Outlining 2.0

I know, I know… not everyone outlines. Even the people who DO outline all tend to have completely different defiinitions of an outline.

My outlines are really more of a guide. I don’t follow a numbering system, I write in paragraph form, and I summarize the action. It guides me from point A to B to C yet still allows me a lot of room for changes. While I need to know what’s going to happen, I rarely know the specifics–or how it’s going to happen–until I’m writing.

I’m working with comments from a couple people–including myself–and I’ve been having a hard time organizing my thoughts. I have a really good memory and often rely on the fact that I’ll just remember, but I want this to be seamless. Also, it seems like I’m adding a lot more smaller details–kind of mini-subplots–that require bits and pieces spread throughout the story. That’s a bigger task than I’ve tackled before.

It occured to me that I could utilize the fantabulous outline I put together before I started writing After the Fall to streamline this process, and it’s worked far better than I had hoped. Technically I’m rewriting the outline (toggling between the two documents) and noting where new stuff needs to go, as well as noting things that need to change.

(Is this boring? I feel like I’m over-explaining but I always enjoy reading about other writers’ processes and if this is helpful to one person then I’ll be happy.)

With that said, here’s how I do it:

Chapter 1

Greg wakes up to find a masked man attacking Becca in her room. They fight, and when the police arrive they discover the man isn’t breathing. Then they remove his mask and find out it’s his neighbor – and best friend – Tom Stevens. ADD sense of coldness towards Janet in the opening paragraph when mentioning her arm or when he’s about to leave the room.

Chapter 5

Greg finishes talking to the police and tries to come to terms with what just happened – with what he did. ADD moment of guilt about what he did to Carol and the kids. CHECK – would they have to leave the house or would they be allowed to stay there? Tries to sleep as he waits for Janet and Becca to get home, then talks to Janet in the kitchen before leaving for the police station. ADD Becca gets a text but we don’t know who from. Greg asks who it’s from and she looks away and says it’s just a friend asking if she’s okay.

This story has three POVs but I stuck with one so as not to give too much away  (bwahahahaha). In my Word document the red text is black and highlighted yellow so it REALLY stands out. Red is kinda scary to me sometimes.

Anyway, doing it this way will allow me to see everything all at once instead of refering to a thousand scraps of paper like I did on my last novel. It’s also serving as a tool to check character arcs, track the plot, and see which chapters may need a kick in the pants (there’s a looooooooot of talking).

Now I just have to figure out how to print this bad boy. My parents have a wireless printer and my iMac doesn’t have wireless capability. I know my netbook does, I just need to figure it out. Yes, I know this is a bit ridiculous–I’ve solved the outline/plot problem but I can’t print the damned thing!

So… do you outline? Does this sound like pointless busywork? Do you have any tips you’d like to share?


36 Responses

  1. Nope, not busywork. I think you’ll be so glad you did it. Love the depth it will create!

    I think my outlining is much like yours, but for whatever reason, it holds well in my head. All that gets written down are blurbs and details I have to keep straight.

    Toggling. That’s the second time in a week I’ve seen the term. Is that what it means to bounce from PC window to window?

    • See, it’s the holding it all in my head part that I’m trying to stop because I tend to forget one piece of brilliance.

      Toggling is going back and forth between any two (or multiple) things. Typically it’s referring to computer stuff and I say it most often when going back and forth between tool in design applications or programs.

  2. Nope. I have never outlined but it sounds like a good thing to do. Some of what you wrote are things that my editor did to have me expand some scenes.

    • So does that mean I’m ahead of the game? Should I make condescending notes to myself to thicken my skin?

  3. My outlines are usually one single line events. then, as I expand the thoughts, I change color and add what ever thoughts come to mind. I build the story and end up with a rainbow of colors across a page.

    Then, I tack the page to the top of my manuscript so I can refer to it as I write. I remove the outline before I save the manuscript in the final form.

    Having the different colors allows me to see the full train of thought when I made additions to the story.

    • Allen, right now I’ve got a million comment bubbles on the side of my document, but once I start getting into the bigger things I’ll drop highlighted lines exactly where I need to expand things. Then I can see where I need to still work.

      I do multiple colors when I’m searching words that are similar and overused. For example: glanced, looked, gazed, watched, etc. Each gets a color and then swapped with either another action, or just cut altogether.

  4. If it works, it works. :-)

    My outlines are similarly vague, and I generally start the writing before I’ve outlined even 25% of the story. I then add to the outline as I go, the idea being that, if I get stuck, I can use it to get me through the next few chapters.

    Nothing in my outlines is set in stone, either. If my MC is supposed to go question someone, but instead decides to go fishing with C4, I amend my outline. :)

    (If any of that makes sense.)


    • Yes, flexibility is the key. I usually know the end of the story but am fuzzy how exactly I’ll get there. I’ve found that writing to about the 20K mark then filling in the gaps in the works for me.

    • Oh, and I love the idea of fishing with C4. :P

      • Dynamite is so passe. ;-)


      • *snort*

        And does it stay lit in the water?

      • I would hope so. I can’t see such high quality films as Crocodile Dundee 2 lying to us about dynamite’s properties.


      • wtf, what happened to my nesting replies? Weird.

        I blame the bunneh.

      • Pfft.

      • *thwaps bunneh’s ears*

      • They only seem to go up to 2 replies. Weird :-/

        Damn bunneh.


      • Now my comments are just posting all willy nilly.

  5. I’ve tried outlining. But for me, it works better when I fly by the seat of my pants. I seem to ‘loose’ interest in the story once I have already mapped it out. However, I do draw sketches of how things look (Spaceship floor plans, aliens, maps of cities etc..) and I index info like characters names, backgrounds, and important information regarding the ‘world’ I’ve created. (Like town names, flora, fauna, etc..) I need those notes for consistency.

    Its cool to see the MO of different writers. :D

    • See, and I’m horrible with all that character stuff. I have an idea of who they are but I just can’t seem to get myself to get into it.

      The one time I copied you and did a meme for my character it really helped though, so maybe I’ll try that again for my new wip. She’s still introducing herself to me.

  6. I love how you put the changes or additions in red in the outline. That’s so smart! I did a similar outline for the novel I put to the side, and it was working really well before I got totally sidetracked. Sort of like the dogs in “Up”. Squirrel!

    • Robin, if I didn’t I’d lose track of what the heck I’m doing. I’m very guilty of the squirrel effect too.

  7. I only outline if the lines aren’t already provided for the picture I’m coloring.


    Thank you, you’re beautiful.

    • *tackles the bunneh*

      Where have you been? Now color me a picture!

  8. That’s just disorientating.

  9. tee hee…willy

  10. I use a similar technique. At first I tried a straight-up outline, but I found that my characters were pretty lifeless – they didn’t have the freedom to take the story in new directions.

    • Hi Kirsten!

      I don’t rely on the outline for my character stuff. Usually that’s just floating around inside my head.

  11. I find other writers’ processes endlessly fascinating. :-) I vary a lot. I used to always be in search of a “reliable method,” a way that would guarantee how I’d write every book, but in the end, I’ve found that each book is just different and that’s how it’s always going to be.

    Last book, I’d seen how Rowling had organized her notebook, and I thought it really cool and wanted to play with it. (Sorry, this is going to take me forever to explain, and I’m not sure it’ll make sense.)

    On the back of a piece of paper in a notebook, she wrote Day 1, Day 2, etc, in the margin column. At the top, of that page, (to the left) I titled it “Plot.” In the lines corresponding to the timeline, I noted my plot points.

    Then, the next page, I tore off the left side of the page, so that I could see the margin that lists the timeline, and also a bit of the plot notes. Then I titled this page “Emotional Arcs.” I traced the inner emotional journey of each character on the lines that, er, lined up with the timeline and the plot notes.

    On a third page, I ripped off all but one-third, so I could still see a bit of the timeline and a bit of the plot and part of the emotional arcs page. I titled this page “threads.” I noted what threads I started and ended, and then I circled notes on how I would tie up that thread in the end, and how I would touch base with it in the middle, stuff like that. All lined up with the original timeline.

    It’s the only time I’ve done that method, but I liked it. It was pretty fun. Whatever method I use, though, I generally can’t outline much until I’m halfway or more through… and generally I can’t outline until after I’ve written it. I usually use SuperNotecard, and I often write scenes directly in it, so as I title each scene/notecard, an outline is sorta built for me.

    • Natasha, wow. Just wow. That sounds like a process I’d come up with for myself, but I don’t know if I could figure it out based on someone else explaining it. I’m glad it works for you!

  12. Loved seeing the outline and the changes you are making to it! I think I need to borrow your process – looks like a good way to do it!

    • Nadine, I might show it to you when I’m done since you’ve already read it. You know… to get your thoughts on my new ideas.

  13. Your outlining looks just like mine. I don’t do numbers and bullets and such.

    I remember being taught outlining in elementary school and making a total mess of the points and sub-points. My homework was this big, lopsided beast of sub-points that sort of dribbled off of the right side of the page.

    • Avery, that cracks me up. I liked doing outlines like that in school but I always stressed if I didn’t have enough sub topic. Or if I made one sub-sub topic, then I had to come up with more, so was it better to not go so deep? Sigh.

  14. Great post! I outline kind of like you, it’s a guide for sure. It really helped me with my NaNo story last year, so I’m definitely pro-outline now ;o)

    Hope you can print it! Ah technology ;o)

    • Erica, I’m so glad this process helped you. I felt like the way you described your way of thinking that it would. :)

  15. Great post. I’ve been wanting to blog about this for a while. I love the color idea!

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