Tuesday, August 24, 2010


If you follow me on Twitter (and it's okay if you don't) you've read my incessant tweets about outlining.

Many of you were impressed with the length of my outline when I finished the one I did for Oracles Promise.

I thought I'd go over my process a little today.

See, I am a pantser by nature.  When I start out on a book, I have a general idea of what will happen.  My outline tends to look something like this:

I. [Insert clever chapter title]
.....A. Character A goes here and the poop hits the fan
II. [Insert clever chapter title]

You get the idea.  It's very fluid and 99% of the time, I end up going way off outline.  (Such as it is.)

In my attempt to save Oracles Promise I set about outlining it in great detail.  This outlining thing went a lot smoother having the completed story in front of me.

I broke it down thusly:

I. Chapter title
....A. Scene 1
.........1. Setting
.............(a) Place name
.........2. Characters
.............(a) Character name
.............(b) Character name
.........3. Events
.............(a) Event #1
.............(b) Event #2

And continue ad nauseum until you hit the end of the manuscript.

Sometimes if the chapter was really long, I'd hit AA. and so on for the scene numbering layer.

This is a very tedious process, yes.  But in the end it's well worth it.  I quite often (probably 50% of the time) found myself writing "Transitional fluff" for events.

When I completed the outline, I uploaded it to a printing service and had it printed and bound all spiffy for me.

Then I proceeded to tear the outline to shreds.

I had a pen and 6 highlighters, all different colors.  Each color represented a different category.  History that could be included elsewhere, character development to move elsewhere, event to move somewhere else, scene to think harder about, mythology to incorporate somewhere else, and something hinted at/foreshadowed that could be developed more.

The pen was for slashing out the scenes that could be cut.  And let me tell you that was a lot.  Basically anywhere I wrote "transitional," "filler," or "fluff" in lieu of listing events.

And sometimes not.  If there was a scene that served no other purpose than to drop one little hint about something, something that could just as easily be moved to another scene, the scene got cut and the moving element got highlighted.

In the end I think I lost about half the scenes I'd outlined.  That was one colorful and bruised outline.

And now I'm doing the same thing for Lodestar.  It's a process, let me tell you.  But it's going a lot faster for some reason.  I think it's because I have more chapters and fewer words than I did in Oracles Promise.

I'd post a picture, but I mailed all of my materials for OP home to my mom for storage.  It was just too heavy on my heart to keep all that around.


  1. Love the way you exposed "transitional fluff." And love the six categories you highlighted.

    Thanks for sharing!


  2. I just start writing once the idea is there and then I'm all over the place, a scene or two in the middle, a few scenes near the end. At somewhere between 20 and 30,000 words I re-sort the scenes that are already there and make headings for stuff that I know needs to happen.
    Not too terribly different from you - though I'd guess my "outline" takes up a few less pages...
    Thanks, it's always fun to read about the process of other writers.

  3. Wow! I admire your ability to be so detailed. My outlines tend to be much more vague. Hmmm, maybe that's why I'm on my *mumbles somthing underbreath* draft.

  4. sweet! That is quite the process but once you find what works for you, it's worth every effort.

    I like to be a pantser, but inevitably I always end up going back and doing up an outline. And oftentimes it means trashing 90% of what I wrote just willy-nilly. So I'm trying to convert to the planner-mentality. ;)

  5. That is some SERIOUS outlining!!! For me - I do a breif outline of tha major stages of the plot before I write. That's it. And yeah, I include scene detail...but not as much. I am impressed! So glad it works for you.

  6. I've just reached 30k in my WIP which blew me a bit as a mini achievement and it's made me realise how shallow my story is just 7 chapters in. I did originally plan what would happen in each chapter but as I wrote i found my plans too limiting and so they kept getting pushed further and further back in the chapter line due to characters and other events occuring I didn't plan for. I am now reconsidering outlining or at least attempting to outline the rest of the novel. Because I simply don't know where or how it will end and it's scared me that this will end up killing the overall story too early like so many of my early WIP's.

    Can you give any advice? Should you do it in really brief detail or long detail?


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