I outline, too, and I put a lot of details in them as well. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I go overboard with details because I constantly come up with new ideas with how something can play out. The brainstorm summary file that I have for a book's second half (Chapters 11-21) is 35 pages—22, 852 words. And it's just organized chaos in that file.

So, in short, what I do that helps me organize my ideas is making a list like:

  • Chapter 1
    • summary paragraph. stray notes. blah blah.
  • Chapter 2
    • summary paragraph. jokes. blah blah
  • Chapter 3

And as I think of plot developments, I put them under the corresponding chapter. When I feel I have enough in the summary lists, then I start writing.
(屮≖益≖)屮 彡 ┻━┻ F*ck yo' table; Go read my book! —>
Shadowed Philosopher
I have an outline, but I basically just use it as my backup for my mental idea of what's going on when. I've found it useful for not losing those good ideas that I randomly get.
Shinigan (Naruto fanfic)
 5 nrjxll, Tue, 25th Oct '11 10:30:31 AM Relationship Status: Not war
I generally go with Wacky Meets Practical's method. I also use the "Cast Herd scorecard" system that some real writers do in order to keep track of multiple plotlines, when I have them.

 6 Sidewinder, Tue, 25th Oct '11 4:44:00 PM Relationship Status: Above such petty unnecessities
Sneaky Bastard
Just how do you write your outline? For a long time I wrote super detailed outlines that were so detailed I might have just written the story from the get go. To solve this I changed my method.

Now I take a few sheets of paper and write my key scenes (like dinner scene, and then shower scene a few centimeters below it) in the center of the page with a lot of free space around each scene. If I have some special idea or joke for a particular scene I write that next to the scene name. This is fast and it's easy to move or remove entire scenes. Post-it notes work great for this.

It's all really adapted from a brainstorming system usually used for software development.

 7 animemetalhead, Tue, 25th Oct '11 4:46:29 PM from Ashwood Landing, ME
Runs on Awesomeness
My outlines tend to be a very laconic version of Writing by the Seat of Your Pants. I do all of my planning and world building and basically start writing the story in short one-sentence bullet points, then split up the chapters wherever it feels right.
No one believes me when I say angels can turn their panties into guns.
 8 Major Tom, Tue, 25th Oct '11 4:50:21 PM Relationship Status: Baby don't hurt me!
Eye'm the cutest!
I never outline. I'll usually plan ahead things in my head before jotting them down in one go to write the part but I'll never outline.

Why? Because no battle plan nothing I initially come up with survives contact with the enemy the actual composition to text.
Endless Conflict: Every war ends in time, even supposedly this one.
 9 USAF713, Tue, 25th Oct '11 4:52:52 PM from the United States
I changed accounts.
I like to have a detailed outline after my standard-issue 6 months-2 years of brainstorming (what, I'm methodical).

It goes something like:

Chapter Name — X, Y, Z (research links; as many as are applicable).

  • Some stuff happens, with these characters, and the plot and characters develop in these ways, which are significant because.
I am now known as Flyboy.
slice of lice
I don't outline, but I think I should have.

I can write on the fly but it ends up sort of missing the full mark because all my efforts are being concentrated on one thing only, like getting plot done but losing character humor, or having a character moment where nothing happens.

edited 25th Oct '11 5:08:48 PM by OuthouseInferno

Forget the tropes until after you're done.
 11 Night, Tue, 25th Oct '11 5:35:46 PM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
I used to try to outline, waaaay back in elementary school.

Used to do drafts in a meaningful fashion, too, though that lasted a lot longer. (Arguably it still is, though only just.)
"Remember that you are fighting the machine and the pilot both, but you only have to beat one of them."
 12 Ralph Crown, Tue, 25th Oct '11 5:36:52 PM from Next Door to Nowhere
Short Hair
An outline only works when you can put into it what belongs there and keep out what doesn't. Outlines can organize thing in a simple linear fashion, but for full effectiveness you have to move things downward/outward too. For instance, you could start with the heading A and call it Chapter 1, B for Chapter 2, and so on. Suppose you have three events in mind for Chapter 1, so you call them A.1, A.2, and A.3. You don't have to think about A.1 right away, but you have a place to put your thoughts about it when they arise.

This particular outline is for the plot. You could have outlines for other topics, e.g. the history of your world, the political forces at work, the types of spells characters can cast. You can have other types of documents for other topics, e.g. a character sheet, a map, a sketchbook, anything.

There is only one thing you must do. Ideas eventually have to go where they belong. If you don't put them in the right place the first time, or if you suffer a paradigm shift, organize your material until everything makes sense. You will throw things out, it's inevitable.
Under World. It rocks!
@Punkreader: When you say "proper, consistent outline, " what do you mean exactly? Like, what for? Plots, characters...?

I ask because there are so many different things you can do, but I don't want to clog up one post if the advice wouldn't be suited to what you need help on.

edited 25th Oct '11 7:45:30 PM by BetsyandtheFiveAvengers

 14 Morven, Wed, 26th Oct '11 3:22:17 AM from Seattle, WA, USA
I find I can only write very rough outlines. Like, chapter by chapter at best. And they're only a rough guide.
A brighter future for a darker age.
@Betsy: For me, it's on plot. I can keep characters straight easily, and modifying them throughout the work isn't as hard for me. It's plot that really nabs my goat. (Do people even use that expession any more?)

@nrjxll: Hmm... I'll look that up. It may be of use - I definitely have multiple plotlines, all of which converge somewhere.

@Major Tom: Yup. I can compose things in my head prior to writing, and that works well (if I don't get uber-stressed before I get a chance to write it down and forget it).

@Morven: You...changed your avatar? I like it, but I recognized you mainly by the black-and-white one. [lol] And that's mainly how I write as well: "Get the idea down, jot down notes (then send them to people), connect things later." I can almost always explain how the things in question are connected when asked to, but I can tend to get pretty verbose with it, and I go into In-Universe-Speak, which...really only benefits me, and confuses my friends. [lol] My friends are thankfully pretty tolerant, but they do occasionally go, "Wait... I don't know who that character is - I don't read that series, " which reminds me to slow down.

In short: I get excited and rush too much. On just about everything, I'm impulsive, and I hurry through things so that I can get on to the next thing. Not just in writing - and I know what a problematic habit it is. I have to work very hard to slow myself down many times a day.

edited 26th Oct '11 4:15:58 AM by punkreader

 16 Morven, Wed, 26th Oct '11 4:11:07 AM from Seattle, WA, USA
I'd always heard "grabs my goat", but I could be off. It's an old expression, though.

You and I are alike in that; character is easy, plot is hard. So ... I'm not sure I'm great advice on this one, as a fellow sufferer!

I've found that reading stuff about plot structure helps a little; it at least makes me think a bit more about it. And analyzing books I like for the points where the major plot turns occur.
A brighter future for a darker age.
 17 chihuahua 0, Wed, 26th Oct '11 2:42:12 PM from Standoff, USA Relationship Status: I'm in love with my car
Writer's Welcome Wagon
I do write rough outlines when I use them, but I often diverge from there.

But I use outlines as guidelines anyways.

I don't organise my outline into chapters, but rather just type out the sequence of events in paragraph form (with blank spaces for "okay something happens here, but I already know this important thing happens later"), and each main character/group (if they're not all together) gets one of these outlines separately. Sometimes with a "master outline", but usually I don't bother. I then throw bulletpoint descriptions on Excel so I can organise a comparative timeline. All important groups would get their own column, and often one or more for impartial events (where stuff like an earthquake or tournament or apocalypse would go). I'll edit the charts if something changes in the story, because it helps with continuity checks and the like. I don't organise them into chapters or scenes, though.

Then I have multiple documents for components of worldbuilding, some depressingly vague while others delving into the minutiae of things that will never be seen.

edited 26th Oct '11 9:38:31 PM by greedling

You will not go to space today.
I have gone through several notebooks (of varying sizes and varying degrees of completion) and numerous notepad saves. Even now I keep 3 notebooks; 1 in my bedroom and beside the computer, and a notepad I carry with me. The most important thing about outlines is that: nothing is set in stone.

An outline is just there to remind you of the boundaries and timeline of the story; everything else, the actual content, is completely mutable. And even then you modify change the boundaries and timeline if you feel that they're obstructing the flow of story.

If you finished a chapter, and you feel that its not up to your standards, always leave a WIP. Work In Progress, to remind yourself you can go back and change it anytime you wish. Don't feel pressured that you need to make a perfect script the first time you write it.

My own method of outlining goes as follows: I create a boundary, write a fuzzy timeline of events, and cut it into manageable chunks/halves (part 1, part 2, etc.). I always leave a WIP at the end. Then I brainstorm how each even leads to another, if at all.*

As of now significant changes have occurred to my outline. Events have moved up and down, merged, and reworked entirely. I keep adding new ideas to the story, like the other day to replace all the birds with miniature dragons, well after several months of world building. I'll probably decide to replace them all with flying fishes next.

edited 27th Oct '11 12:33:54 AM by Izaak

I had a big outline I did about two years ago (it was lost in the Great Data Wipe in March [I lost everything fanfiction related that had been on my computer - everything else was still there]) that was for the plot. I don't remember exactly what I wrote, but I pretty well remember the way I had it set up. Here's what I did before (I might use this same format still):

[Large Font]<b>TITLE OF ARC</b>

<b>Summarize Arc in a short paragraph:</b>

<b>Location, Time, Setting:</b>

<b>Major Characters:</b>

<b>Minor Characters:</b>

<b>Major Events That Occur?</b>

<b>Minor Events?</b>

<b>What's each Maj. Char. trying to achieve in this arc?</b>


But, as I said before, I overloaded this the last time with too many details, I made it too heavy. I think part of that may be that I'm setting up so many categories. I don't really know...

Any suggestions on that format?

edited 27th Oct '11 7:57:46 AM by punkreader

 21 Eldritch Blue Rose, Thu, 27th Oct '11 12:04:19 PM from A Really Red Room
The Puzzler
If you are not good at outlines, then why not just figure out the beginning, two or three big scenes in the middle, and the ending? Then you could discovery write (a.k.a. Writing by the Seat of Your Pants) the bits in between.
So now I know that my lack of success in college is due to ADD — or sleep apnea. I need to do a sleep study some time.
 22 Leradny, Fri, 28th Oct '11 11:58:23 PM from Alameda, CA
Title Better Title Original Title

List of Characters


Inciting Event

List of Puns I May Be Able To Fit In

Character A: *says stuff*
Character B: CAPSLOCK

Character C: *heartfelt monologue*



Character D is a total hoar lawl


Detailed Sketches of Outfits

More Puns Which I Will Probably Not Be Able To Fit In

Relationship Chart

Alternate Relationship Chart

Minor Character's Impressive Backstory

edited 29th Oct '11 12:01:06 AM by Leradny

 23 nrjxll, Sat, 29th Oct '11 2:03:58 AM Relationship Status: Not war
I don't really like the idea of plot outlines, come to think of it - I strongly believe that you should be able to adapt your plot on the fly, and writing out an outline seems, at least to me, to constrain you a bit to following it.

 24 USAF713, Sat, 29th Oct '11 7:51:27 PM from the United States
I changed accounts.
[up][up] [lol][awesome]
I am now known as Flyboy.
 25 jasonwill 2, Sun, 30th Oct '11 3:11:30 AM from West Virginia

I never thought about a relationship chart... might be a good idea and help with trying to figure out inter group dynamics. my group in my main work feels kind of stale. i thought it was with having too many main characters, but perhaps it was what i just said.
as of the 2nd of Nov. has 6 weeks for a broken collar bone to heal and types 1 handed and slowly
Total posts: 26

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