Outlining…it’s a matter of style.

The topic of outlining comes up frequently around writers; Should I? Shouldn’t I? Does it really matter?

The best advice that I can give in regards to the topic is this:

Try it. Try as many different ways to outline or plan your work as you can think of. Eventually, one of these methods will stick.

This is coming from me, a guy who swore off outlining years ago. I’ve always hated writing to a plan. That is, until I figured out the way of outlining that worked for me, and now I can’t imagine “free-wheeling” it ever again. 

My outlining method is a simple, three-step process. First, I write out a timeline of the events in the story. This can take as little as a minute or it could take days, depending on the length and depth of the story. This is also an unrefined brainstorming session. For instance:

  1. Guy finds a magic rock.
  2. Rock makes him go insane.
  3. Wizard comes to village for ?? and learns about the guy with rock.
  4. Wizard confronts him and explains that the rock is his older brother, an evil sorcerer who he turned into a rock years ago.
  5. Rock-sorcerer takes control of guy.
  6. EPIC BATTLE (this is where sorcerer-rock gets so angry he makes the guy throw him. Then the connection is lost and the guy is returned to normal, wizard destroys rock, happy ending.)

This is not a real story, by the way, although it might be some day. (Another piece of advice: no idea is stupid enough to be thrown away.) So, once I have this little breakdown of the events, I typically rewrite them so that each event carries any important information. This includes names of the characters, the locations, any bits of dialogue that see fitting well in the scene. Example:

1. Guy finds magic rock.


1. POV Johan Applethorpe is walking through woods near his village. He is distraught over the loss of his betrothed. He is thinking about her when he sees a glowing thing in the stream. Reaches down, picks it up. The stone uses the memory of his dead fiance to take control of him. 

Finally, I write the story piece by piece, going over each point as I write. For point one, I would write out the scene. Then I would delete that line on the “outline” and move to the next. This is pretty much how I write everything now…even business articles, reviews, ad copy…you name it. 

Maybe some of you will click with my system of outlining, but that’s not really important. What matters is that every writer experiment with the conceptual/planning phases of their craft and work to hone an effective, repeatable means of outlining. Once you’ve nailed down your style, you’ll be glad you did!





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About jpaulroe

Freelance writer and content producer.

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