7 Tips to Writing Outlines

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I can already see the pantsers running for the door.  Don’t worry.  I assure you that this is going to both informative and humorous.  Honestly, it doesn’t hurt to have an idea about how to outline.  There are times you might be stuck and planning out a little bit can stop the clog.  Anyway, let’s get to the tips.

  1. There is no right or wrong way to outline.  It’s only your way.  Some people may need to go into detail with every aspect of a scene noted.  Others only need to put a single sentence down to help them remember the purpose.  It’s whatever makes you feel comfortable and catalog the ideas that you need for future writing.  All that being said, I don’t recommend writing on mirrors with soap even if you spend most of your writing time in the bathroom.  For no other reason than you could mess it up while flossing or brushing your teeth.
  2. Never be afraid to change up your outlining system.  What works for one story might not work for another.  This becomes incredibly true when you move from novels to short stories.  Sticking to your guns even when it doesn’t feel right can cause you some future agitation.  Then, you have laptops flying out windows, notes covered in teeth marks, and a naked author running down the block yelling about Chapter 3 not working out.
  3. Outlining can be spread out among multiple pages to be condensed later.  Maybe you’re on break at work and have an idea for Chapter 7, but you can’t carry a notebook around.  Just grab a napkin and jot it down to add it later.  Even if you end the whole process with a box full of scraps of paper, it means nothing fell by the wayside.  You might have a little trouble deciphering the pieces that have dried ketchup on them, but that’s the price you have to pay.
  4. While not an outline, character bios and flushing out plot central locations and objects can help.  You never know what kind of subplot will appear when you design these things.  There’s even a chance it will fill in a piece of the main plot that you didn’t even know was missing.  Guess the lesson here is that your subconscious can have more information than you realize.
  5. Don’t let your subconscious call all the shots!  Okay, this might be a little confusing considering what I just said.  You have to realize that the back of the mind is fairly messy during the planning stage.  It’ll grab whatever comes near and plug it into the outline because it either works or seems like a good idea at the time.  This can lead to an outline that is all over the place and confusion when you actually sit down to do the writing.  What in the world do you mean by ‘eat three pies’ in Chapter 10?
  6. It helps to read through an outline before you start writing.  Maybe some of the chapters now feel superfluous or there are two that can be combined.  It’s similar to coming back to a book for editing and seeing it with fresh eyes.  Only instead of grammar and spelling, you’re seeing if things need to be enhanced, eliminated, or merged.  You can also leave yourself confused by the really confusing shorthand that only made sense in the moment.  It’s like someone else wrote it just to mess with you in the future.
  7. Always remember that characters will make mincemeat out of your outlines.  Doesn’t matter how good you are because they will do something that makes sense for them, but it didn’t cross your mind during the planning stages.  At least you have a foundation to keep them somewhat in . . . Where did that impish supporting character with the two-bladed chainsaw go?

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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27 Responses to 7 Tips to Writing Outlines

  1. Sound advice, particularly the part about characters making mincemeat out of the outline.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Solid suggestions, Charles. And you were right. Humorous indeed. (Eat three pies LOL)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. L. Marie says:

    Really great tips! And I have to laugh at the suggestions of the subconscious too! 😁 (Now I want pie.) But I have to say that sometimes those notes come in handy. They help me to go deeper to find out what I mean by, “He has a scar.” And how true that characters often mess up a carefully written outline. Sometimes they go in their own direction.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Great advice from Charles 👍😃

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Definitely the voice of experience here, Charles. I can relate to most of these. I guess I do outline, but the only evidence of that is cryptic notes.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this great post from Charles Yallowitz’s Legends of Windemere blog with 7 Tips to Writing Outlines

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I used to do partial outlines, maybe 3 or 4 chapters to get me started. But as I became more confident in my skill, I found I needed it less. I can come up with more interesting twists on the fly. That said, I always do know what my ending will be.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Where Genres Collide and commented:
    Great advice!


  9. This is a good post, Charles. These are common sense suggestions. 🙂 — Suzanne


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