Saturday, September 4, 2010

My Secret Weapon: The Outline

“Project to Published”
Every Sunday!

My Secret Weapon: The Outline

I have been hearing a lot lately about how difficult it is to do a proper outline. I decided to try to help a bit. First, let me say that there is not an improper way to do an outline as long as that outline is something that will work for you (unless you are in an English class, in which case doing what your teacher says might be a better bet).

There are different types of outlines. In my experience, the main ones that are helpful to plot outlining are:
(Not images made by me. All found on Goggle so content may vary and it more than likely unrelated to writing.)

• Alphanumeric Outline (With Full Sentence or topics)
• Bullet Outline (Any of the outline forms above but with different characters such as bullets, symbols, etc.)
• Spider Outlines

• Cause and Effect

• Business Outlines (believe it or not it works)

The trick to outlining is first to write down your inspiration as it comes. Then afterwards, go ahead and organize it into something that you can use – something that can be your road map as you go through and write out the novel you have already begun creating.

You can also think about a plot outline as if it was a puzzle. You start out with all of these scattered ideas that come and go, but you want to piece them together. You have to sort through all of them and find the edges – the pieces of the puzzle that give you the basic shape and are easiest to distinguish from everything else. For your plot map, that means the big ideas, the overviews of your entire plot that you will start to develop further as you go. The chapters, or sections, are your edges. Once you have found your edges, you want to go more in depth and start organizing all of the pieces into a beautiful, elaborate picture.

A few things to keep in mind:
  • - Don’t over plan. You want a road map, not pictures of every street sign and house you will pass.
  • - Only add things that you actually WANT in the book. I have heard from numerous people that they like to put many details into their outlines. Outlines can be expanded to include details of any form, but with your initial outline, you don’t want to have too many details running through your head or it might throw off your direction. Think simple.
  • - Keep a small notebook with you at all times. Then when inspiration strikes, you can take notes. Just make sure to remember to add it to your outline! This can be especially helpful when first developing a plot or for when a new plot idea arises.
  • - Always remember that although you may be the author, once you give life to your characters, they develop a mind of their own. This can lead you into all kinds of interesting directions if you have the courage to run with it. You might have to rewrite your outline, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Also, keep a copy of every outline you make. Your characters just might surprise you again and lead you to the ending you had planned all along!
The key to getting better at any process is to keep doing it. As long as you keep trying, you will get better. Your outline is your guide, road map, or picture – make the most of it. Your novel is waiting to be made – it can happen! Keep going at it no matter how hard it may seem. Your hard work will pay off!

What authors would you like to see featured "Project to Published" posts from?
Do you think having guest authors is a good idea or something you would be interested in seeing?

Emma Michaels


  1. Thanks for the different outlines. I guess the key is finding the one that works for you! They can certainly facilitate finishing a w-i-p.

  2. Still thinking here...
    Have a happy Sunday, Emma xx

  3. Great for the book idea

  4. I like these posts just from you..but if you added other authors I wouldn't mind :) So whatever you want to do! Thank you so much for these posts. I usually write the first chapter just to get it down and get the feel of it then write my outline. That is where I am at with my current novel! I just started a writing blog, seperate from my book review one:

    Again thank you so much for these posts! Have a great day :)

  5. I write something like an outline. Only when I learned to do it, it was called step-sheets. They include the plot, of course, and what is going on "off-scene" in the book. It's very helpful for mysteries.

  6. If guest authors is something YOU want, go for it! It's your blog - post what excites you.