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Outlining 101: How, Why or Whatever!

I really didn’t know the debate of outlining was a “thing” in the literary world until I had a conference call with two separate successful authors. The first conference was all about writing from the heart. Let it flow and watch your ideas and all the love you have inside of you pour out onto the paper. This resonated with me totally because I was all about the love! Then a few months later another conference call, the author was dead against just sitting down and writing. No. You have to have a plan! Write an outline! So now here am asking myself, well which do I do?

It didn’t take me long figure out, “do whatever the heck you want to do!” Lol. It was just that simple for me, however I’ve realized from my experience doing one on one and coaching sessions, my clients wanted me to break down my thoughts about the subject into an actual living, breathing document. So here goes! (smile)

Outlining is used much more when writing non-fiction books. The areas you may find yourself outlining are Table of Contents, Characters, Chapter/Scenes, Locations, etc.

What is Outling and HOW is it done?

Outlining is the process the writer uses to set out the main events of the book, in many cases chapter by chapter. It doesn’t have to long and drawn out. It can be a 1 page rough draft on how this chapter will unfold, what characters will be revealed, if a tragedy will be introduced, etc. It can also be a structured outline listing a topic followed by bullets or it can be something as simple as post it notes or index cards that you use to put “order” into your writing. Structuring and outlining is a great way to keep you on track, to the point and it is a physical document that you can reference through the writing process. Outlining helps you plan your novel before you even begin writing it.

Sounds good so far? So now to the WHY.

Why Should a Writer Outline?

Actually I have no problem with outlining. It can be beneficial in helping one to write their book. In my personal experience, outlining helps me not to write a bunch of “fluff”. Fluff is not all bad, mind you, however whenever I have more structure, meaning I’ve actually thought about the characters, who they are, what they will do, along with plot defining, then it helps me to not only writer better but faster.

Here again, outlining is not for everyone. Some writers can still pen novels without using the outlining process at all.

Benefits of Outlining:

See what your next writing steps are: You don’t have to wonder about what you’re going to write because you’ve already written what should go next. This will also help you to maximize your time. If you have 30 minutes you can sneak during your lunch break, then you can do that and not have to sit and think about what you have to write. You can knock it and complete your writing goal.

Shows a bigger picture: By stepping back and looking at the outlined picture, you can determine there are any holes that need to be filled in. You can see what’s missing and confirm if you’ve gotten the point of the novel across. It’s very important that your intended message comes across in your writing.

Change the flow of ideas: By seeing the outline, you can also see if you don’t like the flow. You can see what works and what doesn’t. It also shows you ahead of time if chapters and characters will mesh well together. This is a perfect time to change your mind about the direction and guess what? It’s ok! Better to change your mind now than to get half way through or even force your way to completion then scrap the manuscript all together.

Know this: An outline is not permanent and does not set anything in stone.

Outline Basics. Exactly how do you do this thing?

There are several ways that you can outline a book. There are no right or wrong answers and it really is a matter of which one works best for you. Here are a few great methods.

  • Basic Word or Excel document. I personally prefer using Word between the two. For me, it’s quick and easy. I can separate chapters by creating tables while including key points in each one of the spaces. I also have a page each that’s dedicated to the book’s Summary, Plot, Characters (defining who they are, what they do for a living, whom they’re dating, what’s their issue, etc.) and just a page of “extra” ideas that I many not know where to place just yet.

  • The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson. “Good fiction doesn’t just happen. It’s designed”. The snowflake method is in essence, you start small and then expand on each area. Start with a 1 liner, then a paragraph, then continue to expound upon it. This is an incredibly impressive method and is definitely beneficial to those who may be struggling or if you want a more indepth outline. Check a detailed breakdown of the Snowflake method HERE.

  • Outlining Software: Scrivener seems to be very popular amongst writers, especially for outlining and even writing itself, however it’s only available for Mac users. You can read more about it here on the For PC users, The Creative Penn givens examples for Page Four, the Liquid Story Binder and a full list of software for writers These tools provide different ways of capturing and organizing your words.

Note: Again, do whatever makes you happy and what works best for YOU.

So there you have it; my take on the How, the Why and the Whatever of Outlining. After putting my thoughts on paper, I’m really intrigued and a bit excited to try other methods of outlining. Check my blog later for some reviews!

Until next time, remember to write and #makeyourstorybeautiful.