The Book Outline—Dispelling the Myth

Outlining. It’s one of those touchy subjects among writers—should you outline your story or not?

But like my recent post “Are You Crippling Your Creativity?” there is a certain misconception about outlines many beginning writers have that I hope to dispel today.

Most of us grew up being taught the traditional outline.

I. Chapter 1
A. Introduce the setting and Gabrielle
B. Introduce Cohen and his family
C. Deepen the story conflict

If outlining in this way works for you, go for it! But this isn’t how it has to done.

Maybe you work better from index cards—whether physical cards or digital, such as the corkboard view in Scrivener.

index card outline on Scrivener

The index cards of my WIP novella using Scrivener.

Maybe you’re a mind mapper. Go for it.

Maybe you’re an artist and like to draw pictures representing the scenes of your book.

No matter how detailed or how basic you want to get, or what form you choose, each of these is a type of outlining.

Do you have the basic idea in your head of where you want to begin and how you want to end, and you like to write everything in between on the fly? This is known as writing by the seat of your pants (pantsers) and comes as close to not outlining as I can imagine.

How about we discard the nomenclature and concentrate on laying out the plot of our story in a way that works for us?

Personally, I like Scrivener’s corkboard once I begin the actual writing, but to get my idea off the ground I often use the 10-Scene Tool designed by James V. Smith in his book The Writer’s Little Helper.

I especially like mind mapping for brainstorming an idea, and I can then later use that same map to help outline the plot once I decide on the elements.

mind map of story idea

A mind map brainstorm of a story idea.

If you’re a pantser and find yourself always getting stuck, then try several of the above forms and see if that helps. Getting the ideas out of your head and onto paper/computer usually helps.

Most important, discard the idea that you have to follow a specific form just because it’s called an outline. Encourage your creativity by using methods that inspire you.

How do you plot your story? Leave your comments below.

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Related post “Are You Crippling Your Creativity?”

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Comments

  1. Rebecka Vigus says:

    Actually took James Patterson’s writing class. Had never outlined before. Found it each chapter is a scene and I write the basics it is easier to come back and fill in with the meat, suspense, action, dialog after I am done.

    • Rebecka, Glad you found something that works for you. I’ve know of people who do extensive outlines that practically write the book in the outline. I really like the 10-scene tool because it gives me the basics and helps me stay on track. Often it’s too easy to get off track of my original plot. Sometimes the story does change during writing, but at least having those basics helps me know if I’m off track in a good way or not.

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