Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Fun Story Outlines

Today we're going to talk about outlining stories. All strictly artistic, spontaneous, organic and/or pantser writers should now leave the blog, lest I poison your well, ruin your process or otherwise mess with your mojo.

It's not that bad. Outlining can be a blast, if you stop with the dread and go for the fun of it. I did that last month with my outline for my NaNoWriMo 2017 novel. I had the general idea of what I wanted to write, so basically I just channeled the protagonist and let her tell me the bare bones of the story in her voice. Since I think Emma is hilarious, it was something I really enjoyed -- and that is the key.

If you don't like writing traditional outlines, why try writing them at all? Instead, why not write what happens in your story like a bullet list:

Soviet missile sub commander defects -- with invisible sub.
CIA drops analyst on US sub.
Subs meet; get cranky.
Analyst and defector become periscope pals.
Second Soviet sub arrives.
Torpedoes fly.
The cook is a saboteur!
Sam Neill character dies.
Soviets think defecting sub sank.
They defect happily ever after.

Okay, it's a bit tongue-in-cheek, but that is a bullet list-style outline of The Hunt for Red October. I covered all the major plot points in ten lines (and just fifty words) off the top of my head. Took me five minutes because it was fun.

For those of you who are muttering that you're not into list outlining, okay. Why not invent your own method? I did that back in 2015 with story cards, and in 2012 with SCARAB outlining, and in 2008 with my speedy ten point plot outline. So now it's your turn. What can you think up that would make the task easier, faster, or more interesting?

Don't limit yourself to what you can do on the computer, either. You can use index cards, sticky notes, a small notepad, a story journal, a composition book, a cork board collage -- anything that helps you organize your thoughts can also work for outlining a story.

Finally, back in 2015 I reposted my master list of novel outlining links, and most of the links still work, so if you don't want to follow my method, try someone else's. See what feels like fun for you, and you might never again dread outlining.


  1. I'm a devoted outliner, but it's not always easy for me. With one novel, I had general ideas for beginning, middle, and end, but no details, so I got out a couple of tarot decks (one for each POV character) and used the cards for inspiration. If I wasn't inspired by the current card, I shoved it back into the deck and pulled another. The whole process turned out to be quite fun. :-)

    1. That's a great way to outline and get inspiration at the same time, Deb.

  2. Though I'm a pantser, I read though because you're my friend and I would never leave you! ;p

    I sort of have an idea of where the story is going but usually only after the first ten pages or so are written. Maybe I'll try this, but I dunno...what if I can't come up with anything beyond the first three lines?

    1. See, you and I are proof that plotters and pantsers *can* be friends. :)

      I know the spontaneity of writing is part of your process, and you don't want to do anything to wreck your mojo. But what if you go at it as if you're writing a story wish list? Just jot down some ideas you'd like to work into the story. They don't have to be very detailed or in chronological order or anything like that, and you don't have to use them if (when you're writing) the story takes you in a different direction.
      Those ideas could come in handy if you get stuck.


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