How To Outline Your Novel: The Options

(Disclaimer: NAPLO YONOMO is the protagonist of STAR WARS AFTERMATH TWO: EWOK SNUGGLEBOO. He’s a fancy gentleman Gonk Droid with a debilitating spice addiction!)

Next month is National Novel Writing Month, aka, NaNoWriMo.

This month, I am declaring to be NaPloYoNoMo, or National Plot Your Novel Month. Or, if you prefer the more profane edition, NaPloYoMoFuGoDaNoMo month.

I want you to think about the planning, plotting and scheming of your novel.

I want you to think about outlining that novel.

Now, some of you are resistant to the idea of outlining. I know. I get it. Some of you upon hearing the word “outline” clenched up so hard, your buttholes permanently sealed shut. Now it’s just a smooth patch of flesh like bubble gum stretched across a puckered mouth.


Calm down. Unseal thine buttocks.

Outlining fucking sucks. I fucking hate it. Every time I do it I have to grit my teeth and swig whiskey and engage in a movie montage where I ragefully punch frozen beef and run through snow. And it takes me like, a day or two — three, tops — and then it’s done and suddenly I don’t fucking hate it anymore. It’s probably like building a house and starting with the basement. Building the basement has to be super shit-ass boring. It’s a basement. It’s just a cinderblock prison. It’s a horizontal dirt cave. The house itself above it — oh, that’s fancy. You get to think about where doorways are and which room will be the living room and the dining room and the SEX TARP room. You get to place windows and floors. But the basement: Ugh, fuck the basement. And yet, you need the basement. You need the foundation.

I need outlines. I am a pantser by heart, a plotter by necessity. I engage in the misery of extricating an outline from the hot pile of skull-meat I call a brain, and then I slap it onto the page and suddenly — boom-bam, there’s the book. Not in its entirety, but in its sheer potential. It makes a book feel possible. It makes a story feel a bit more manageable.

Plus, sometimes a publisher will ask for an outline. Work-for-hire will demand it. And often, pitching an unwritten novel (which becomes hypothetically doable once you’ve sold your first novel) may require an outline, too. So, it becomes a skill worth learning. I’m asking you take this month — October! — and try however much it chafes your particular genital configuration to outline your upcoming book. (Or, if you’ve already written a book, practice by outlining the one you already wrote. You’d be amazed at how clarifying this can be.)

Time, then, to talk about outlining.

But first, we need a few items of shared understanding regarding outlining. These are not so much golden rules as they are things I want you to grok regarding the plotting of one’s novel.

They are:

1. Outlining is a non-essential process. By which I mean, some writers like it, some don’t. Everybody has their own way forward. I’m encouraging learning the skill, not adopting it permanently. Writing and storytelling offer few absolutes.

2. Outlining will not “destroy the magic” or any of that wifty supernatural pegasus shit. I believe very much that writing and storytelling feels like magic while at the same time being a wholly and gloriously mundane activity. Further, if something like outlining is capable of stealing the lightning from your story, then what you had wasn’t so much “lightning” but a “static electric spark” like when you rub your footy pajamas on the carpet. Call me back when you have contained actual lightning — at which point you will learn that no amount of outlining is capable of diminishing its ELECTRIC FURY.

2.2. If outlining destroys your writing magic, editing/rewriting is going to fucking obliterate it.

3. One of the values of outlining is that it gives you a map forward — a fraying rope to reach for and cling to in the long darkness of the writing process. Another value is that it lets you muddle through the mistakes of your story early on — it’s a lot easier to fix a 2-3 page outline than it is to fix a 300 page novel, I promise.

4. When plotting any novel, remember: let the characters lead. You have heard me (er, read me) say this 100 times, so here’s #101: PLOT IS SOYLENT GREEN. IT IS MADE OF PEOPLE.

5. No battlefield strategy survives contact with the enemy, and no outlines survive contact with the story. Every journey across the country will require detours and unexpected stopovers — you should expect this, too, when you jump from the outline to the actual novel at hand.

So, with that being said, let’s talk about the various styles of outlining. Each have different benefits and disadvantages. Every book I’ve written has demanded a different kind of outline. Sometimes they’re ten pages long, sometimes they’re hastily scrawled on the drywall in my own body’s leavings. Note that these outlining modes are not necessarily exclusive to each other — they can be used together, if need be. Also, various pieces of software can be used across these outlining methods — Word, Scrivener, Excel (yes, you can do some of these in spreadsheets), Index Card apps for your phone, Mind Mapping apps, etc.

If you want some general tips and tricks first:

• Practice these by outlining movies and books you’ve already seen and read.

• You can Google up some examples (I’ve provided some, but I am confident that you know how to use the MAGIC GOOGLEMACHINE to make information appear.)

• These don’t necessarily need to be for public consumption. Write them as cuckoo bananapants as you want. Mine are not fit for public eyes and probably read like the Unabomber’s manifesto. That said, maybe I’ll ask you to share…

• If one style doesn’t work, flip to another. You can remix them together if you prefer.

• You’re not married to anything. It’s not like the Outline Police are watching from the trees, sniper rifles ready to peel your scalp in case you deviate from the well-lit path of the outline. The outline is you making shit up. Don’t stress. This is Play-Doh and Crayola time, not CARVING TRUTH INTO DIVINE TABLETS time.

The Book Jacket

Method: Emulate the text you’d find on a book jacket. Meaning, give 3-4 paragraphs detailing who the story is about and what the problem is. Not an outline, really, but a shallow synopsis.


+ You can use it later on as your query letter.

+ The story feels unburdened by heavy plotting.

+ You have this to return to as a throughline to keep the story on target.

+ Small time investment.

– Actually, fuck that, it can be a huge time investment. I find writing three paragraphs of summary as time consuming as writing ten pages of outline. Because rendering your 500 lb. pig into a 5 lb. bucket is hard and frustrating and will make you want to print out your word garbage just so you can crumple it up into an origami boulder, cram it into your mouth, choke on it, and die.

– Too shallow to be highly functional.

The Proper Synopsis

Method: A synopsis will run about 2-3 pages, and detail the overall narrative thrust of the book. (Please be advised: “The Narrative Thrust” is the name of my patented sex move. It is illegal in six states. It is popular in Poland.) A synopsis is less about the sequence of events and more about the scope of the book. Detail the main characters, their arcs, the POV, the conflicts, the time and setting, maybe touch a little on theme. Broad strokes are necessary. You’re gonna have to skimp on plot details, but the synopsis isn’t entirely about plot. Give a sense of the beginning, middle and ending.  Bring all your writing talents to bear in case you want to one day use this with an agent or editor. Write it in 3rd person, and yes, most synopses are written in present tense. Rankle all you want about that. Go on, squirm. I’ll wait.


+ Can be used with agents or editors.

+ Broad, encompassing strokes are valuable to know even if you don’t want the nitty-gritty of the plot laid out in front of you — writing one of these before you write the book can really help keep you on track.

– The synopsis is almost always a giant fucking lie, meaning, you write it knowing full well you’re plotting a journey to another country half-drunk and blindfolded.

– Because it lacks a proper sequence of events, fails to function as a testing ground for whether or not the fiddly bits of the book actually work or suck moist open ass.

The Beat Sheet

Method: You literally outline every plot point. You list them with minimal detail. BOB EATS CAKE. MARY BETRAYS HIM. DON PUNCHES A MONKEY. They can cover major plot points only, or drill down and encompass every little beat of action that occurs. You can find a fairly minimal one here at John August’s site. Or, here’s Another good example at John’s site, this time of Charlie’s Angels (film). And here’s a list of Save the Cat! style beat sheets, too.


+ Lets you drill down into plot points and see where shit works and where shit fails.

+ Actually helps highlight potentially boring parts — when your beatsheet suddenly becomes BOB SITS and MARY CALLS FOR PIZZA, and it’s a whole lot of that, you can gain a sense that there’s too long a lull where not much is happening — you need to get back to the part where DON IS PUNCHING MONKEYS. Because monkey-punching is exciting. That is gospel truth. Take that to the bank and smoke it. /mixedmetaphor

+ Forces you to think about plot mechanics.

– Doesn’t really force you to think as much about character mechanics.

– Stripping down a story to these beats can be useful as hell, but also a little rote. Reducing the narrative to THIS HAPPENS WHICH RESULTS IN THIS BUT THEN THIS HAPPENS again has value — but if you’re one of those people who worries about the glittery unicorn magic of writing, this will definitely dull some of that sparkle.

– Works very well with film, TV and comics. With novels, the beat sheet tends to be longer.

– Further, novels tend to operate more strongly on an internal dimension — and beat sheets really aren’t meant to map the mental, emotional or intellectual dimension as well.

The One With The Roman Numerals

Method: This is the one you learned in school. The one with the Roman numerals (I, II, III) and then beneath that, in indented order: regular old numbers (1, 2, 3) cap letters (A, B, C), lowercase letters (a, b, c). This isn’t a hard-and-fast design — you decide exactly what fills these spaces. Each Roman numeral might identify a chapter and then you drill down into the events of that chapter. You might outline acts, sequences and scenes or some other aspect of story structure. You might just outline a series of emoji and dick doodles, I dunno. You do you.


+ Simple, easy-to-understand format.

+ Clean, versatile format that lets you do basically whatever you want.

– Ugly as shit, let’s be honest. Roman numerals are utilitarian. Can’t we use something cooler? Occult symbols? Nordic runes? The aforementioned emoji and dick doodles?

– Will remind you of high school which for me is like, a surefire way to get me to hate doing anything. Suddenly I’m getting cardboard cafeteria pizza and hours-of-homework flashbacks.

Scenes And Sequences

Method: Scenes and sequences are narrative measurements. Yes, you can measure narrative. It isn’t as clean as a math problem or using a a measuring tape to determine the length of something (elephant trunk, desk, dresser, snake, height, wang-length, your parents’ disappointment). A scene generally is set in a single location in an uninterrupted span of time — it is contained. A sequence is a gathering of scenes that fit together. c3p0 running into R2D2 on Jabba’s sailbarge is a scene. Luke walking the plank on the skiff above the Sandy Fanged Butthole just before R2D2 ejaculates a lightsaber into the air is a scene. Hutt-Slayer Leia is a scene. All those scenes add up to the LUKE MAKES GOOD ON HIS PROMISE TO STRAIGHT-UP MURDER JABBA THE HUTT sequence. A film tends to have eight sequences, roughly 40-60 scenes, and those add up into three total acts. You’re not writing film and the rules for film are pretty godsdamn flimsy anyway. The goal here is to write out every sequence and then build into that what scenes comprise each.


+ Gives you a feeling of how all the pieces large and small fit together.

+ A bit more nuanced than a beat sheet.

+ Plays well with the One With The Roman Numerals (above).

– Fits well with film, TV, comic book — can get a little leggy or sprawly with big novels.

Tent Poles

Method: Easy. Your novel requires a certain number of MAJOR PLOT THINGIES to be the story you envision. It’s like, VAMPIRE DAVE HAS TO USURP THE WEREWOLF PRINCE OF UTICA, and then THE WEREWOLF PRINCE HAS TO KILL VAMPIRE DAVE’S MOM and then ROBOT INVASION and man, I dunno, it’s your fucking book. Point is, the book is like a tent and it only remains aloft and functional when a certain series of tentpole plot points hold it up. Right? Right. So, you just need to write down the four or five big holy shit things that are utterly absoflogginglutely required for this thing to function. That’s it.


+ Gets you thinking in big, broad strokes — is the whole thing sensible? Here is your test.

+ Leaves you a lot of room between the tentpoles to roam, play, babble, wander.

+ A good outline for people who don’t want to outline much.

– Doesn’t deal much with character or the more finicky plot bits.

– Leaves a lot of uncharted territory where heinous fuckery can take root.

Chaos Reigns

Method: JUST GO BUCKWILD ON THAT SHIT. Like, free-write your way through the outline. No form. No meaning. Just you cranked up on the batshit adrenalin formed when you’ve got your teeth around a good tale, running like a hog on fire through the jungle of your story.


+ Fun, no rules, chaos is bright and alive and weird.

+ An amazing way to really cook your brain in the fires of this particular story.

– Not so useful as a reference document. It will end up reading like the fecal handprint wall of a conspiracy theorist — it’s all red yarn connectors and nutball phrases and also poop.

Zero Draft

Method: Kinda like CHAOS REIGNS v2.0. This is you writing the whole novel. Except not. You are going to write the book with little sense of what’s happening or any outline — in fact, your shit-ass half-ass draft will become your outline. It’s like a proving ground. It’ll either be too long or too short, and it’ll probably be too terrible to be functional.


+ The purest way to just charge forward and embrace the power of sucking.

+ Will definitely show you the parts of the book that are fucked up.

+ If you invest your emotion properly — meaning, low — you don’t feel so bad about writing a bunch of hot sticky medical waste and then jettisoning it out the airlock to start anew.

– Not really an outline, and more a TRIAL BY FIRE TORNADO.

– Takes a long time and is messy as hell.

Characters In Control

Method: This is a character-focused outline. It says, “fuck the plot, let’s talk about these wandering hobos that fill my novel.” List out each character. Then write about them. Chart their wants, their fears, their needs. Chart their problems and their way to overcome their problems. Chart their arcs — who are they when the tale begins and what do they become in the crucible of the narrative? This is less about what happens next and more about creating a group of characters and setting them on their path together (or in opposition to one another) and watching the story unfold. (For your reading: the Zero Fuckery Guide to Creating Kick-Ass Characters, and my guide to creating great supporting characters.)


+ Allows characters to take the driver’s seat; characters are why we read stories.

+ I find this is a little more fun and a little less proscriptive.

+ Less attention on sheer plotty event sequencing.

– Less attention on sheer plotty event sequencing. If what you need is to strengthen your plot, then this may not be the best way forward?

The Screenplay

Method: Write your novel as a screenplay. No, really, that’s it. A screenplay is, at its core, PEOPLE SAY SHIT and PEOPLE DO SHIT. It is dialogue and action with the sparest, barest description. A screenplay is an outline. It doesn’t seem like it, but consider: a screenplay is not the final product. A novel is, but a screenplay goes through various hands and phases before it actually ends up on screen. The script is just a series of suggestions as to what appear in front of audiences.


+ An easy-breezy way to write a “zero draft” of your novel.

+ You’ll be amazed at how fast it is to write a book this way.

+ Flexes some different storytelling and format muscles.

– Um, it’s a screenplay? Which means you have to know how to write a screenplay. Format, etc.

– Screenplays are, A-DOYYY, not novels. So, you’re practicing with one format when ideally you should be learning to practice another. It’s like learning roller skating by training with a skateboard or with ice skates. It’s similar, and useful, but may not be a good fit for everyone.

As You Go

Method: Outline as you go. Finish a chapter and outline the next two or three.


+ Keeps your story loose and flexible, like the elastic in a comfortable pair of beloved underwear.

+ Never feels like you’re forcing yourself down one path (though again it is vital to remember that outlines are not sacred gnostic documents but just a list of made-up suggestions).

– It’s basically an act of drawing the map after you’ve started driving the car. It’s hard to see the deadman curves and blown-up bridges if you don’t plot the map ahead of time.

The Story Bible

Method: A giant-ass worldbuilding bible. No specific format, but assume it should read like the encyclopedia for a world that doesn’t necessarily exist. Focuses not at all on the plot of the single book and more about the overall world — including history, food costumes, design notes, religions, myths, traditions, holy dildos, mating parades, monkey-punching rituals, etc.


+ It’s like, a big geeky bag of worldbuilding fun.

+ Lets you worry less about plot and more about creating a rich, fascinating setting that will spur the plot forward and give the characters an awesome setting in which to ROMP and GIBBER.

– Not actually plot-based, so — kinda separate from an outline. Also means you’re likely to build in tons of things that have nothing to do with the plot or the characters. A lot of excess.

– A very good way to waste time productively. Most things like this have a horizon line of functionality, and it’s very easy to traipse past that horizon line and continue writing your worldbuilding story bible for 16 years while never committing word one to the actual book you’re writing. It feels productive. But after a point, it damn sure isn’t.

Draw Its Shape

Method: Story has shape. It has architecture. The narrative skeleton is pressed into the flesh of the story. So, design that. You might design lots of shapes — the classic Freytag’s Pyramid, or a more nuanced and jagged version of that. (Might I recommend this terribleminds post? Story Shapes: Four Ways To Think About Narrative Architecture.) You might also graph pacing — it’s valuable to think about slowing down and speeding up the narrative at key points.


+ A nice, abstract way to think about your story.

– Aaaaand maybe too abstract? This might be better when paired with one of the other outline forms, just to give you something less theoretical and more comprehensive.

Mind Maps

Method: A mind map is when you drill into your own head in an act of narrative trepanation, and you stuck a bendy straw in there and let the sweet STORY NECTAR dribble onto the page. It’s like maple syrup, kinda, and the idea is — *receives note* — okay, that’s not what a mind map is so clearly I have been doing this very wrong. *plugs up forehead hole with cork* A mind map is a central bubble (YOUR NOVEL) with a lot of other bubbles branching off of it. You can track plot, theme, characters, really anything you want — and you can do so in an explicitly visual way. Here is a good example at Iain Broome’s site: “How I Use A Mind Map To Build Stories.


+ Fun, easy, lots of software and apps to help you do it.

+ Abstract, but not so abstract it becomes a thought exercise — still concretizes ideas.

– Not really helpful in sequencing.

– Can get kind of noisy — may need to break out several smaller mind maps to make it work.

 And That’s That

There you go. A big-ass skull-crusher of a post about outlining. Use it. Abuse it. Ignore it.

And, if you like it, share it.

We’ll talk more about outlines and plotting as the month goes on — in the meantime, remember that I do want you to try at least one of these methods, just for fucks and chuckles. We will in fact be tracking some of this stuff and — if you’re brave — posting them online. (We’ll check back in a couple weeks on that front.)

* * *

Hey, look! Whoadang! The GONZO BUNDLE is on sale — it’s eight books total (not pictured but included: 30 Days in the Word Mines). This bundle normally runs for $20, but for the whole month of October, if you use coupon code NAPLOYONOMO you can get it for 25% off — aka, $15. Check it out here, or click the image below:

136 responses to “How To Outline Your Novel: The Options”

  1. I’m probably not exactly the intended audience here, because I’ve got the exact opposite problem. A Plotter born and bred, I love to outline (and excessive time-wasting worldbuilding? Don’t get even me started…”it’s very easy to traipse past that horizon line and continue writing your worldbuilding story bible for 16 years while never committing word one to the actual book you’re writing. It feels productive. But after a point, it damn sure isn’t.” indeed! I’ve done that), sometimes to a fault.

    Sometimes I outline to the point where I do it instead of actually turning the outline into prose. Like said in the above post “No battlefield strategy survives contact with the enemy, and no outlines survive contact with the story. ” And there are times I’m almost reluctant to subject my perfect, well-planned, symmetrical outline to the dangers of the actual writing, where anything can happen to it…

    Oh, and just as a side note, I use a top-down, multiple-outlines sort of method myself. The shape first, filled in with the major beats and then going on down, adding detail at each level. Hell, I have to outline my conversations before I flesh them out.

    For example:
    “Stop” Character 1. running.
    “No” Character 2.
    “Soup Alien1!” Character 1

    comes before…

    “Terrance, Stop! Put that spoon down right now!” The words came out between gasps, still catching his breath from running into the room.

    “You’re not the boss of me! I’ll eat what I want, you bitch!” Terrance flourished the full spoon at Kip’s face and moved it defiantly towards his lips.

    “No! You don’t understand! That’s the damn ambassador! You fool, you’ll doom us all!”

  2. My personal process is a combination of “Scene and Sequence” and “Characters in Control.” I plan a lot. And recently, I’ve been doing audio drama adaptations so throw in “screenplay” as well (close enough), though the needs of an audio production are much different than that of a novel or film… closer to theater, in a weird way.

    I do a lot of prewriting, yeah. But my drafts are lightning-quick after that.

  3. Like several others, I’m a pantser-turned-plotter. My first completed NaNoWriMo was pantsed, my second plotted. Comparing the two, I think what’s convinced me to stick with plotting is that it helps me be a more original writer.

    That first pantsed experience came with all the joys of its kind: the breathless sense of discovery, the infinite set of possibilities, the joy in characters’ freedom to do whatever came naturally. Upon reflection, though, I found that most of what I “discovered” among those “infinite” opportunities were rarely more than jumbled-together repetitions of fun and cool things I’d seen other writers do. My characters’ “freedom” rarely resulted in anything particularly original, and it certainly didn’t help any of them develop coherent arcs.

    Most concerning to me, I found that pantsing meant that, when pressed, my brain jumped to easy and conventional tropes for whatever the situation was. Sometimes those shortcuts are fine, but they can also be perilous when one’s hoping to push against the limiting norms of a storytelling culture with a long history of giving most people (i.e. those who aren’t straight/white/etc. men) short shrift.

    This is just my experience, of course, but it’s why I plot. Having embraced the iterative nature of story creation, from outline through rewrites, plotting gives me a way to burn through some of the lazy storytelling tics that first come to mind before I sink a full draft’s worth of time into my work. Not for everyone, maybe, and I certainly found it an adjustment. But that’s why I plot.

    (For me, plotting is itself an iterative process, blending character information and plot events over a few rounds of increasingly detailed outlines resulting in key beats for each day’s writing in November.)

  4. Godammit, Chuck Wendig! You are one of the funniest motherfuckers who ever busted out a blog post. AND you are inspiring and helpful. What a great combination. Thanks for this post, and the rest of your awesome blog.

  5. Curse you Mr Wendig!! Arghhhhahhhh. Sigh you’re right. I need to outline. I started with a simple outline for a short story that was going to be for a flash fiction challenge. But then it grew and grew. The plot is mysterious and has sub plots! Gasp! And I’m terrified to outline it. I spent 2 hours today starting it, then circling around it looking for a point of entry. I’m still circling. This honestly is perfect timing. Thank you!

  6. What a hilarious and informative post. Your timing is perfect: I suck at outlining (which is why I avoid it), and I’m starting Nanowrimo in three weeks. The fist time I did Nanowrimo (five years ago, without an outline), I wrote 50,000+ words of basically garbledygook. I later tried to salvage it, but most of it was just blabbedy blabbedy blabbedy. Which is all to say that I wanted to outline and be more organized this time. So, thank you.

    I’ll give the mind map a go (feels different and doable vs. the other versions) and see if that helps. Oh, and I alternate writing screenplay and novel versions of my story because I think each improves the other.

    My first time visiting your blog, but I’ll be back. Thanks. 🙂

    • Definitely subscribe! This blog is like a beacon for writing. And this post had me laughing a ton in the middle of my psychiatrist’s waiting room which was crazy 🙂 lol

  7. Awesome! You stole my thoughts and gave it an acronym! Last year I plotted during October then wrote during November. And it worked so well. Because I had an end date to my plotting. So I didn’t get stuck doing it ad nauseum. I was just hashing out some details of my Storm World idea with a friend who studied climatology. And so far it all sounds believable to her so my next step it the plot. And this post is soooo gonna help me. Thanks!

  8. Your idea to write the novel as a screenplay first in order to outline it is clever.

    My latest novel was optioned as a radio drama serial (I know!) before I finished the very final draft of the manuscript. Adapting the story into another medium altogether was extremely helpful in polishing the story.

  9. One thing you left out that I find helpful is drawing actual pictures of things in your story (or if you are not artistic enough you can clip out magazine photos or rip off stock images and insert them into your scrivener files watermarks and all). These are great for reference and inspiration. Especially maps. You don’t want to get too detailed about “she went down Flower Lane, turned right on Daisy Way, and ended up on Unicorn Boulevard” so much as to just know what the character will have to do to get from a to b. And also how far a is from b, what obstacles might crop up on the way. Maps are also super useful in a fight scene. Drawing the room or area the fight happens in and draw where the gun is on the mantle or where the shovel is leaning against the shed, really helps you plot that event out.

  10. Glad to see different ways of doing this since I wasn’t sure if what I was doing could have been considered an outline. Out of everything I’ have written, outlining (in whatever form it takes) has definitely been something that helped me complete what I was working on.

  11. I read a comment yesterday by someone that was very inspirational. I remember Chuck replying to it with a simple “yep” or similar affirmative. I was even telling my wife about it this morning. Now I can’t find it to save my life! I must be going nuts. (Oh. By the way, LOVE this article, Chuck! Very useful. Very encouraging.)

  12. I still haven’t found an outline method I really like. (Pantser who’s trying to get better at outlining, here.) Mind-mapping is nice for initial idea-getting, but yeah, no good in terms of plot-progression. I have tried beat sheets and hate them. And the freewrite approach? Nice for problem-solving certain aspects but there’s no way in hell I’d get a book-length actionable outline out of that. Too much wasted time looking for the things that happen and the character feels.

    I’ve tried a timeline-method approach, where I have plotty bits plus a different-colored lines meant to signify the character arc and also the progression of the relationship of the two MCs. But I’ve had issues translating that to a “what actually happens” form.

    It wasn’t listed as one of Chuck’s options, but now I’m envisioning a 2-column outline. (Probably as a spreadsheet; easier to add stuff wherever as needed.) One column is where I put the plotty bits and the other column is where I put what I’m currently calling the “character state,” which is where I could stick details about the character arc and character interactions. Then, since I often start with character and back-work to plot, I could try plotting out scenes intended to do have whatever effect on the character(s). Maybe that’d help me get the “what actually happens” form I mentioned in my previous paragraph. Hmm…

  13. I’m doing sort of a Chaos Reigns, which I’ve been referring to as the Book Report. Trying to outline with any sort of structure was driving me nuts because while I have a lot of the pieces that comprise a story, I’ve been having trouble seeing how they fit together. So I’m writing down, in fairly simplistic language, everything I’ve got: backstory, front story, worldbuilding, specific scenes, character histories, “something something second act,” all of it. Getting it all out of my head and onto the page.

    But I’m not just writing it, I’m typing it, with generous margins and spacing. So then I’ll print it out and attack it with pen and highlighter, pointing out all the places where the concept has holes. Right now I’m fully aware that this motherfucker looks like Swiss cheese, but trying to actually plug those holes has had me wandering around in circles. Getting it down somewhere concrete is the only way forward, so that I can address the problems one at a time and see where I still need work. And I’ve always found something really effective about editing on paper.

  14. I use MS-Excel. First, I write down the main parts of the book, then I try to fill in the chapters using scenes. With my newest WIP (SF) I started with a logline and blurb. (I think I posted it in this blog a week or so ago). Then I found a cover design. My outline is a series of cinematic scenes, and since I’m writing in present tense – a la maestro – it reads very much like a draft film script. I’m writing as I go, outlining as I write, like building a railroad. Looking good!

  15. Ack, so many ways to outline! Thanks! I’m going with tent poles then scenes and sequences. I may, potentially, start NaNo with the screenplay and then go back and fill stuff in for the rest of the month. I’m liking this plan.

  16. So, to crank out a story in 15 minutes? Ok, here goes:

    well, its been 14 minutes and 21 seconds….you would be impressed at the VOLUMINOUS thoughts and story candidates i shuffled through for this exercise. there were good guys; bad guys; time stealers; time dealers; i am telling you–edge of your seat stuff. I am even sure there were some red-eye inducing; soul stirring music, you-kind reader-came up with to magnify the emotion, my touching tale elucidated.

    well, 15 minutes has come and gone…and really, nothing on paper. Just lots of ideas; unrealized potential, wordcrafting energy, that proves ANY coherent thought lept synapes from grey matter to black keyboard…so, i wrap up this exercise, as i do almost all writing exercises into which i delve, a blank, white…………………………..(guess will start another thrilling 15 minutes tomorrow)

    (readers….i am really having trouble creating the spark to write–its ridiculous, because i have outlines; plots; ideas—i think i just lack the combustion that would create self-sustaining words on paper. it is like my pen has a flat, and i am too scarednervouscockyfrustrateddoubtfullazyhypocriticaltimid to just simply write. A good friend of mine, and a writer himself, told me, as have you–the difference in talkers and writers, is….yep………………….we’ll, i dont need to say it…i just need to do it. Did you ever encounter self sabatouge? its not even writer’s block…it is literally writer’s self block. I know what i want to write; i know how i want to present it; and i get ready to sit down, and i guess that is when “maybe tomorrow” comes in. How horrible a life story would that be?

    Thanks for reading–i am sure you have lots or writer friends who produce materials…i guess i am the writer friend who just talks about it….)

    • So from reading your comment, I’d guess you are one of two things:

      1. A perfectionist. Level: Crippling.

      2. Someone who gets bored quickly.

      To address the first:

      It’s very easy to say “maybe tomorrow” when the Perfectionism Monster pops up. When your ideas are in an idea state, they’re unformed, unstructured, subject to change. They are nothing, yet they have limitless potential to be perfect. During the execution of an idea, that’s where the imperfection comes in. We have to actually reach out and put our filthy hands to the pristine white clay of our ideas.

      Maybe what you write could have been written better by someone else.

      Maybe the idea will take a direction that you’ll regret later.

      … etc. That’s the stuff the Perfectionism Monster will whisper during writing, and that’s enough to kill the magic right there.

      The solution to that problem is to remember that nothing is perfect. Perfect is the opposite of completed and done. So don’t even aim for perfect. Aim for completion. Just get it done. Get it done and then let it cool off for a month or two. Then you can sit down and read it with fresh eyes. Writing and RELEASING your work are two different things. Focus on writing during writing. Focus on prettying up what you’ve written for the masses once the writing is over.

      Now, to address #2…

      What if you get bored? You sit down, come up with ideas, scenarios, characters, character timelines, plot… etc. The whole thought experiment plays out, you see where it all goes and then… you feel no motivation to actually write it, because you saw everything and it’s all old now.

      Keep in mind that a story doesn’t automatically equal a novel these days. There are many ways to tell a story now. You’ve got the reliable old novel, sure, but there are also novellas, graphic novels, web comics and web serials. Web comics and serials tend to divide a story into smaller, bite sized chunks that are potentially more manageable. A drawback here would be needing to potentially team up with an artist, but it could be worthwhile if that’s what it takes to stave off boredom.

      Not all serials have pictures though, by the way. You don’t necessarily need graphics if that’s not your thing.

      It sounds like you want to write, so I’d say the issue is that you haven’t found the format or the creative process that suits you yet. You can try to get fired up for writing, but that kind of willpower fueled creativity is only going to last so long and probably get you no further than 15 minutes of really thinking hard about your idea. Writing is a habit. You need to develop a habit that you can stick with, even when the fires of inspiration burn low.

      • Cherry time!!! I probably owe you a co-pay for your analysis-seriously-right on money. I am a bundle or storified potential energy-outline is in place, just couragefearcockinessangerhopelessnessshortsidenessprocrastination seems to stall me. I don’t have “writers block” I have “writer blocks”.its way worse. I sat down a few months ago and blogged ( about that very thing.

        How do i overcome… Thanks cherry time-reading your thoughts again!

    • Hey there,

      First off, I just wanted to say that you made me giggle at your self analysis (and attempt to outline for fifteen minutes) because, quite frankly, you’ve described me in your creative spark of defiance. What I wanted to stop and say, (or point number two, if you’d rather), is this:

      You can write!

      I read through the comments and had to pause to read yours because you gripped me with your first sentence, and then the first paragraph. That’s such a great start. All too often, I find myself overthinking the beginning or a sentence or the images in my mind. Maybe you struggle with that too! I’m not sure what all it is for you, but what I do know is that you should try to start somewhere.

      Start with one sentence.
      Maybe it’s one word. Maybe it’s fifteen. The number doesn’t matter. Just choose a subject or part of your story that you want to begin with, then type out the words for the sentence.

      For the sake of nonsense and utter chaos – because we can, here’s a little example. (;

      [[Let’s pretend I’m writing about a purple dragon that protects a sacred tree. The sacred tree produces pieces of gold and silver every day. There’s a greedy thief who wants to steal it all and has learned about this secret place. Etc. etc. etc. Insert words, characters and storylines here…]]

      The first sentence doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s what editing is for later. {{Yay!}} So.. I literally have no clue where to start but we’re going to wing it. Hmmm…

      – – –

      A golden chip fluttered from a smaller branch, landing on a violet tail.

      – – –

      So that took me probably three minutes to figure it out. Then I wanted to edit it.


      Back to my original point…
      It’s a sentence.

      A sentence is a start. (;

      Don’t pressure yourself too hard. You seem creative and equipped for the process, so let it happen! Go take flight with a start and create your sentence. If it takes you fifteen minutes, that’s totally okay! Set the time and continue or try for the next day.

      Just take some time to really allow yourself the freedom to write what you want to say. Your story matters! Give it a chance to be seen by the world. (:

      You’ve got this!

      • Thanks shay!!! Finding more support than ever-I’ll try to keep you updated-trying nanowrimo this year-outline almost completely ready-will be this week-wonder if I should share it-get a writing plan specifically in place-like specific times and parts of my outline I write each day

  17. […] For those of us who participate in NaNoWriMo each year, October is the month of outlines. I’ve written about outlines in the past, and I acknowledge that they may not be for everyone. Some of us would rather fly by the seat of our pants than have a sketched out plan in front of us. That’s totally fine! But those of you who enjoy the process of outlining, or just feel that you need a blueprint with which to work, here are some tips. All of these tips come from the wonderful Chuck Wendig, who blogs about writing over at “Terrible Minds.” I encourage you to check out his site, you will not be disappointed. In particular, check out his outline tips for NaNoWriMo writers. […]

  18. […] I also approach NaNoWriMo with an outline because that is what works for me. I’d recommend that you at least try outlining, especially if you’re writing at NaNo speed. You know those first two years that I didn’t finish, and those recent two years that I did? Want to guess which years I wrote an outline? If you’d like some guidance, Chuck Wendig recently posted a great reference for different outlining styles. […]

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