Monday Apr 04, 2022

Why Are You Outlining? (032)

A deep look at outlining from the perspective of whether it is actually helping you or not, and why it is helping you (if it is!).

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Links discussed in this episode:

10 Different Outlining Techniques

Brian Sanderson's BYU 2020 class lectures



Promo Intro:
It's KimBoo! Welcome to the 11th episode of the Author Alchemist podcast, season two, where today we're going to talk about outlining. Specifically, we're going to be talking about the type of outlining that works for you, that keeps writing fresh and interesting, and helps motivate you, as opposed to weighing you down with the burden of doing something the way other people tell you should do it. Let's get to it.

Main Intro:
I'm KimBoo, the host of the Author Alchemist podcast. I'm bringing my years of experience as both a fanfiction writer and a professionally published author to the problem we all love to hate: the act of writing. You can't improve on something that doesn't exist, which means the most important thing you could do is simply write. Anything, just write something. I'm here to help you do that. 

So yeah, good morning! It is morning, as I am recording this beautiful gray morning. That's really the last of the Florida winter here, we're into mid March, and so temperatures are creeping back up. Which means that summer is right around the corner, and I try not to think about that too much. But despite the fact that the humidity is also creeping back up, it's still really nice out. So I have all my windows and doors open, letting the air run through my house. I know a lot of people in the rest of the country live in the USA, but they open their windows when spring comes. Because they're warming up, they're wanting, you know this, the warm spring breezes to come through their house and chase out the chill. Whereas for me, I usually do the opposite. I started opening up my windows and doors in October there abouts, and keep opening them up until March or April hits, and then everything shuts, closes, and we keep the air conditioning running as much as possible without going bankrupt for the bill. So that's where I am right now, enjoying the day as much as I can. 

Today we're going to be talking about outlining. And as usual, I'm not going to focus on the craft of it too much. I will talk about different styles of outlining a little bit later. But one of the reasons I brought this up as a topic is because you hear so many pieces of advice and so many different experts telling you how the perfect way to outline a story should happen. And usually I'm pretty dismissive of all that because I figure once you've been writing for a while, and if you're a fanfiction writer you've been writing for a while, then you pretty much know how things work for you. But unfortunately, what tends to happen whether people are previously writing fanfiction, or have not previously written anything, so they get into original writing, and suddenly they feel like they don't know anything. And they go looking at the books and they go looking through the blogs and YouTube videos and they stumble across something that sounds like it might work for them or that an expert they trust tells them they should do it. And then they try it out and maybe it doesn't work. 

So here I want to talk about outlining as a motivational tool, because I think that is the key that's really missing. We talk a lot about in the community, in the writing community, the using templates, certainly Scrivener has templates, plotr has templates, world anvil, and camp ire. They all have built in templates that you can just plug and play for using, and there's save the cat for novel writing as well as script writing. And there is the hero's journey, which if you're in the fantasy and science fiction genres, is used a lot. So there's lots of different ways to do it. 

I was listening recently to Brandon Sanderson's 2020 lectures, well it was a course he taught at Brigham Young University. Great series, I'll post the link to the playlist, it's on YouTube for you to watch, he really does a fantastic job. The man is prolific and he's good. Those two things that don't always go together, but with him they do. And I think a lot of people, if you aren't in the science fiction fantasy community, you might know him, at least from the recent Netflix adaptation of Wheel of Time. He was the person who finished that series after the original author, Robert Jordan died, and the series was finished. He was hired to finish it by the family estate of Robert Jordan. And I believe he's a producer or executive, somehow he's involved with the Netflix show. So a lot of people know him for that. It's really a good series. And recently, he was talking about different ways of outlining a story. He gave a couple that he uses personally. But I think the important thing that he brought up, which is just, it struck me because you don't hear it too often, is that he said, "You have to outline in the way your brain works." 

And I really think that is crucial. I'm saying this as a pantser. I don't do outlines in the traditional sense, I don't sit down and figure out the first scene and figure out the next scene, and then do the little, you know, one, point A, B, C, D, and I don't, I don't do that. I instead tend to prefer to work with very loose beats. Or you can say, acts, but either way, you're like this is the, you know, character introduction act, or arc or beat and gives me a lot of freedom and say, Okay, well, I need to get from this stage to this stage. But as a pantser, and this is true for a lot of pantsers or discovery writers, I think they're being called these days, you know, because panters are, I guess, is unprofessional sounding, but whatever. Pantsers, discoverers, it's all the same. When we outline something too much, our brain does this weird thing where we feel like we've already told the story, so we don't want to write it anymore. 

The first time that happened to me, I spent so much time on this outline for this absolutely epic fantasy novel that I was not qualified to write. At the time this was in the 90s. So it was like in my late 20s, nowhere near experienced enough or had put in the time to write something as epic as I was envisioning, and I wrote this three page outline, single space, very detailed. I, you know, parts were being pulled out as it was. It was a mess. But by the time I got through to the end, I was like, "All right, now I'm gonna sit down and write this thing out!" and I just couldn't. I was done. 

Because wasn't this what I was supposed to do? Isn't this how you're supposed to write? And of course back then there wasn't a YouTube video of Brandon Sanderson telling you that you don't have to do that. I was in the woods. I was going through, back then it was Borders bookstores, prowling the writing section looking for advice on how to do this and and realizing, you know what, my brain does not work this way. Wasn't until years later that I fully embraced the idea that my brain works a certain way and that I need to follow that. 
I think it really hit home for me with one of my most popular fanfiction ever — is a Clint/Coulson Marvel Comics Universe fanfic called Bureaucratic Nightmare. A little bit of an AU, won't go into details, won't bore you with that. But it was literally written by the seat of my pants, I did not know at the point that I got to the end of a chapter what was gonna happen in the next chapter at all. I think it's pretty obvious when I go back and read it now, to me anyway, it's like, yeah, the pacing is not great. But it's one of my most popular fanfics I've ever written. People who don't even like that pairing, that ship as we call it, still read that story and love it and leave comments for it. And it really, that was the culmination, I think for me, embracing the fact that my brain does work in a storytelling way. And that if I trust myself a little bit, but then you know, go back and clean up afterwards, I can have a really damn good story. And that is how I've been writing. 

That said, for instance, as I'm looking at this podcast right now, I actually have an outline of the podcast beats that I want to hit open in front of me. Outlining isn't a bad thing in in doing a podcast or doing blogs. I use outlining pretty extensively. But for fiction, I can't do it.

The important thing, always, always to remember is to pay attention to how your brain works. There are lots of options for outlining story arcs that you can use: the three act structure, the five act structure, the seven beats structure, the save the cat, as I mentioned before, you know, I just there's there's lots. In fact, there was one I really liked, I found on Tumblr years and years ago. And it listed 10 different methods for outlining or pseudo outlining, as you might want to call it. There was the snowflake method, where you start with a one sentence description of the novel, there was the reverse method, which I really liked it, it's like write a description or actually write the chapter, that is your story. Like actually sit down and write the denouement of your story, the characters, what they've been through, what they're talking about, if it was a mystery, talking about the clues that they saw, or if it was a science fiction, epic adventure, the recovering from the trials and tribulations they went through, and then work backwards from that. I've actually done that a couple of times in my fanfiction writing. And it's just a really good resource. 

And a reminder, that however you choose to outline, and I even hate the word outline, I wish there was a structure, however you choose to structure your pre-writing tools, and we're gonna have to find a better term than this. But however you choose to do that, it needs to be in a way that engages you with the story. Don't be me in 1998, writing this massive outline, not even thinking about what I was really doing, just doing it because the books I read, the magazines I read, were telling me that this was the correct way to do it. And that's what I did. And I wasn't paying attention. And then the story was done, over, whoops, sorry, no can do, I was like...what? Don't...don't be me. Do as I say, don't do as I do, but actually do as I do now, don't do as I did then, I guess I would be a more accurate description of that. Try them out, try different ones on for size, take the same story, possibly, and try different ways of approaching the structure of it. 

See, maybe you do beats, well, maybe you really do like full outlining, what you really need is to have each piece broken out specifically. Maybe you just want to start with a group of words and kind of like a poetry slam, just split those words into a certain structure, and then go from there. 

I'll link the blog post or the Tumblr post that I talked about earlier in the show notes. And along with the link to the playlist for Brandon Sanderson's series of lectures, or course, whatever... you want to call...I need  more coffee, y'all it's too. It's a beautiful morning, but it's a little still a little too early. I'm just... my brain is just now starting to come awake. 

Find the way that engages you. That's the point I'm trying to make here. Because motivation and inspiration are really magical, trippy, weird things in our brains. And I think we can tap into them at will if we train ourselves to do so. But we can very easily squash them and choke them off inadvertently by doing things that aren't designed to help our creativity or assist us in expanding our creativity. And as you know, I am less worried about the craft of writing, which there's lots of guides out there for you to do for check. There's lots of guides out there for you to check all your, you know, grammar and structure and character development issues. I'm concerned about you actually writing the thing.

If you're a true true pantser or discoverer, Dean Wesley Smith is one, Stephen King has talked about how he's embraced that as well, where you just sit down and do like I did on my fanfic Bureaucratic Nightmare and just write from one to the other to the other until you've got a full story then you go back and fix it. Or if you're somewhere in between, where you... those are the called the gardener's I believe, they're they're more like people who either have a general rough outline or a beat sheet that they plugged in some some scenes, and then they kind of garden in between them. I used to call it bridging as a technique because I would write a late scene or a final scene or a big showdown, and then I would write the introduction and then I would bridge scenes between them to create a full story. Like, how did this scene get to this other scene? You know, how do we get from a picnic in the park to people, you know, hanging off a cliff face for their lives. I was bridging it by writing the scenes in between, knowing where I had to go, in a way was kind of sort of like outlining, I guess, you know. But it worked for me, because it still allowed me a lot of the creativity and the freedom for my mind to just reel off the scenes, which is what I personally need.

Try out different methods not to find the one that's correct, but to find the one that works for you, and the find the one that inspires you, that gives you energy, makes you excited about writing this story, not the one that's just the way you're supposed to do it. 

Okay, I think I've hit that theme a lot over the head for this podcast, and so I'm going to wrap it up for today. It's not too long of a one, but hopefully it helped you or maybe expanded your perspective on outlining. Like I said, I'll include those links in the shownotes. Meantime, I would love it. If you checked out my course that's for sale, if you're a fan fiction writer who has been struggling to write your own original fiction, then the course is designed for you. It's "Out from Fanfiction, use what you know to write what you love." That's right here on my website. So check it out. Also, if you're just wondering if what you want to write as original fiction is marketable at all, I have a freebie for you! I'm going to delete that as well. It's called "Write to market...or not?" and it's about looking at your fan fiction and what you love to write about and what you love to read to see if you already have marketable skills, which I suspect you do. You're just reading a lot of those how to write to market blog posts and don't do that, that's corrupting influence. I mean, yeah, writing to market is very important if you just want to become an incredibly prolific and big selling author. But you know, if you're just wondering if that story you love in your heart is marketable? Yeah, then this is the this is the freebie for you. It'll help you look at that in analyze and see if maybe, yeah, might be a little bit more marketable than you thought, and in what ways so really hope you check that out if that's something that interests you. 

Meantime, I'm wrapping this up. spend enough time talking your ear off about writing and motivation. And now guess what that means. It's time for you and for me to get to write and talk to you next week. 

Thanks for listening to me ramble on about writing here on the other Alchemist Podcast. I'm KimBoo York and I hope this episode has helped clear away the cobwebs from your inspiration. For more podcasts and other tools including self paced online courses, please visit my website at (no dashes) or email me at I'd love to read your questions and feedback. Now, time to get some writing done.

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