The Outline: A Plotter’s Plan

The Idea Pile

The Idea Pile

I talk about having outlines and making plans before I write.  These act like a ‘baby draft’ and make the creation of a first draft smoother.  At least to me.  It’s this part of my writing system that makes me a Plotter, which is a term I never heard until 2013.  Yet there is some Pantser stuff in the details when I get to the actually writing.  I also seem to hit that point and never mention the outlining stage.  So here we go:

  1. Character biographies and write ups can help.  I tend to start with a basic role then add a name and then write a paragraph.  This includes goals, role, description, a few subplots that turn up, etc.  This is actually entirely off the cuff and it helps create more meat for the overall story.  For example, some personal rivalries and habits that will be appearing in the vampire series came about from these biographies.  So did the Kira/Luke/Sari thing when I designed Kira.
  2. I prefer to divide each chapter into 2-4 scenes and write a line for each one.  Just basic concept of what I’m aiming for in that scene.  The details appear while I write and I might even switch characters if it works better.  I’ve found that I do these outlines for every book in a series before I start.  Though I might only do it for the first 2-3 of the longer ones.
  3. It doesn’t hurt to change the plan and I remember this from the beginning.  It’s really better to have too much and chop things down than to not have too much and try to fill stuff in without harming the useful stuff.  A subplot might get dropped, two scenes might work best as one, something might be unneeded, a previous book changes the future outlines, etc.  I tend to look over the next outline as soon as I finish a book to see how they match up.  Then I do a repair and rewrite for a day or two.  Most stuff tends to stay, but other things get switched around.  Then again, I already know that Book 11 is going to need a major overhaul.
  4. Notes, notes, and more notes on everything.
  5. It doesn’t hurt to stop and flush out something that needs more details.  I do this a lot with specific creatures and magical stuff in my books.  A big reason for this is that I never know if this will be used again.  With so many series, it’s entirely possible for these things to pop up more than once.
  6. Timelines can help.  I actually don’t use these, but I know many who do.  Sorry I’m not much help here.
  7. PERSONAL PREFERENCE:  Making the outlines and notes by hand seems to work best.  Lower chance of losing the information as long as you keep fire and liquids away from the books.  When writing the books, I use the laptop and work quickly.  I let the established plan take me away and my fingers run along the keyboard.  The outlines push me into another part of my mind, so it goes slower and doing it by hand makes it clearer.  Again, that’s just me.

So, do you have any rituals or plans that you do before diving into the actual book-writing?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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29 Responses to The Outline: A Plotter’s Plan

  1. Great post. I use more of a storyboard, then write between the important points.


  2. All great suggestions. I pretty much have the story in outline form and then figure out the details as I go along. (doing research as I need it)


  3. Rachel says:

    Baby draft… I like that term. I definitely love outlining because it also makes editing the first draft a lot simpler. You have some good suggestions for outlining. Thanks for sharing.


  4. I have an outline. I’m fairly embarrassed by it, as well. Mostly because it reminds me of how easily I can get off topic.


  5. I do my rough outline in long hand and then switch immediately to MS Excel. There I can easily move stuff around. I open new rows to add more scenes, detail, and ideas as they turn up. I can also delete rows when things change. I keep other details in Excel too: names and descriptions or places and people, currency, made up words with meanings, calenders, phases of the moon(s), you name it. Bios and world-building are in Word. This makes me smile just to write it down!


  6. Funny you should mention timelines. I’m not big on them, but a cousin of mine kept asking for a Pearseus timeline, until I relented and wrote one up just for her 🙂


  7. Thank you for the tips! I am just beginning to learn to outline and plan things in advance. These are definitely useful suggestions!


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