My Outlining Method

If I had to give my outlining method for my NaNoWriMo novel a name, I’d call it something like the “Kitchen Sink” method. I don’t know. I just made that up. After writing some basic character sketches including age (important since I have a lot of people several hundred years old), appearance and history that defines who they are (in my main character’s case I wrote a little personality bio, since most of the things happening to shape her happen in-story) and some setting info, I started writing the plot itself. This is where the kitchen sink comes into play.

In a nutshell, I write the chapter number at the top of the page and list things I want to happen in that chapter in semi-dotpoint, semi-sentence form. Sometimes I write a couple of words while other times I go into detail about particular events. For example, I wrote “The cheer squad is having issues with pyramids”, which will result in at least a few paragraphs of text when I begin writing in November. I wrote another section in more detail:

–          Gwen’s father comes home from wherever the hell he’s been. He hasn’t seen little sis (Emily from hereon out) either.

–          Knowing her parents wouldn’t believe her, Gwen calls Miranda. They need to find Jack. He’s their only lead.

–          They visit the football field to find him there. He smells of rot and his face has sunken like that thing outside Gwen’s window. He’s also losing his hair and his red eyes glow.

–          He can’t speak, or won’t. Gwen feels uncomfortable and nicks a baseball bat from a sports bag nearby – the baseball team had just finished practise.

–          Jack comes at them, groaning like a goddamn zombie. He puts his rotting fingers around Miranda’s throat. Gwen swings… and his head comes clean off.

–          The girls freak out and run, ditching the bat.

So it really depends on how much detail I feel like going into. I end up with a lot of random stuff that’s probably not all that important. I don’t really have a clear end in mind as I’m writing, just general ideas on where I want the story to go. I’m basically being a pantser with my outline. I’m slowly getting a clearer picture of what’s going to happen at the end, but I’m more than halfway through my outline at this point in time, provided I write between twenty-five and thirty chapters.

With this outline, I’m basically learning about the characters in my story much like I would when writing a first draft with no outline. I think this will be helpful when it comes to drafting this particular novel, since I’ll already have a pretty clear idea of who everyone is. With Coldfire, I had no idea who anyone really was until I’d edited the book at least twice, since most of the characterization was pretty shallow in the beginning.

Overall, I think this outline will be beneficial to my story, but I don’t know if I’ll do it for any novels not written during NaNoWriMo, since it is so time-consuming. I started outlining about a week ago and will probably take another week to finish it, between school and needing to sleep. Maybe I’ll work out a quicker method later, for the times when I just want to write the damn thing and screw the outline.


4 thoughts on “My Outlining Method

  1. I generally take about two weeks to outline a novel. The first one I did I used a method similar to what you’re doing, but each chapter only got a short paragraph. Now I just throw important plot points in and let everything else come out in the writing. My current novel is a bit of a departure, I’ve only outlined the first act and already I’m writing. I figure I’ll keep working on the outline as I write, but this keeps things more open to change if I feel differently as I move along in the writing.

    Very dark stuff, I’m awaiting responses from my first agented novel as it makes its way onto the desks of editors, and I think I’m taking the stress out on my characters.


    • I’ve sort of had the opposite going on. With other novels I’ve drafted (or am still in the process of drafting. I’m easily distracted) I’ve started out with a basic idea and worked out plot points a few chapters in advance of my current position. I’m trying to be a little more organised with my NaNo.

      Good luck with the editors, for both your characters’ sakes and yours 🙂


  2. My outlining method is eerily similar to yours. I actually started with a vague concept, came up with a character, then started adding things. Then divided these “things” into chapters. Now I’ve got the problem of expanding on all these ideas now. But hey, if it works, go with it, right?


  3. Pingback: Why I’m An Outliner… Sort Of « Ann Elise Monte

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