Nov 8, 2008

Different Ways to Outline A Story

By Christine Thackeray

As many of you know November is NaNoWriMo- National Novel Writing Month. For ANWA members they can also participate in the less daunting task of BIAM- Book In A Month. So across the country thousands of writers are sitting at their computers trying to tap out a story and will probably get to the halfway point and become so hopelessly lost that they will find themselves searching for someway to organize the great idea that started them off but has gotten booked down somewhere at about page 125.

I know this because I myself have done it and still do. I've just finished my second complete novel (which I hope to submit in the next week or so) and am working on plotting the next two. One I'm over 100 pages into but need to have a better method as I'm being drowned in the many subplots and characters.

From reading endless articles and asking around I've found four methods for planning and tracking the creation of a novel that people I know use and I'd be happy to hear more-

1. THE SIMPLE OUTLINE- This is the same as a synopsis. You usually go chapter by chapter and just write the general gist of each plot point. Liz says she outlines her stories, prints it out and then adds to it as the novel progresses. You should leave a lot of white space in your original for changes. Liz says hers was completely scribbled over by the end. I did this with Crayon Messages but Lipstick Wars was too complex for this to be of use.

2. THE CALENDAR- Traci Abrams was the first person who told me that she uses a calendar to plot her LDS thriller/action/mysteries. Valerie Ipson also said she began using a calendar and it really has helped her to keep track of things. If your book takes place in a short amount of time, a few weeks or over the course of a year, this can be very helpful so that you keep accurate dates.

3. THE SPREADSHEET- With my latest story I've begun using a table that numbers the chapters and the chapter length (which I've struggled to keep even sort of consistent.) Then I have a cell that covers a brief description of the entire chapter and have a column for each character and what happens to them in that chapter. This has been great because I have such a large cast, I can then review each individual character arc throughout the story and make sure my presentation is balanced.

4. Post-It Notes- This method is the most fluid and I might really try it for Herod. You write each plot point on a Post-it and put it on your wall. It allows you the flexibility to shuffle them and work out you plotting and then you can stick then in order on paper if you choose or I suppose just throw them away when you're done.

Each of these are just tools and some stories might be slowed down by ripping them apart in this way. But for complex plots, it may pull you through so that you can finally make it to that wonderful two word finish line-- THE END.


  1. Love it! Thanks for listing these ideas...never thought of using a calendar before...and your spreadsheet idea is like CHOCOLATE to my organizing streak (can you say OCD?)

    Would you mind if I put this in ANWA's Nov newsletter? We need to fill some space & this would be perfect!

    Let me

    Karen Beals, Newsletter Editor

  2. Great post, Christine. You gave me some good ideas, with the calendar and spreadsheet. My cat's favorite thing to do is to rip post-its off whatever I stick them on, though, so it's probably safer for me to pass on that suggestion. ;-)

  3. Wonderful post...these are the kinds of posts that help me be better at the mechanics of writing...thanks.

  4. Christine, when I read an email of yours mentioning the calendar approach that you had commented on in your blog, I immediately went to your personal blogsite and hunted. I thorooughly enjoyed your site, but found very little on calendar use. Of course I often refer to the ANWA blog as 'my blog'. I'm wondering how y'all keep up with all you do. Great organization, I suspect.


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