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Discussing: Outlines and Making Notes

Outlines and Making Notes

Another one of my difficulties in writing. I previously posted a thread on story length and development. I suppose this ties in with that one. In the past, when writing, I have shunned outlines and notes, remaining what some called an "organic writer." Unfortunately, that method did me no good, I nearly always lost interest in the story and lost sight of the big picture, and I never finished. Now, I have an idea (though not a complete one yet--I only know what the story feels like, and the background of the story), and I think it might develop into something good. I figure that since in the past, without notes and outlines I always abandoned the story, I should try writing with the resources. Unfortunately, I am hopelessly unorganized, and every past attempt to try this has fallen to mass chaos. I just know that when I try again this time around, the same thing will happen. So... my question: How does one go about outlining a story, researching, making notes, and organizing prior to writing a story? And how do you keep it straight before all the notes are complete? ~tineryn

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

In the long 4th Age slightly AU story (18 chapters so far) that I co-write elsewhere, I have notes, timelines, and an outline - mainly so that I don't lose track of my minor OC's, names of horses, how many troops I said were in the Mordor Garrison 10 chapters ago, etc. The plot has veered off from the original track my co-author and I set up in our preliminary outline, because, as you write a long and involved story, things happen. Some characters do unexpected things. You get brainstorms about the plot. But for a short work, i.e. less than five chapters, I'm not sure you need such things. It all depends on the complexity of the plot, how much continuity you need to remember. Notes can be great for the texture of a story - those details that you might want to use to add Middle-earth nuances. What kind of food would they eat in Minas Tirith, or wherever? What would they wear, and for what occasion? Plants and trees in Middle-Earth. How many children did Sam and Rosie have, and what were their names? Who was Legolas' grandfather? What was Elrond's birthdate, and what famous events has he witnessed/been part of in his long life? Military organization, weapons and how to use them. Anything and everything that you might want to use at some point, and is too big to keep in your head. Think, as you're working with your idea - what information should I keep that I will probably make use of later? That's the germ of your story notes. Organize it in whatever fashion works best for you. As far as outlining the story itself before you write it - keep it fluid. You might start with a rough chronological progression, chapter by chapter, of what happens when. But that will change at least a bit when you start writing. If it's a short, 1-3 chapter story, you may not need it at all. RAKSHA THE DEMON

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

In the past, when writing, I have shunned outlines and notes, remaining what some called an "organic writer." Unfortunately, that method did me no good, I nearly always lost interest in the story and lost sight of the big picture, and I never finished.... So... my question: How does one go about outlining a story, researching, making notes, and organizing prior to writing a story? And how do you keep it straight before all the notes are complete? ~*~*~*~ LOL! Ahhhhh.... the sweet siren's call of entropy! Being a rather organic, in-the-moment-inspiration, kind of writer and being blessed with the attention span of a rather spastic flea, I tend to go in phases. Fits and starts and stops, though occasionally projects do limp to the finish line. To ease the guilt of much $ spent on art supplies and the limbo to which unfinished characters have regretfully been consigned, I recommend cognitively reworking your understanding of the process. For myself, I find that framing the experience of the many unfinished projects in various artistic mediums hanging around in my living room and on my hard-drive as just... uh.... "resting" ... is helpful. Otherwise, I find that having friends who threaten me with whips and various other sharper implements provides a strong impetus to get organized. When the muse moves me to organization, I find that having files of notes about persons, places, times, and all the nitty gritty details of life help keep the level of detail in the story believable. Also, if I run out of inspiration, often perusing those files gets me going again. Currently, I have files on flora and fauna in various biozones, fiber arts, cooking, gardening, weaponry, pipes and smoking, herblore, use of local plants, etc. Not to mention loads of pictures of Viggo as Aragorn. I have a loose timeline... too specific and I feel like I lose that creative tension between inspiration and conscious control over the story. Rather, to keep an overall view of the story arc, I use flashcards of key events that help me mark the flow of the plot and character development. In stories where I have multiple P'sOV, I color-code the cards and that helps me see the pacing of the story. When I lay them out, I can see the story as a whole and thus see the gaps and hitches in logic that I need to address. Some longer stories I've broken into chapters as I go along. But, recently, I've found it more helpful to keep the writing all in one document, but, I change the background color depending upon the phase of the story in which it occurs. And then, when all else fails and the story never finds its way to completion, I find a good rationalization to be a fine tool. Some stories are just not meant to be written, you know. And, really, when it comes down to it, did we lose anything in the effort? I know I'm a better writer for all those stories I never finished. ~ Silli

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

I was reading "Steven King on Writing" earlier this evening, and he wrote on plotting, outlines and the like. In short, he shunned plots and called himself a "situation writer", saying that life was not organized into a neat, logical plot progression--things just happen. It made sense... but I still think I need something. Perhaps planning a skeleton outline at first--the very basics of the plot to remember as you work, and then outlining more specifically as you write the story? It sounds like a happy medium between organization and chaos, but it would have its drawbacks. For instance, outlining ahead would tell one what they need to research before they read the story, and they can plan what precisely to lead up to later on. While writing organically might convey a more lifelike pace, it would require more drafts to encorporate changes and twists the plot takes, and I imagine writing might be delayed when one comes to an impasse that requires a good amount of research. So... other than that, you suggest keeping notes on names, numbers, statistics and where/what each character is doing at what point. That sounds reasonable enough, and easy enough for someone who lacks the ability to plan ahead, or for that matter, keep her bedroom neat. The difficulties in my idea come mostly in research, I think... it's actually an encorporation of two ideas I had, and is set in the modern day... so I have no idea where to set it, and as of yet, I don't know the plot! (I think I said before, I know the feeling and the background, and that's it). Much contemplation ahead. I think I will try some of your suggestions. ~tineryn

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

When I write, I make notes on main characters and major events, but I leave a lot of space open. My muse has a habit of throwing things in while I write that end up being rather interesting to me, and adds some spontaneity to the plot. But I know what you mean about feeling like you need a more solid plot. Perhaps if you just write what you have in your head now, and then go back to it later, you'll be able to get a better idea of where the story is going, and you can go from there. You can see what you need to research, how you want the plot to develop, and where you hope everything will end up. I try to do that, and after many, many changes, I finally find the end of my story. Hope this helps in small way! (And sorry if this doesn't make much sense...am about to go to bed...) Arquen

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

outlining ahead would tell one what they need to research before they read the story, and they can plan what precisely to lead up to later on. While writing organically might convey a more lifelike pace, it would require more drafts to encorporate changes and twists the plot takes, and I imagine writing might be delayed when one comes to an impasse that requires a good amount of research. For my part, you imagine correctly! Just recently I had to bring everything to a screeching halt so I could do some research and make sure I wasn't writing something completely unworkable. BUT as it was a plot point that ambushed me, it wasn't something I'd've included in an outline anyway. you suggest keeping notes on names, numbers, statistics and where/what each character is doing at what point. This I will do. True, I've never written 18 chapters of anything, but even for short stuff, I'll write down characters' ages in relation to everyone else and and where they were in what year and who their 2nd cousin was, if I might need that second cousin. I may never say how old so-and-so is in the course of the story, but it helps me to have an idea. Perhaps planning a skeleton outline at first--the very basics of the plot to remember as you work This I will also do -- plan what I think are pivotal plot points, then work toward/away from those things.

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

Much of the material in my notes is never used. But it's there as a support. And there's continuity too. If I'm writing a story that goes on for several days, or months; I need to know certain things. When is the next Great Council meeting scheduled, when did the Rohirrim leave Edoras according to the courier they sent, when did Faramir last talk to Eowyn - I may not use any of it, but if I have the info set down somewhere, then I can check it so I can't contradict it because I didn't remember right. Tolkien wrote several drafts of LOTR, especially FOTR, and made copious notes, btw. Did y'all know that at one point JRRT didn't know, as he was outlining future chapters, whether Strider, who was called Trotter at that point, was a descendant of Elendil who had once been captured in Moria and tortured by Sauron, or Peregrin Boffin, an older hobbit of mysterious habits....And Boromir was once fated to turn traitor and hook up with Saruman, and eventually fight a duel to the death with Aragorn in Gondor. And Arwen's name was originally Finduilas! RAKSHA THE DEMON

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

Is there another character named Finduilas? I've heard it before... Anyway... Most of my difficulty comes from the fact that a) I have never managed to finish a longer story, b) it is set in the modern day, and c) I don't know the actual plot!! In the book I mentioned, King advocated letting the characters tell the story, warning that too strict an outline and planning will result in cardboard characters and stiff plots. Now, I don't hold his writing on a pedestal, or anything, but I could see his point when he said that. I think I might follow his advice, letting the story tell itself, and do what you say, keep notes on what's happened so far, for continuity, et cetera. (When I posted the other thread, I didn't even plan on writing this--it's the culmination of two different ideas, actually, that combined shortly after I posted that). It is interesting, considering a story in which you don't know what will happen... I've written a bit longhanded (only about one side of a page), and I have a feeling the bugger will require many, many drafts... One of my biggest problems is setting... I have no idea where to set it! I wrote 'chicago' for the first place, not because I know the city (I've never been there) but because... well... that's what I wrote. So, needless to say, I don't even know if the story will turn out any good after my ten bazillion drafts. Here's to uncertainty! ~tineryn

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

Hi Tineryn, I seem forever to be starting my replies to your questions with the ubiquitious lawyer's answer of "it depends". But unfortunately, it really does! It depends on the story and on how you work, what amount of information you need to be comfortable... What you definitely need to write long stories that need real research is discipline and structure. There is no easy way around that. • organize your notes: - on your computer: make a folder for characterizations, another one for plot, a third for background etc; there are also programs intended to help an author with special features for keeping track of notes etc - offline: keep a stack of paper handy - and always, always, always write down the date and where you found what, and for what part of your story you want to use your thoughts; the most brilliant idea does not help if you cannot place it three weeks later! Different colours and different sizes for the paper you use can help; for example: blue, square paper for characters, orange, rectangular paper for plot, etc • research: the most important thing for good fanfiction is reading the books (Hobbit, LOTR, Silm, HoMe) thoroughly and interpreting what you read for yourself; the rest of your fanfiction research depends on how thorough you want to be about real worldly details or scholarly Tolkien stuff; HASA has a lot of wonderful resources for both - and I think you will nearly always find someone at HA to answer any question at all. • organize the results of your research: you need to be able to get back to where you found something! It helps to have folders in your browser for your bookmarks. I have a folder with some eight bookmarks only for the Rohirric language for example. Save your the results of your research in accurately labelled folders. If you work with longer academic texts, print them out and highlight the important parts in bright shiny colours... • outline: that's a really personal thing... you just have to try until you find a style that suits you: Actually, everything you learn at school, in college and at university about research and about preparing a thesis can be applied to researching and preparing a story. I hope that helps a bit! Yours Juno

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

I have a folder with some eight bookmarks only for the Rohirric language for example. I only have three! Share please? And just let me say -- man, Juno, you are Organized. I just couldn't even begin to be that organized at home!

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

Organized... hmm... I guess there's a reason why I am working on my second degree... Actually, I cheated... I have 21 items in that Rohirric language folder (I was sure there could not be so many... they must be multiplying when you don't use them... hmmm...). Most important items: 2 Modern English to Old English online dictionaries: dictionary 1 dictionary 2 2 links for instant Old English phrases: Instant Old English Conversational Old English And an international, multicultural namefinder: Norse Names Do you want the grammar pages, too? Remember, I am the one who got a book on the history of the Old English words for wedding, marriage etc in oder to properly research Lothy's wedding and wedding night... Cheers, Juno

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

Wheeeeeeeeee!! Thank you lady, all very helpful! Do you want the grammar pages, too? I would say..no. I don't foresee using whole phrases, but I do like to throw around words here and there. Remember, I am the one who got a book on the history of the Old English words for wedding, marriage etc in oder to properly research Lothy's wedding and wedding night... You are the completely certifiable one. Then again, I do sometimes read etymology & linguistics books for fun...

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

Quote: (...)Then again, I do sometimes read etymology & linguistics books for fun... Tee hee hee! You also asked Aranel for a list of certain Anglo-Saxon words... (OK... I have the same list ... ) Quote: You are the completely certifiable one. Isn't it good to know that you are not alone? Weird books & stuff: Aranel found a university research paper on Anglo-Saxon obstetrics. Guess what's at #1 on my reading list at the moment? Yours Juno

 

 

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If you haven't done so already, you should post a link to the paper in the HASA Url Library - if the thing's online. I'd like to read it myself. RAKSHA

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

How do I add URLs to the HASA URL library? Anyway, here's what I have online: Gynaecology and Obstetrics in Anglo-Saxon England (a pdf file; a student's paper submitted at the university of Basle; clearly structured, relatively short - only 31 pages) Pregnancy and Birth in Anglo-Saxon in England (excellent academic resources with images and sources from archeology to excerpts of medieval texts and a comprehensive bibliography) The Indexing of Medieval Women: The Feminine Tradition of Medical Wisdom in Anglo-Saxon England and the Metrical Charms (another pdf file; this one is an MA thesis of about 50 pages) Enjoy! Yours Juno

 

 

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Is this going to be one of those things that traumatises me into the next century? Medieval medical practices just make me shudder.

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

Actually, it's not so bad. Though some of the remedies are pretty interesting... for example, applying heated horse dung when suffering from pain and hard bleeding during bad monthlies... Though that account of the 14th century birth that I used for Éowyn... that was pretty cool. If you want me to, I can find that for you! Yours Juno

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

Hi Juno, These are great links. I think you add URLs to the URL Library by clicking on the link "Add a URL" that is under the search box in the right-hand side of the URL pages. I confess I didn't use the form because I don't have anything good like this to add, but it didn't look very hard to do. I'm in awe of anyone who can write fiction, outlines or no outlines. fercryinoutloud

 

 

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You ARE organized! I mean, geez... I'm not very organized at all. I think it's because I'm lazy and impatient... oh well; at least I can admit it. I just have to figure out where to start researching... Setting, I guess. All I know is that I need a city with a big enough underbelly that's relatively easily accessable. I think every major city has that. I kind of wanted to shy away from New York, because *everbody* writes in New York. I suppose I should research documents and things, seeing as how Glorfindel's inevitably going to leave a paper trail, which is a realisation of two seconds ago, and I'm not sure how I will use that anyway. Ugh, beaurocracy. You've probably figured out that I'm thinking out loud right now. Anyway, the story's premise is that Erestor never sailed, and Glorfindel returned to find him. I suppose that also requires some canon research and a big AU sticker. Now it's the modern day. But Erestor doesn't exist. He *can't* exist, obviously, seeing as how he's a mythical creature in modern society, and he never dies. I considered having him simply forge documents, but realistically, that would catch up, eventually, and it would leave a long paper trail. Besides, Joe Smith can't just vanish off the face of the earth, and Erestor can't destroy ALL records concerning one identity. So I've almost settled (I'm not really settled on *anything* at this point) on having him, in the eyes of the government, etc, nonexistant, and simply getting money where they don't ask those kinds of questions. Hence the necessary seedy underground. I should have a characterization file, you're right. I mean, after ages of being the only elf in a world of men, that would change somebody. Glorfindel wouldn't have changed much before the story, like Erestor, but would do most of his changing during the story. But I should stop now, before I plot the entire thing in front of you, and have no reason to write the story. Well, thanks for enduring that. ~tineryn

 

 

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All I know is that I need a city with a big enough underbelly that's relatively easily accessable. I think every major city has that.. Here's a question - do you need to name the city? Could it just be "dark underbelly of huge unnamed urban metropolis"? Cause that would eliminate a bunch of research right there.

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

Hi tineryn, if you want to talk your idea over, why don't we chat about it sometime next week on YIM? I'm on as juno_magic. I'm on European time and online most of the day. Cheers, Juno

 

 

Re: Outlines and Making Notes

Juno, that would be fantastic--I'll add you to my YIM list. I'm on as 'tineryn', same as, well, everything else. It makes things oh-so-much simpler. In reply EdorassLass, I also considered that... I only shy away from that for fear that it would take away from the believability of the story. I also considered setting it in a Randomly-Named-Town somewhere out in bumble, but the story seems to fit a metropolis better. So yeah... in that respect, I'm rather stuck. I'm afraid that if I don't name the place, the visual and believability of the story will suffer. I probably wouldn't be accurate, map wise, because the heavens know I have no idea what's on the streets on said map... I suppose the advantage to a real city would be the landmarks to add to the description and recognition of the reader.

 

 

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