Yes, I finally did it.

I got my critique group to outline. For those of you who aren’t familiar with my critique group, it includes Shallee McArthur, Karen Krueger, Joel Smith, Kevin Smith, Rachel Giddings and me! And I want to add here that I don’t know what I’d do without them!

And while each of us has our strengths, each of us also has our weaknesses. And an interesting thing was that some of us outline and some don’t.

Joel and his first outline!

Let me mention now that I am a firm believer in outlining.

Wait, DON’T throw tomatoes yet! Let me clarify that. I’m a firm planner BEFORE I writer a book, though I know everyone has a different process. As creative peeps, I think we all need to go about our writing our own way. But I think once you have your novel out, everyone (and I do mean that) should sit down and outline their book. This can be done in a short synopsis or a detailed sketch. But that way you as the author can see where you book went . . . and you’ll be surprised what you learned!

So I sat my group down and had them all write out their plots in detail.

We used the big paper so we could get it all down.

So what I had them do is similar to what J.K. Rowling did here:

[1] Write down all big storylines and issues

[2] Write down what happens in each chapter for each of those things. Sometimes it doesn’t come out in the chapter, but if it happens, put it down.

[3] Look over where there are big empty spots, and you can see where a storyline has faded away.

Rachel is thinking hard about her outline

The most amazing thing is that, while it stumped some people, it helped everyone. Even those people who had already outlined their book already saw things that needed to be fixed because of the outline.

So what’s your process? How have you seen outlining helping you?

18 thoughts on “how to do a basic outline

  1. Leisha – If you do, send me a picture. I’d love to see it! I’m hoping to get a large whiteboard where I can use for things like this.

    Kevin – Unfinished? Oh sad! But Joel finished his, so I bet you could get yours done before group next week. Or you could even do it for your new idea…

  2. Wow that’s really funny. I hate outlining altogether, but I’m at the point where I might finally give it a try. Maybe. My current process is to just get the story out on the page. I hate how outlining ruins it for me. It takes away the surprise I get when writing it. But my drafts do see craptastic when my beta readers go over them, so maybe this will help it be a bit more cohesive.

  3. Chersti, Leisha called me this morning and brought this idea to our writer’s group. We did as you said, plotting it out on huge paper, breaking it down into categories, and it was awesome! I’ve got my new story’s basic plotline all worked out! Thanks!!!

    Where did you find J.K. Rowling’s page? It was great to see how she did it!

  4. Writer J – I’ve felt it makes this a lot more coherent for me — but I love intricate plots. 🙂

    Jonene – That’s just fantastic!! I am so glad it helped. I found J.K. Rowling’s page on her website — it was something released out of the vault a little bit ago. It was really funny, because I was like: I already do it that way… except making myself plot out my novel again after this rewrite helped even more so!

  5. Great post! And thanks for the J. K. Rowling sample. Very awesome! I am a post-draft outliner: I can’t do it before my first draft, and I can’t get to my second draft without one. I have to outline after every draft to identify the holes. And like you said, it helps so much! Mine are on my computer, though. Someday maybe I’ll do a big one . . . or else turn one of my walls into a chalkboard (always wanted to try that!). 😀

  6. Lori — it’s so amazing how even us planners benefit by outlining AGAIN after the story is complete. So helpful!

    Robin — I tried the spreadsheet thing, and it just got too complicated and big for me. I’m kind of jealous if you can do it that way!

    Nikki — You posted your outline awhile back, and it was really awesome!

  7. I’ve found that outlining helps give my story focus and direction. There is far less wandering in the story, and I can plan to make scenes accomplish more things.

    There are a few things that I’ve found very useful in outlining. First is Dan Wells’ presentation on plotting at LTUE in 2010. It’s on YouTube, and is a very easy way to start creating your story arc. Within that, I’ve started building try/fail cycles. I have also used plot charts, in which each thread is a separate line, with the try/fail cycles diagramed with peaks and valleys.

    I find that the more detailed my outline is, the less fun it is to actually write the story, but the more satisfying the story eventually turns out to be because I can build things in early that will make later stuff more signifiant.

  8. S. James Nelson – I didn’t know Dan Well’s presentation was on YouTube. That is fantastic! As for me, my outlines are always really detailed, and that helps my plot come out smoothly. But it’s still so much fun, because there are small surprises that come out in each chapter. And actually building that world and working out every sentence is so much fun, as well as a lot of work. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Just want to say what a great blog you got here! I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work! Thumbs up, and keep it going!

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