Learning to Outline

I’ve always hated outlining. In college, if I was required to submit an outline, I’d write the paper first, and then extract an outline from the completed work.

It’s not as if I hated outlines, though. I didn’t. I just hated the process of outlining.

I wanted to get on with telling the story. But now, having discovery-written two (unpublished) novels, I see more value in planning things out ahead of time. To top it off, I’ve found a method of outlining that really seems to work for me.

Side note: If you haven’t watched Dan Wells’ session on the seven point system, you really should.

So now I’ve got a method for planning out the overall structure for a novel. But I think that I need to get a lot more detailed.

One of my characteristic problems in writing the previous two books was that I’d sometimes write all the way to the edge of my (minimal) planning. And that left me stuck until I had a bright idea. I want to be able to just keep writing even if I don’t have a burst of inspiration.

My plan for the moment is to try applying the seven point system not only to the overall structure of the book and book-long subplots, but also to individual chapters. It’s worked well for Chapter 1, but I have a couple of concerns.

  • Will doing this cause my chapters to have a predictable (and thus boring) shape?
  • Will focusing on the major arc like this in the chapter outline cause me to neglect lower-level, but still important, details?

Of course, the only way to find out is to give it a try. And even if I do run into these problems I can always fix them on rewrite.

What about you? Do you outline, discovery write, or use a hybrid? If you use an outline, what sort and how detailed? Any tips to help out a new outliner?


About Joshua Michael

Writer. Catholic. Fan of John Henry Newman and the Inklings.
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