Monday, May 21, 2012

Methods of Outlining

Alternate Title: Why Pantsers Suck (KIDDING, kidding, you guys are great. And we all know that comment is directed toward Nathan Major anyway...)

So I've been thinking a lot more about the mechanics of writing lately because Ink Pageant has a contest I want to win, and the more I talk about writing, the greater the odds of of Weronika Janczuk reading my crap. (Confession: I'm not entirely sure how to pronounce her name. All the more reason for me to win so I can ask her.) /prattle

So, I'm an outliner, and since I'm currently outlining by next book, I've been thinking about outlines. At David Farland's Million Dollar Outlines workshop, I was fascinated by all the different ways people outline!

One of my favorite methods came from a gal named Amy. She had a hard time visualizing her story, having never written a novel before. What she did was clear a chunk of wall, draw out her plot diagram, and stick Post-it notes over that guideline of what each characters did, and what each conflict would be.

I stole this photo.
I think this is smart, especially because you can change the note color depending on character or subplot.

If I ever really struggle with a book, I may just do this. But being a "portable" writer, I can't take a wall with me.


David Farland mentioned an interesting way to outline in the workshop: by what states/transformation your character goes through. His example:

Child -> Man -> Warrior -> Outcast -> God

I like that a lot, since I think it makes you focus on both your character and his/her plot line first and foremost. (Not just "Oh, a thunderstorm of daisies would be so cool, so I'm going to shove my protagonist onto this island somehow so I can write about it." [A flaw I admit readily to having.])

Dave has also recommended color-coding your outlines, assigning each character a font color. I did this with THE RAIMOS and found it useful (don't let the fact that I dumped that book after 80,000 words deter you), because it lets you see where you may have dropped a character, who may not be getting enough screen time, and who is interacting with whom.


What I do is what I imagine most outliners do in some shape or form: I use a Word doc (I understand if you need to take a moment for this enlightenment to settle in). I am terrified of forgetting any ideas, so I try to write them down as soon as I can (which is also why I carry around pencils and mini notebooks. Cue me at a red light hastily scribbling down the conversation that should happen in Act II scene 8).

I abuse the hard return in this case, writing down the main events as I see them and hitting "enter" until half a page+ is between that and my next idea, so I can fill it in later. Some places I get really detailed ("The character then says..."), and other scenes I "pants," in a sense. ("And then somehow THIS happens and characters ends up over here.")

Then slowly, surely, I fill everything out. Ideas I have no timeline for go in a bullet list at the top of the page* for me to sort through later. The whole process usually takes about one or two months.

Now that I'm done talking typing, you may find these links more helpful than my blather:

How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method

Novel Outlining 101

Brainstorming the End and Working Backwards

Outlining Your Script or Story

*I'm getting a little carried away with THE SONG OF SAGRIN, AKA book 6--the outline is 20 pages and counting because I decided to be detailed. I'm really hoping the book doesn't end up being too long...


  1. So many good ideas. I especially like the post-its on the wall idea. But I may have to wait until my kids and cats are older since I could see getting home one day with all my lovely post-it's in a pile on the floor. I'm more of a rough outliner on the computer but I need to get better outlining skills I think cause my way doesn't seem to be helping me a ton.

  2. I do like the idea of color coding for characters. I've never done that before but it makes sense. Also, the turning points for your character makes sense as well.

  3. Hey, about that pantser statement...I resemble that remark lol!!

    I guess I half-resemble it as a plotser. And if you win, you have to share the proper pronunciation please :-)

  4. I am about half pantser, half plotter. I start out with a barebones outline, 2 pages max. I write the first draft, and then after my first read through I start getting crazy with the organizing and diagrams and whatnot.

  5. Say! That is a really cool method! I think I might do this for ideas on organizational methods of each little compartments in each drawers for every closet. Oooooh..

  6. Weronika Janczuk. I'll confess I don't know who this is, but at a guess: "Weronika" I would imagine rhymes with "Veronica," and "Janczuk" is likely "jan-zick" or "jan-zuck" unless there is additional ethnic pronunciation going on. The "czuk" reminds me of the "czyk" which ended my maiden name, which was pronounced "zick" (rhyming with "sick.") (Lew-zick (Lewczyk) in case you care.) However, with the proper Polish pronunciation, the "czyk" was pronounced "check," so "jan-check" or "jan-chuck" are other options.

    Okay, I'll stop speculating now--although let me know if I'm right!

    I used to outline, mainly with bullet points. Now I write jumbled, stream-of-consciousness summaries so I don't forget anything important that I thought of early on, and after that I'm a discovery writer all the way. I will likely try outlining again in the future, but for now I'm enjoying being less organized for the first go-around.

  7. Pantsers? I thought they were Gardeners vs Architects.
    Though I do minor internal plottings before writing a book, I hardly ever put it to page. I only write chapter outlines usually for the last 1/3 or 1/4 of the book, just to be certain all my ducks are in a row for the ending and I don't miss anything.
    Though my middle grade book will be completely outlined, so I can have it all nicely there and then ignore it. :)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.