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I've been struggling for a long time to tell a story. In any medium really. I've read a lot of writing tutorials and read lots of writing sites. I've also read a lot of books on writing. However in spite of reading and watching those tutorials I still haven't written a book / script or created a comic or animation. Which are the areas I've been learning.

The biggest advice is "just do it" and I've been doing it. However I feel like my goals aren't achieved since my stories aren't finished and I am an internet creator. The book Show Your Work by Austin Kleon says to tell good stories if you want to be noticed.

For those who don't know discovery write means just writing the story as you go along. The thing is I want to show people my stories rather than just talk about them and showing my characters on my art page.

However many writers say that you should outline your stories. However I sometimes struggle with the outline since while I do know the ending of some of my main stories I still struggle for the beginning and middle of my stories.

Plus I want my stories to be shown. I'm tired of seeing other storytellers be talked about while I have nothing to show. I'm not trying to sell out, I just want feedback and my stories to be just noticed by a small or possibly large audience.

How do I choose which is right for me?

Currently I'm discovery writing my comic but that might change.

  • You should also know you can edit a comment for up to 5 minutes after you post it. So next time you accidently send you can still finish it. – AGirlHasNoName Mar 24 at 16:21
  • I added some tags to this post. If you don't feel one or more of them is right, you can change them. – Cyn says make Monica whole Mar 24 at 19:08
  • Until just now, I didn't know it, but I'm a discovery writer, and it works for me, but a word of warning, as a discovery writer, I almost never finish my books. – weakdna says reinstate monica Mar 24 at 20:59
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It depends on you. Until I joined this site, I didn’t know the term, but I have been a discovery writer for many years. Anytime I try planning a book, my characters run away with it and make it more interesting.

I start with a character, get to know him or her well and then start placing my creation in situations. How will X respond? X does something and I write it.

Who is your story about? What happens? How do they react? What happens next?

The less I plan, the more smoothly it flows. It takes time, but my novel (volumes one and most of volume two) is at 650 pages. I started a prequel which is growing nicely and has announced to me that it will not be the selection of short stories I thought it would be, but a novel.

There are writers here who plan every scene and know exactly where their plot is headed and how it will end. That is not me; my characters create tension and do things, they meet people and say things. I keep up.

I liken my process to a billiard game. My characters are there, waiting - some have yet to be revealed. The cue ball strikes the others and they go spinning off in many directions, creating opportunities for more action. I observe this and choose which path to follow. I write another scene which opens up different possibilities and onward I go. I am often surprised by choices my characters make.

I also consider my novel a river. It flows at different speeds, changes direction and when there are no obstacles to overcome, it becomes languid and peaceful. Obstacles can create white water, but the rapids can only last so long before the river turns and slows. It is always approaching its destination, even when apparently sidetracked.

Just write your story and it will come to you naturally.

  • Thank you for the help @Rasdashan . It's very interesting to see your point of view on the matter. I'm still kind of figuring out my way of doing things. So yeah. – Willfire Z Tiger Mar 24 at 0:02
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Outlines are a tool. Nothing more. Should you use it? I don't know, that depends on you.

Does the added structure help you focus and develop your story? or is it needless distraction that you frequently go off-script from anyway?

Does building an outline help you brainstorm and develop your creative ideas? or does it feel like a chore that seeps motivation?

Writing an outline takes time up front. So on the one hand it will slow down the whole "just do it" approach. But on the other hand it can save you countless hours of frustration down the road when you already have a plan and strategy in place for how to get around a certain obstacle.

I personally like outlines when I have a complicated plot. I need it to keep track and make sure I'm not botching the continuity.

And all of this doesn't take into account an underlying factor in the approach. If one is writing a plot based story then they may outline it. Chances are you know what you want to happen anyway, so outlining allows you to document your ideas and save them.

However, if you are writing a character driven story you may spend your time deciding who your characters are. Then you throw them out in the world and discover what choices they will make. The characters themselves help write the story. You don't want to outline too much because you don't want to paint them into a corner. Let them be themselves.

Remember it is a tool. Use it only when it makes sense to use it.

  • Thank you for the advice @bruglesco . Your tips make a lot of sense. It does give insight into how outlining and discovery writing can effect your stories. I think you're right I should work on my characters first. – Willfire Z Tiger Mar 24 at 0:05
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Should I outline or discovery write my stories?

If you go to YouTube and type in "plotting or pantsing", then you will find a ton of videos about this topic. Some people call it "discovery write vs outline", while other people call it "plotting vs pantsing".

I think most people do both. I certainly do both. In my notebook, I wrote a short story about a little rabbit. Well, it turned this "story" was just an outline. As I visualized the story and wrote the scenes on my cell phone, dialogue and action became important to me. For me, the outline provided just the skeleton, while the actual story had dialogue, action, interaction, description, and characterization. The plotting was done mostly in the notebook; the pantsing was done mostly on my cell phone.

Plus I want my stories to be shown. I'm tired of seeing other storytellers be talked about while I have nothing to show. I'm not trying to sell out, I just want feedback and my stories to be just noticed by a small or possibly large audience.

Hmmm... have you tried posting your story piece by piece, section by section, on social media?

I am currently writing my story in my cell phone and sharing/publishing the story on WeChat with my family, including extended family. So far, my cousin's daughters like the story very much. I suppose they are my target audience; I am mainly writing to them.

You can follow this path too. Just get on social media. Get your friends on the same social media. Share your story, piece by piece, scene by scene, with your family and friends. Start a little fan base among your family and friends. There you go, you have an audience. 😊

  • Thanks for the advice. I'm mostly trying to get a fanbase that isn't my friends and family. I have considered sharing my story piece by piece on social media. It's just for a while I was reading writing tip websites and they say to outline stuff. I'll consider writing plot points and scenes like you said, and I'm considering using the outline as a skeleton. – Willfire Z Tiger Mar 24 at 15:24
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If you are having trouble outlining, or trouble following or completing a story from an outline that you wrote, you should try discovery writing.

I am a discovery writer, and I finish books. In This Answer I give an overview of starting a discovery story.

I do not outline. However, I know the "beats" of the Three Act Structure. In this other long answer I go through the steps of becoming a discovery writer.

The main idea here is to learn the structure of a story and how it works, and then as you write keep in mind where you are and what the next beat (or turning point, or significant event) is, and about how many pages you have to get there.

The first half of the first Act (about 1/8th of the story) is all about your MC (Main Character, or Main Crew if you have a group), their personalities and their normal world (the setting). In a 300 page novel, that would be about 37 pages. In an illustrated format I don't know, but just divide the typical published length, however you measure it, by 8.

Act I is about 25% of the story (all these % are within about 5%). At the midpoint you will have some "inciting incident", something happens that the MC must deal with, but it isn't the normal stuff they deal with in a day. The inciting incident grows into something bigger, and in some way forces the MC out of their "normal world". That is the end of ACT I. This may be physical (they have to go on a journey) or metaphorical (they stay where they are but there is a new danger, or opportunity, or problem to deal with they don't know how to solve).

Read the links for more detail, it is too long to include here.

But the point is, even though you know the beats of what kind of thing should come next or how long you have to complete the current beat, you are not following an outline. You discover the story as you go. You invent the next beat as you go, and it can be based on what you have already done.

Stephen King is a discovery writer, and very successful. His book is "On Writing" and also details how to discovery write. As he says, all stories will come out somewhere, if your characters feel real to you and make their own decisions, then just like in real life, there will be consequences and sooner or later a resolution will present itself. The only thing you, as an author, must do, is ensure your MC cannot just give up and walk away.

In general I keep an idea of at least one viable ending in mind, even if I don't plan how to get there. But when I am writing, my ending usually changes three or four times; I think of a better ending that fits, or while writing, I write something that precludes the ending I had in mind. When that happens, I force myself to come up with a better ending that fits, or I have to reverse what I wrote so the previous ending I had in mind will work again. I usually come up with a better ending.

But I don't write the ending, I keep some notes on it, things I need to be sure and cover when I get to ACT III, the loose ends and questions I should answer for the reader before the book ends.

So it isn't plotting, or outlining. To me it is more like following a compass setting for a certain amount of time. I know the direction the story has to take, and how long I have to get there, and I know before I start who my MC is and what her big problem will be. So to start, my "compass direction" is to describe her, her navigating her normal world and setting, and I have to come up with introducing the inciting incident.

That's it, and I have imagined my character for a week or more when I start, so that is actually fairly easy to do, and writing about her in her normal world dealing with common every day problems helps make her personality more concrete, so we get to the inciting incident without a problem. For the next 1/8th of the book, I need to gradually escalate THAT problem into forcing her out of her comfort zone (the normal world). I think of ways to do that, and in a month I have a quarter of a book, and a clear direction: My MC just gave up on easy fixes and is leaving her comfort zone to deal with her new problem.

The "next thing" to accomplish is seldom more than a handful of scenes away.

Fair warning, this can involve significant rewrites. If you are illustrating as you go as well, do quick sketches or something fast, just to help you remember what you wanted to draw, something you are willing to ditch if you have to rewrite. Discovery writing is finding a path through a forest, and it is easy to take a wrong turn and end up at a dead end, or end up having circled back to a previous position and accomplished nothing. You really will have to kill some darlings.

  • Thank you for the advice. However I'm not sure if I'm going for a three act story. Most stories don't have 3 acts. But hey I still need to read the links so maybe I'm a bit biased in my response to this answer. You have some good advice on writing endings. – Willfire Z Tiger Mar 24 at 15:37
  • @WillfireZTiger Basically all stories, even one page shorts, have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The 3 act structure is just a generalization derived from popular stories about what is generally in each of those parts. Other forms, say Shakespeare's 5 act structure, actually follow the 3AS too, but Shakespeare had specific complications that divided his stories into 5 acts. He still wrote wrote a beginning, middle and end -- but with extra twists in the "middle". Don't get hung up on the name; 3AS is a study of the structure most commonly found in stories that became very popular. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Mar 24 at 17:33
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Both?

Thinking about it logically there are three kinds of things, things that work better pre-planned, things that work better discovered, and things where it doesn't matter.

Most things should fall to the last category but we do not need to talk about that for this question.

Things work better for one method when using the other method would be difficult. Either the result would be low quality or it would simply take significantly more effort. Both of those depend on the person. There are some broad categories that hold for most people but there is no real reason to discuss that either.

Because the real solution is to simply find out what works for you, what works for other people is irrelevant. Look for the quality and time criteria mentioned before. Which things take you too long to outline or discover? Which things do not work that well if you outline or discover them?

Also these are not mutually exclusive options. You always outline to some degree of detail and then discover the rest as you write. No outline is detailed enough to answer all questions. And even a pure discovery writer has thought about writing before and between actually writing. Even if they never write it out there is some degree of a mental outline behind the process.

So the question is not really which to use, it is what level of detail should my outline have? How formal should it be? How much in advance do I need outline? How many levels of outlines should I do?

First two relate to what was mentioned before, finding out your own optimal solution. How much support you need from the outline to write your best? Just reduce or increase the amount of outlining based on actual writing. Does the outline constrict your writing or waste time? Does your writing lack direction and cohesion leading to reduced quality and waste of time?

The second two relate to optimizing your outlining to avoid doing work you then won't use. When you start writing chapter one, you need, well most people do, some do not, a general outline of the story and where you want it to go, and an outline of what chapter one should be about and where it should lead. But do you need to actually know what happens at chapter two? What about chapter three? Maybe you do but with different levels of detail?

The bottom line and only thing all this rambling is really meant to convey, is that it is not really a simple question with a general answer. To make myself sound smarter I could say that it is a process of discovering yourself as a writer. But I won't since I can't fool anyone here anyway. ;)

  • Sorry about asking the question wrong. But thanks for the advice anyway. I recently edited the question to have it be better I think? (I'm not sure how to word it). – Willfire Z Tiger Mar 24 at 16:02
  • @WillfireZTiger Oops, sorry, I did not literally mean you asked the question wrong and did not mean to imply that. Although if my rambling made you have a better idea of what you actually want to ask that is all well. :) – Ville Niemi Mar 24 at 17:15
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What you might want is what I can the mile marker outline. It's not a blow-by-blow; instead, list your major events and/or set peices. It's up you to figure out what the road trip actually looks like. Maybe you know you're going to LA, but the kid in the backseat throws up. Or, your best buddy wants to see the largest ball of string which is fifty miles of the main road. The point is you know how much time and space you have to get where you are going, but you still have freedom to explore the terrain.

From that point you can easily tell if you like outlining or Discovery better. It's a personal decision.

That's my answer to your asked question, but comic writing has more concerns that I think might push a successful writer toward outlining. The best writers pay on a consistent schedule, never (I mean never) missing a post. To do that you have to work ahead to have a cache of ready comics for when you get sick or want a vacation. And that works best when you have a direction.

I don't know how you get feedback and fame, but you've got to do the work. Working about how you get attention isn't useful if you're not making something great, consistently.

  • Thanks for the advice. I might've considered schedules. I just have trouble with schedules, it's not something I worked with before. I agree that some stories can change even if you're outlining. Not much else to say. – Willfire Z Tiger Mar 24 at 16:07
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In my experience, it depends on what the story needs. I've written stories that had to be plotted beforehand because of what the point of the story was. I've written stories that had to be half-plotted because the in-universe timescale they gradually explore couldn't help but write itself at the level of minutiae, once I knew the large-scale trajectory. I've written stories I only thought I could discover, but at least the terrible first draft helps one plot the second. I've written stories that brought together, in a plotted way, the work of multiple earlier stories wiser origins varied in writing method. I've written stories that felt like they wouldn't involve discovery writing, until I got into them far enough to know the original plan was a little off.

That doesn't sound like actionable advice, does it?

I think what's universally needed is to write in a way that makes the first draft exist. Words need to flow from your fingers; your inner critic can always come back to it later. Pick whichever kind of writing you think will work best, then see if the words form. Not if they're good, in your view or anyone else's; if you're asking that, you should have a first draft finished first. If you get stuck, try to deviate from your original preference for writing strategy. If you had an outline, see where your characters take you when you ignore it; if you didn't, try to use one. You may find you change strategy several times as you're going through. That's OK; the first draft, or even the finished story, can have sections that came about in different ways.

When you've finished the first draft, read through it to see what you learned about discover vs don't from it. The lessons may be applicable broadly, or just to this story; either's good. When you have a final version, you might learn even more from that one.

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