7 Tips to Outlining in Some Fashion

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I’m really surprised that I never did a post like this in all the years that I’ve been blogging about writing.  If I did then WordPress isn’t letting me find it.  Now, not everyone takes the route of planning their story.  So, there will be people who don’t get much out of this.  For those who do, I hope this helps because outlining can be one of the more frustrating stages of writing.

  1. There is no perfect way to do an outline.  It’s whatever way makes you comfortable and helps you remember things.  It could be single facts in a hierarchy, chapter breakdowns, or one big paragraph to give a general idea of the story.  You can even use multiple methods or change it up as you progress.  It’s all up to you.  Maybe your characters too depending on how rowdy they are in this stage.
  2. Look at the outline as if it’s a skeleton.  This is the framework of your story, but that’s really it.  Might not even be in the right order, so you can rearrange the bones until they fit correctly.  Looking at an outline this way can take the pressure off making it perfect because things will look different once you start adding the guts.  Oh, and the editing is the skin.
  3. Design your own shorthand if you want to be detailed, but have limited space or time.  If you’re going to write long sentences then you might as well get the writing part of thing.  There are no real rules to this idea because it’s something that you design for your own information.  The trick is remembering it because it may be a while before you get to the actual writing.
  4. Grammar and spelling don’t count when outlining.  Seriously, the key is to just get the ideas on the page before they fade into the mental vapor.
  5. While not an outline, it doesn’t hurt to do character biographies.  You can get a general idea of physical description, history, personality, and goals by doing this.  By focusing on the one character, you can really flush them out to a point where they may be easier to handle when writing.  Many subplots and character building paths will appear, which can be added to your outline in simpler notes. Will you use everything that you write here?  No, but it doesn’t hurt to have them and you can do a bio during a time when you can’t get to writing.  Just mark up a napkin when eating lunch at work.
  6. Do not believe that you have to perfectly stick to your outline.  Things always change once you start writing.  An idea that worked in your head might be terrible once you get it on paper.  Other things might turn out to be in the wrong spot, so you have to move them around.  More possibilities include: removing sections, adding sections, changing entire subplots, merging sections, and total rewrites of the outline because it’s a later book in a series where the characters tend to go off the rails.
  7. Know when to stop outlining and get to writing.  There is an odd sense of safety when working on this because it isn’t the part you’re going to show to others.  You can fix mistakes and nobody will know.  Grammar and spelling aren’t important.  Titles, characters, and everything connected to an outline is fluid.  It’s only when you start writing that things become much more real.  Many authors find comfort in the outlining/planning stage, especially when they do it alongside reading ‘how to write’ books.  It feels like you’re making progress and learning your trade, but you don’t take that final step where knowledge and outlines are merged to become a real story.  It doesn’t matter if you’ll tear it apart with editing too.  Just as long as you realize that it’s time to move on.

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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28 Responses to 7 Tips to Outlining in Some Fashion

  1. I don’t outline but if I did this is a terrific aid. Almost made me want to outline more formally than in my brain.

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  2. acflory says:

    I’m a hybrid pantster and only start to outline [dot points] once I have a handle on the characters and the world. That’s when I have to reverse engineer the plot. I don’t enjoy outlining, but I also don’t like stories that waffle so the plot has to be tight. Luckily I don’t mind going back and completely restructing the entire story in order to balance the characters, world and events. This process does make me a very slow writer though. 😦

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    • Reverse engineering would drive me nuts. I think it’s the speed thing. I have such limited time for writing that doing something like that would make me want to quit.

      Liked by 1 person

      • acflory says:

        I’m retired now, so speed isn’t an issue. To be honest though, I was even slower when I first started! I began Vokhtah in 2004 but didn’t publish it until 2013. I’ve always been a ‘tortoise’! 😉

        I hope you have a safe and happy festive season and get lots of writing done.

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      • Thanks. I’m impatient when it comes to writing because I’ve come up with over 100 book ideas. This combined with a disturbing sense of my own mortality makes me a bit messed up in this arena. Might explain why my stories tend to have some type of focus on legacy too.

        Have a safe and happy holiday season too. Enjoy your writing time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • acflory says:

        Aaaah…I’m probably of your generation because I have a sense of my own mortality too, but I simply can’t work any other way. I kind of envy you.

        May 2021 be kinder. 🙂

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      • Not sure if it’s a generation thing with me since I don’t meet many my age who think of things this way. I’m 40 and it’s been a fixation since I was a teenager. I used to get into a lot of philosophical discussions with friends in college about our purpose, fate, free will, and that kind of stuff. Also, what happens when you die, which has stuck with me all these years.

        With the way things are going, it might not be until May 2021 that things get kinder. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • acflory says:

        Hah! You’re a generation or more behind me then. I’m 67 going on 68 and the one thing I regret is that I didn’t start writing fiction sooner.
        I studied philosophy at uni and the concept of Eudaimon really stuck with me. My purpose in life is to be the best I can be, in all aspects of my life, and to have no regrets at the end of it.
        As an atheist, I don’t believe in a life after death so /living/ well is doubly important, imho. 🙂

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      • I feel that I dragged my feet when I was younger. Bought into the belief that I only had to submit query letters and things would happen. They never did while I bounced around a variety of jobs. So, I wasn’t paying attention when the self-publishing craze started.

        I’m of the opinion that we don’t know what will happen. I’m actually more terrified of there being nothing. Makes me think that everything about me will just vanish. All thoughts, emotions, dreams, and senses simply go out like a busted lightbulb. It’s a concept of nothingness that I don’t think humans can truly wrap their heads around. I’m hoping for wandering spirit or something.

        Liked by 1 person

      • acflory says:

        Sadly, modern publishing is all about blockbusters and shareholder profits. The book nerds no longer control the industry. Curiously, I’ve noticed that since covid, a lot of smaller? publishers have snapped up successful Indies who already have a huge following and hundreds of reviews. I have no idea what those Indies actually get out of the deal, but I suspect it’s not much. The publishers, on the other hand, get a ready made ebook and marketing network. -shrug-

        Something ‘after’ would be nice but… Don’t laugh, but if there is an ‘after’ I want to be reunited with my pets, all of them.

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      • I haven’t noticed the small publishers and indies being more active lately. Felt more like books in general were falling out of favor and sales were harder to find than ever before. I am curious about those deals too. I’m guessing some are great and some are bad. Probably a mixed bag type of situation we’re seeing. I also wonder if the indies went looking for the publishers or the publishers approached the indies. Also, are agents still a thing?

        Nothing wrong with wanting to be reunited with pets. Many people hope for that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • acflory says:

        Maybe it’s just in the scifi area, but a lot of my favourite Indie authors are suddenly upping the price of their ebooks to $10 and listing a publisher name where there definitely wasn’t one before. As these were seriously successful Indies previously, I can’t see why they would go cap-in-hand to a publisher.

        Re agents etc, I would /really/ recommend you read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Business Musings posts.

        https://kriswrites.com/category/business-musings/

        You can find all her business related articles under the heading of ‘Business Resources’. One of the early ones I read covers Agents, pros and a lot of cons.

        Have a safe holiday season and I wish you lots of good writing time in the New Year. 🙂

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      • It could be science fiction thing. Fantasy might not be hot right now. As far as why, I know many indie authors see getting picked up by a publisher as the next step. It gives access to some level of a team for promos and gives readers a sense of legitimacy. Indie publishing still has that frustrating stigma of being low quality even with many success stories.

        Thanks for the site. Enjoy your holiday season too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • acflory says:

        Yes, sadly self-publishing still has a bad rep in some circles, not helped by the many ‘cowboys’ out there who take great delight in gaming the Amazon systems. Doesn’t do much for reader confidence. :/

        I hope you find some helpful info there. Stay well. 🙂

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  3. L. Marie says:

    Great tips! I also am a hybrid writer, so I outline to a point as well. Really depends on the story. And also I never really learned how to properly outline, so your tips really help.

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  4. Great stuff, and #4 is so true. I have to write things down PDQ or they just disappear.

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  5. V.M.Sang says:

    I’m not a planner. At least, not on paper. It’s all in my head, though. I suppose that’s planning of a kind.

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