The Writing Process: Outlining

Now that all our disjointed ideas are starting to take shape, it’s time to take one more step before typing that first riveting sentence of our first draft! Again for anyone writer who might say, I don’t plot! I fully hear you. I tried plotting when I wrote my first few manuscript attempts and spent so much time re-writing them that I gave up. Not to mention what a time waste it felt like. But I found a balance: A little organizing of my thoughts ensures less re-writes and a much more solid first draft. A little less structured plotting and organizing gives breathing room for the unexpected to take place in my story.

So here goes!

Now that I’ve spent a few days or a week jotting down ideas and trying to work them into my first draft of the novel, I turn to a spread sheet. On the spread sheet I take the structure I talked about in the last blog and create an outline. Believe me when I say the spread sheet has the bare minimum of notes.

Here are my columns left to right:

  • Scene / chapter
  • POV (Point Of View character)
  • Theme: briefly state how the scene/chapter supports the theme
  • Scene/chapter plot points/beats
  • Summary: end of scene
  • Characters in scene: list of names (useful when I need this in a future scene and I can’t remember the name of a minor character or the spelling I used for a name)
  • Goal of scene: what the POV character wants and needs
  • Conflict: internal and external conflict the POV character faces

All of this is very briefly stated and I might only plan a few scenes / chapters at a time so I can update for the unexpected turns my plot takes that weren’t in the original plan. Note, filling in each column for each scene / chapter only takes about 10-15 minutes. It’s something I do after I’ve finished the day’s writing, so when I sit down to write again, I just need to glance at the notes and I’m ready to go, create and discover what new and unexpected turns the story will take me on!

The outcome is I have a lot less messy first drafts that I trash because I’m so confused by the plot and seriously doubt it’s fixable. A second outcome is that I get a lot more writing done with less time or effort. I hope to publish my third book soon! Third, my manuscripts are much more solid and need less re-writes (even my editor had noticed a profound improvement!)

I’d love to hear your approach to writing, so take some time to share your process. Happy Writing!

(Picture created with Canva)

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