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Learn how outlining techniques can help you find your story (and have fun)

I just finished reading one of the most helpful books on writing I’ve ever read—and that’s saying a lot considering how many titles decorate my shelves.

But I hesitate to tell you the title. You might faint. You might freak out. You might jump back from your computer screen or iPhone or whatever device you’re reading this on and chuck it out the nearest window.

One word, in particular, in this book’s title is generally known to make writers quake in their pink bunny slippers as if they are witnessing a wolf spider crawl up the bathtub drain.

Are you still with me? Can you peek through your fingers long enough to read this title? This most awesome, five-star book on writing is called: Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland.

The word, of course, that brings dread into the heart of most writers is outlining. I get the shivers just typing it out here.

But after reading Weiland’s book, the old nightmares of roman numerals and capital letters that have plagued me since elementary school have been replaced by visions of mind maps, pictorial outlines (drawings), setting or world maps, scene cards, and other brainstorming and outlining tools.

Besides giving us a tool chest full of tips, tools, and ideas, the author makes outlining FUN. I can draw with my colored pencils? I can cut out pictures from magazines and webpages?  I have more than one way to organize my outline? Yes to all!

I especially appreciated the short interviews with other authors at the end of each chapter. I learned there are many ways to outline and that sometimes your method will change from book to book.

From author Becky Levine, I learned that she uses, as I do, the software program for Macs called Scrivener to create note cards for her scenes. On each note card she tries to include the following: her main character’s goal, obstacles, how she overcomes the obstacles (or doesn’t), if she wins or loses and what’s at stake if she loses. She might also add setting or character notes or anything else that seems important.

From author Roz Morris, I learned that she uses index cards for her scenes. She might also write a detailed synopsis of her story where she can explore themes and ideas.

Author John Robinson says his outlines are usually short—a few pages in a yellow legal pad—which turn out to be more of a list of plot points.

Each interviewee also answers questions about the greatest benefit of outlining and the pitfalls. Weiland also asks them if they ever recommend “pantsing” their story instead of outlining.

And that’s how all this started for me. Originally, I purchased Weiland’s book because I was stuck in my story. I knew some of the coming scenes but not enough of the rest of the framework to really go forward. I was spending too much time writing scenes and digging around for the pieces to make the scenes work. I needed to step back and outline the rest of my story—pulling the many scenes I have stored in my brain and putting them down on paper—so that I can see the entire novel.

When I know what I’m writing — what my goal is — I’m a quick, clean writer. So I know the extra time I spend now outlining or mapping out the rest of my story will save me months of writing time. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

If you’d like to read another tip I learned from Weiland’s book, check out my previous post, “Frustrate Your Characters to Keep Readers Turning Pages.”

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I guess I need to check that book out. . . .

    October 9, 2013
  2. Sounds like a great book. K.M. Weiland certainly knows her stuff.

    Thanks for sharing! 😀 Looks like it’s done good things for your writing. ‘Quick’ and ‘clean’ – that sounds like bliss.

    October 10, 2013

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