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I use a pretty simple system of bullet points on my Mac OS notes app. After having tried multiple means, I've found that I'm most productive with Microsoft Word as my primary writing app, and Mac OS notes for all note taking/links. They two are side to side on my monitor, and I use word's focus mode as I write. Simple, clean, works great (for me). And I went from OneNote -> Word + One Note -> Trying Scrivener -> Ulysses for Mac + Word + Kindle Create -> to current setup
 

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Honest question for you plotters (I don't consider myself one, although I'm probably more of a plotter than some):

Looking at some of this stuff, especially Al's detailed outline, do you ever get the feeling that you're spending so much time on this preparatory stuff that it might be much quicker to, you know, actually write the book instead of writing all that stuff out?

I feel the same about detailed character outlines with likes and dislikes. Some people make huge storybibles. I just can't see this in any other way than taking up a lot of time that could have been spent writing.

I just use a hand full of 1-2 sentences in a Scrivener binder. It takes me less than an hour to write. Usually there are 10-12 story points I'll need to hit, most of which will expand into multiple chapters.
 

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I use a mix of a straight Word document and behind-the-wheel. Very basic stuff.

My Word document has the character details (description, which may be detailed or 'looks like Harrison Ford', plus a bit of information about their background) and, as the novel develops, I add new things that the characters reveal about themselves that I hadn't realised at the start. It also has a basic chapter outline as events and developments move the story forward, and something has to happen in each chapter. I write the full chapter above that chapter's summary, so I remain on task and don't wander. If something happens that necessitates wandering off task, that's fine as sometimes it does happen - for instance, a minor character suddenly demands more attention in one scene, so I add them into some following chapter summaries so they don't flash and disappear.

My behind-the-wheel planning is the time in the car with the radio off, or on the tractor or on the mower, as I play out the next chapter in my mind - the conversations, the twists, the incensed, inflamed, or infuriated comments (the internal thesaurus gets a workout), the expressions on faces, the inner thoughts. It is virtually complete in my mind, so writing it down is easy.

There are novels in my head that are complete, and I'm fairly sure I could write them without any notes or planning as I've played them like movies for so long that I know how they go... but I'm not the writer others should emulate, so don't take notice of what I do. I'm hoping to be 'successful' but I'm taking the long way around. I have a middle grade series that only rarely has all four books under the 100k ranking. Then there are two big stand-alone genre-straddling books that don't follow the formula of successful indie writing, but they chug along OK, and some short stories plus a few little things that I published as a way of 'keeping them stored' (an advice book for teens and the stories I made up for my children when they were little - so I'm always surprised when any of these sell). So, please don't follow my example on anything, including planning. The same amount of effort and skill I've used so far, only on the successful formula (popular genre series - complete series, then another and another), combined with good marketing, should have an author earning 5k+ a month, not my very-lucky-if-I-make-1k-this-month, so do as I say, not as I do.
 

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Decades ago I read a story, allegedly true, about an author whose ship went down while crossing the Atlantic. He was saved but his manuscript was lost.

"Can't you just rewrite it?" someone asked. "Of course not," the author replied. "I know the ending."
 

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Patty Jansen said:
Honest question for you plotters (I don't consider myself one, although I'm probably more of a plotter than some):

Looking at some of this stuff, especially Al's detailed outline, do you ever get the feeling that you're spending so much time on this preparatory stuff that it might be much quicker to, you know, actually write the book instead of writing all that stuff out?

I feel the same about detailed character outlines with likes and dislikes. Some people make huge storybibles. I just can't see this in any other way than taking up a lot of time that could have been spent writing.

I just use a hand full of 1-2 sentences in a Scrivener binder. It takes me less than an hour to write. Usually there are 10-12 story points I'll need to hit, most of which will expand into multiple chapters.
I used to do that kind of minimalistic plotting. It was not as quick for me: basic worldbuilding+character casting/naming+major plot points was typically about a month's worth of mental percolating and 4-8 hours of codification in Excel. Wrestling for 14 months with a story (fantasy romance, with political/spy thriller elements)where I had "the major plot points" worked out but had to keep stopping to think about how all the moving parts fit together, has kind of made me get more aggressive about pre-plotting.

Is it more boring this way? Pretty much, yes. Am I going to look back in a couple of years and think that I overreacted, and ought to allow a little more discovery into my writing? Quite possibly. Is it more work? Well, most of it is just committing every thought I've ever had about the plot to a document and forcing it into a structural matrix instead of trusting my memory to hold onto the important stuff as needed and my imagination to improve on the bits my memory didn't hold onto. In that sense, I'm not actually convinced that it's much more work.

Due disclaimers about not being successful or someone to emulate, just articulating my current process, how it's changed, and why, because it's an interesting question to talk about.
 

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jaglionpress said:
I used to do that kind of minimalistic plotting. It was not as quick for me: basic worldbuilding+character casting/naming+major plot points was typically about a month's worth of mental percolating and 4-8 hours of codification in Excel. Wrestling for 14 months with a story (fantasy romance, with political/spy thriller elements)where I had "the major plot points" worked out but had to keep stopping to think about how all the moving parts fit together, has kind of made me get more aggressive about pre-plotting.

Is it more boring this way? Pretty much, yes. Am I going to look back in a couple of years and think that I overreacted, and ought to allow a little more discovery into my writing? Quite possibly. Is it more work? Well, most of it is just committing every thought I've ever had about the plot to a document and forcing it into a structural matrix instead of trusting my memory to hold onto the important stuff as needed and my imagination to improve on the bits my memory didn't hold onto. In that sense, I'm not actually convinced that it's much more work.

Due disclaimers about not being successful or someone to emulate, just articulating my current process, how it's changed, and why, because it's an interesting question to talk about.
I have tried plotting to a more detailed extent, but my major problem is that until I have words on the virtual paper about a situation, I have no idea what shape of action or type of character fits in the hole I've created.

I may have a big plan to use a character of a particular type and with a particular aim, but when I get in the weeds, most of it goes completely out the window because I find I need a different type of character that fits better, and no, I have absolutely zero way of knowing this before I start. The characters are shaped by the developing story as it develops. I can't do dry runs.

It's debatable whether you could call my first drafts extremely detailed outlines or first drafts. Usually my first draft is only about half the targeted word count. You could call it an extremely detailed outline, but it is a story with dialogue and description and stuff, not a dry telling of what needs to happen with everyone's aim outlined etc.
 

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Patty Jansen said:
Honest question for you plotters (I don't consider myself one, although I'm probably more of a plotter than some):

Looking at some of this stuff, especially Al's detailed outline, do you ever get the feeling that you're spending so much time on this preparatory stuff that it might be much quicker to, you know, actually write the book instead of writing all that stuff out?

I feel the same about detailed character outlines with likes and dislikes. Some people make huge storybibles. I just can't see this in any other way than taking up a lot of time that could have been spent writing.

I just use a hand full of 1-2 sentences in a Scrivener binder. It takes me less than an hour to write. Usually there are 10-12 story points I'll need to hit, most of which will expand into multiple chapters.
I've tried doing super-detailed outlines, and while I can do them and I feel very confident when I actually start writing, I find that there's too much that suddenly comes up as I go along.

In the last thing I finished, I had two POVs, a male and a female. I intended for the book to be more from the side of the male, but as I kept writing it, it just made sense for the female to be the main. Maybe I could've picked up on this as I wrote the outline, but for whatever reason, I didn't. It ended up making my whole detailed outline a bit useless.

I've found I'm better off planning more like you describe doing it yourself. I just keep it short now and try to do a paragraph or so for each chapter. I also focus the outline almost only on plot. I don't plan character arcs or development out on paper. I just get way better results when I let that happen organically.

Someone who works similar is Brandon Sanderson. In his lectures, he talks about how he outlines. He doesn't do super detailed ones, and he doesn't really outline the characters either.
 

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Patty Jansen said:
Honest question for you plotters (I don't consider myself one, although I'm probably more of a plotter than some):

Looking at some of this stuff, especially Al's detailed outline, do you ever get the feeling that you're spending so much time on this preparatory stuff that it might be much quicker to, you know, actually write the book instead of writing all that stuff out?

I feel the same about detailed character outlines with likes and dislikes. Some people make huge storybibles. I just can't see this in any other way than taking up a lot of time that could have been spent writing.

I just use a hand full of 1-2 sentences in a Scrivener binder. It takes me less than an hour to write. Usually there are 10-12 story points I'll need to hit, most of which will expand into multiple chapters.
Patty Jansen said:
I have tried plotting to a more detailed extent, but my major problem is that until I have words on the virtual paper about a situation, I have no idea what shape of action or type of character fits in the hole I've created.

I may have a big plan to use a character of a particular type and with a particular aim, but when I get in the weeds, most of it goes completely out the window because I find I need a different type of character that fits better, and no, I have absolutely zero way of knowing this before I start. The characters are shaped by the developing story as it develops. I can't do dry runs.

It's debatable whether you could call my first drafts extremely detailed outlines or first drafts. Usually my first draft is only about half the targeted word count. You could call it an extremely detailed outline, but it is a story with dialogue and description and stuff, not a dry telling of what needs to happen with everyone's aim outlined etc.
Hayden said:
I've tried doing super-detailed outlines, and while I can do them and I feel very confident when I actually start writing, I find that there's too much that suddenly comes up as I go along.

In the last thing I finished, I had two POVs, a male and a female. I intended for the book to be more from the side of the male, but as I kept writing it, it just made sense for the female to be the main. Maybe I could've picked up on this as I wrote the outline, but for whatever reason, I didn't. It ended up making my whole detailed outline a bit useless.

I've found I'm better off planning more like you describe doing it yourself. I just keep it short now and try to do a paragraph or so for each chapter. I also focus the outline almost only on plot. I don't plan character arcs or development out on paper. I just get way better results when I let that happen organically.

Someone who works similar is Brandon Sanderson. In his lectures, he talks about how he outlines. He doesn't do super detailed ones, and he doesn't really outline the characters either.
I don't write a detailed outline as well. I try to figure out the main plot points and that's about it.

But I spend lots of time world building. I guess it's a form of procrastination, but it's also a form of entertainment because I like doing it. Creating cultures, technology, creatures, etc.
 

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It takes me about the same amount of time to write a book whichever way I do it.

If I take time to plan a longer outline, the writing goes faster but still takes me about the same amount of time to write as if I just briefly bullet pointed the outline and started writing immediately.

I have to do the same amount of "thinking" regardless of the process, only the detailed outline thinking happens closer to the front end vs. the thinking time being more widely dispersed through the project when with a minimal outline.
 

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For my latest trilogy (action-adventure-comedy planet-hopping sci-fantasy adventure), I'm working by formula. Think of this as a 24 episode anime series.
  • 24 x 10k chapters split into three books.
  • Finales and big situation changes at chapters 8, 16, and 24.
  • A fight/conflict scene at the end of every 10k chapter.
  • The big bad battles are at chapters 8, 16, and 24. The big bad comes out on top for 8 and 16, but loses at 24.
  • Institutional powers are working for themselves.
  • Self-assembled team of misfits.
  • Authority is corrupt and working for itself.
  • A slow romance between two main characters.
  • Rated G.
I spent a few weeks jotting down character and world information, BS technology, and such, getting the overall feel of what I wanted. Much of that got revised after I started working, but it helped establish an overall feel from the get-go.

The rest of the words were pretty much pantsed through. I don't really get creative until I get writing. For example, my big villain for the series worked so well as a character that she became one of the heroes, so I had to create a different big-bad, because you never, even get rid of a character that works that well. My pre-designed team got sidelined for organic characters who worked better. I invented most of my worlds later, because they fit my needs better than my pre-designed worlds.

As a consequence, I feel lost with every chapter that I'm writing, but it all turns out fine in the end. My first drafts are always terrible, so I have to go over them multiple times anyway.
 

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Patty Jansen said:
Looking at some of this stuff, especially Al's detailed outline, do you ever get the feeling that you're spending so much time on this preparatory stuff that it might be much quicker to, you know, actually write the book instead of writing all that stuff out?
On the contrary. I just can't focus on both writing AND advancing the plot at the same time. Both will suffer. Having said that, I view my "extended scene outlines" as a kind of first draft. The story is already there in detail, all I need to do is write it all up. And if I discover that something needs changing, it's probably better to discover it at the plotting stage than having to discard and rewrite half the manuscript...
 

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I'm currently writing a cozy mystery, so I need a decently detailed outline to keep all the motives/alibis/character relationships straight in my head. I'm also Type A, so I couldn't see myself pantsing anything.

I have a "secret" timeline that I created, detailing where all the suspects were before, during and after the murder. I also have the book timeline that is more traditional, outlining what happens when in the book itself.

I use Plottr for my timelines, it's my first time using it and so far it's really helpful. I tried post-its, but they kept falling off the wall  ::)

In addition to the timeline, I have a small character sheet for each character. Just a few sentences about their basic physicality, their flaws, their desires and one or two bullets about their background. Since I have a decently large cast of periphery characters that pop up, I also add in one or two "quirks" for each so the reader can immediately identify them.

Then, I write a detailed scene outline for each scene in the book. This mostly tracks to one scene per chapter, with some exceptions. These are between 3-10 sentences long, depending on what's happening in the scene. I use a combination of save the cat writes a novel and the hero's journey to structure my book.

All of the outlining is done in Scrivener, as is the actual writing.

So far the system works well for me, but I'm always on the lookout for new tools and methods!
 

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Patty Jansen said:
Honest question for you plotters (I don't consider myself one, although I'm probably more of a plotter than some):

Looking at some of this stuff, especially Al's detailed outline, do you ever get the feeling that you're spending so much time on this preparatory stuff that it might be much quicker to, you know, actually write the book instead of writing all that stuff out?

I feel the same about detailed character outlines with likes and dislikes. Some people make huge storybibles. I just can't see this in any other way than taking up a lot of time that could have been spent writing.

I just use a hand full of 1-2 sentences in a Scrivener binder. It takes me less than an hour to write. Usually there are 10-12 story points I'll need to hit, most of which will expand into multiple chapters.
If a writer is a 'natural' or 'born to write' type then I'd imagine there's less of a need to rely on plotting/pre-writing.

I'd like to be a writer more in that vein, writing from that instinctual level, but it turns out I'm the sort that needs extensive prep. Do we even get to choose where we fall on that spectrum.? Probably not. More like discovering our natural place. I wonder if one type become the other with practice? Maybe. I'd need to have more deeply internalised story mechanics before that can happen. I'll stick a particular method for now; it was hard fought to get my current system in place. A lot of writing advice can send you down the wrong rabbit hole for a long time.
 

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Patty Jansen said:
Honest question for you plotters (I don't consider myself one, although I'm probably more of a plotter than some):

Looking at some of this stuff, especially Al's detailed outline, do you ever get the feeling that you're spending so much time on this preparatory stuff that it might be much quicker to, you know, actually write the book instead of writing all that stuff out?
I write faster if I know what I'm going to write. That's one way the outlining helps me.

Other ways it helps:

1. It makes it less likely that I'll be 75% through and feel that maybe the ending isn't going to work. I hate that.

2. I rarely have to throw out a scene that I've written.

3. I've always felt that structure improves creativity. Tell someone to draw something funny and it's hard. Tell someone to draw something funny that includes and elephant and a clock, and it's easier. I really liked plotting the Hero's Journey book for that reason.

It really doesn't take that much time to outline, and it stimulates my imagination.
 

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Patty Jansen said:
Honest question for you plotters (I don't consider myself one, although I'm probably more of a plotter than some):

Looking at some of this stuff, especially Al's detailed outline, do you ever get the feeling that you're spending so much time on this preparatory stuff that it might be much quicker to, you know, actually write the book instead of writing all that stuff out?

I feel the same about detailed character outlines with likes and dislikes. Some people make huge storybibles. I just can't see this in any other way than taking up a lot of time that could have been spent writing.

I just use a hand full of 1-2 sentences in a Scrivener binder. It takes me less than an hour to write. Usually there are 10-12 story points I'll need to hit, most of which will expand into multiple chapters.
Honestly, I used to. I set up an outline for a SciFi I was excited to explore. By the time I sat down to actually write it, I felt burned out on the story (almost 32 pages of bullet points, descriptions, etc). My outlines now consist only of actions that will lead to the next beat, generally something like, "chapter 15. John struggles with the killer for the knife and takes the blade in his side. He rips the ski mask off as he falls and sees his dead partner. Chapter 16. John returns to the crime scene." Shorter sections usually mean I have a lot more exposition to write. Longer scenes are a lot more action. Setting it up like this also means I can visually look at story patterns, where things are fast (action) slow (exposition), or other patterns that may emerge (such as plot holes or hanging threads). My method generally takes me less than 30 minutes if I include the time it takes to transfer it to scrivener. It amounts to 10% planning and 80% discovery...That last 10% fell behind the couch somewhere.
 

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I use a step outline to develop my plot. I often start with a few post-it notes but rapidly move on to a numbered list in Word. That gives me the flexibility to work backwards and forwards, adding steps anywhere I want. I'll often also use timelines for indiividual characters and/or the whole book. When I start writing varies from book to book. Sometimes I plot in huge detail before I start. Sometimes I plot enough to get started, do some writing and then plot some more. (A sort of plot-write-plot-write technique.)

For complex plots, I often do individual step outlines for each strand of the story and then weave them together.

I find plotting carefully means I don't need to do so much rewriting, but it doesn't restrict my creativity. A plot is like a map for a road trip - I'm always free to explore side turnings I didn't realise would be there or even to change the final destination.

What I never do is plot chapter by chapter as I find that really cramps my style. It restricts the way I develop the steps in the story and stops me diverting from my original plan.
 
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