Outlining, My Obsession…

Day 15 – “O” Outlining 

A woman after my own heart, one of my favorite authors, Kate Morton, said it perfectly in a post she wrote for her blog years ago, titled “How do I love thee, Notebook?” How I love thee, indeed! I raved about my love of note taking in my post yesterday, though the focus was more on my intense need to have a notebook of some kind in my purse or pocket at all times, always at the ready to jot down observations and experiences.

Outlining is a far different obsessive matter… I have tried, I have truly tried to outline using a more efficient, electronic system. Microsoft OneNote was my go-to when I attempted outlining and planning on my computer. I do like and appreciate how organized the software is, with its notebooks and tabs and sections. I used it for about a week before reverting to my old-school method of plotting and planning via notebooks.

Outlining and plotting away in a local coffee shop!

I started explaining my process in my post on character development, detailing how I take copious notes regarding everything there is to know about said character, mapping out family trees, lists of characteristics, personality traits, etc. This compulsive need to get any and everything down translates to my general outlining as well. Whether the outlining project at hand be scene development, dialogue, relationships between characters, developing setting, etc., I have to get it all down before I can begin to actually write.

Once I have all of these small details written and laid out and thoroughly described, I can start piecing them together like a puzzle, working on formatting, structure, and flow. I have a number of pages set aside in each notebook, with chapter titles at the top of each page (Chapter 1) and then write out sticky notes with a brief description of each scene, each event, each important incident, and move around these notes until I have everything structured. It is a similar concept to that of using index cards and rearranging the order of the cards until you get the flow and transitions between scenes just right. Then, when it comes time to write that scene, I reference back to my outlines on that scene or event.

I never stop outlining. Even when I have the first draft of a chapter written, I’ll still take notes and plan new ideas to implement when I get to the editing phase. It is an ongoing process which I absolutely love and would feel completely lost without. I simply can’t start writing without that road map in place. There is something about physically writing it all out vs typing it via some software or system that makes it seem more “real” to me. I retain the information and become more intimately involved with the creation of the story.

How do you outline? Do you employ the manual method like me, or do you use software of some kind? Do you even outline or do you just start writing? Do you enjoy this part of the writing process or do you abhor it?


22 thoughts on “Outlining, My Obsession…

  1. I’ve always used outlines in planning my daily life, a habit that goes all the way back to high school. Not so much in writing. But maybe that’s because my writing is nonfiction. –Curt

  2. I first outline in my notebook, then I type it up, and I also make a sticky note map, so I can move things around when I’m writing. I try to do an outline for each draft (if I feel it is necessary).
    I guess we have some similar working methods.

    Your posts for the A to Z Challenge have been very interesting thus far. I am enjoying reading them.

  3. I’m glad I’m not the only one who absolutely has to use pen and paper for outlining, character descriptions, read-through notes, etc. I have a friend who’s obsessed with Scapple, creating bubbles like there’s an impending soap shortage, but it does nothing for me. I do like Evernote for things like business/party planning and for a place to stick notes on the go if I am caught without paper, but my creative brain just works better on paper.

    I do transfer basic scene outlines to the index cards in Scrivener so I have a place to get a quick glimpse of the story and what I’m working toward, and to make it easier to identify them if I want to move them around, but the bulk of it is on paper.

    Now, I can’t WRITE on paper anymore, because my hands can’t keep up. But outlines go on paper. Always.

    1. One of these days I’ll give Scrivener a shot. It is at the top of my list for software if I ever come to the dark side lol. But, agree with you. Outlines will ALWAYS go on paper first 😉

  4. Whenever I outline, my characters laugh at me and the outline goes out the window. The historical I’m working on is the ONLY book I’ve done a true outline for and I had to take out a huge sheet of graph paper to keep up with what my characters were doing. Mostly, I use the notes section of Scrivener as I write to keep up with the story.

      1. I love it! I’m a total non-plotter and it’s improved my writing tremendously because I can make notes as I write, break down the scenes and tag the POV. It’s made writing more fun. I won’t lie, there is a learning curve but it was totally worth it for me.

      2. It definitely seems good for organization. I currently have sticky notes that I move around from page to page (each page being dedicated to a chapter) until I get my scenes and structure all mapped out. You can do that with “index cards” in Scrivener too though, right?

      3. Absolutely! And scenes are really easy to move around too. Plus, you can move to the overview and have it show the word count, POV, any notes you’ve made and a few other things – all on one screen.

      4. Have you ever done CampNaNo or NaNoWriMo? If you participate and win, they usually give a voucher for half off Scrivener. That’s how I first tried it. And they have Mac and PC versions.

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