From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O is for Outlining

I used an outline for my novel, and I am using one again. As an outliner, I have learned a few things.

1. Follow the characters first, then the outline. An outline is important. But I have found that the best way to keep the story flowing naturally and organically is to look at it as little as possible. I know roughly where I'm going, and I know my characters, so when I get to the end of one scene and am ready to start another, I listen to my characters first. What is the next natural point in this story? What is her natural reaction to what just happened? Usually that works just fine, and in fact, its usually the next point I have on my outline anyway. If for whatever reason I get stuck and can't figure out organically what happens next, thats when I go to my outline.

2. An outline is moving pieces. Following the strategy above, this means I do sometimes end up going from point A to point D or bringing point E and putting it in between B and C. This is allowed. In fact, sometimes I will be stuck between scenes, and I've checked my outline but it still seems like there is a gap between the scene I finished and the next scene in my outline. When this happens and brainstorming a new scene doesn't seem to be working, sometimes I'll look down my outline and find a scene to bring up, and it turns out to be exactly what was missing.

3. An outline is a hand on all threads. This is sort of the other side of the first point. Its good to keep your plot flowing naturally and organically, but its also nearly impossible to keep track of all the things that need to happen and have happened and all the plot threads you've got going on without writing them down. At least it is for me. Before I even start writing I like to make sure I have in my outline everything filled in as far as I can tell for each plot line. This always ends up being total bologna and there are always major holes you don't see until you've started writing, which is why you follow your characters and not the outline. But its nice to be able to keep track of all the balls you've got thrown in the air.

This all sounds a lot more intensive and structured than it really is. I mean, my current outline is basically a bullet point list of about 25 plot points sorted into the seven days in which my story takes place. The outline for the other novel was pretty similar. And they're pretty quick, one sentence points. Obviously every writer has their own way of doing things, and for some, an outline stifles them from the very beginning. So yeah, this is just how I do it, and maybe it will help a few of you.

Other outliners out there? Do these ideas help, does this process sound similar to your process?

Sarah Allen


  1. I've run across a couple A to Z bloggers this morning who chose Outlining today. It's fun seeing how different writers do this.

    I start out with a rough timeline with most to the major pints figured in then expand it as I write.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing how you do your writing work. I am learning so many helpful tips!!

  3. Interesting method. I love seeing the process of others writers.

  4. Not much of an out-liner, I have to say I am mesmerized by that photo. I guess I just love rocks, what can I say? Most of my outlines start like this: Beginning. Middle. End. LOL

  5. I used to outline course material when I was a student and use the outlines for studying - a helpful tool. But with writing, I guess I am free-form. I have an idea for the book, the story lines in my head, and I just sit down and write. With my second book I am writing scenes ahead, but I find that the spontaneity and creative fun goes out of it, if I have an outline.

  6. I like your method! There's usually certain scenes that I outline first and then I kind of work around those specific scenes.

  7. I should really outline first. Would probably save me a lot of heartache in the future when my book skids to a heartbreaking halt.

    like now.

  8. Some people's outlines are so detailed it amazes me. I normally just go for a brief idea of the main points of the story. This works best for me.

    Have fun with a-z.


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