Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to Write an Outline, Greg Style.

I participated in nanowrimo for quite a few years, and always the same thing happened: I'd start strong, writing well for the first day. Then, maybe I'd do okay on the second day. By the third day, if I wrote at all, my word count was way, way down. I don't recall making it more than 5 days.

That was true until last year. Last year I determined I would do this thing, and do it hard.

But how?

My friend, that is where the miracle of outlining came in.

A night or two before November began, I sat down with my previous years' attempt. It had no title, other than Tower. It was a dismal affair. Four pages. No story. Just a scene and a character with no shape whatsoever. As I read the scene, though, I enjoyed the world it conjured for me.

I started to write little summaries of what would happen next. Here's an example:

"She needs to pick up her bounty. From who? local drug lord? local boss? sherriff? She picks up bounty and hears about strange group of men. She investigates. Why? Because her current bounty is dead so drug lord won't re-hire her and she needs a new job. She hears this new group is hiring. She meets main character 2 - love interest."

This goes on and on. Can you sense the spur-of-the-moment-ness of it? Can you tell that I'm figuring out the broad motivations as I go along? You could call it discovery outlining.

This outline got less and less detailed as the story went on. In fact, the end of my outline was something like "they experience stirring resolution." It was pretty laughable.


It totally worked. 

As I struggled to write each day on this story about a girl in a desert, I found that when inspiration dried up I could return to my outline. "Just make it to the next plot point." I'd tell myself. "Doesn't matter how you have to do it." Sometimes it was easy. Sometimes it was hard. I discovered things about my world and my characters as I went. Halfway through my 50,000 word goal I re-did my outline, adding in later details and plot points using what I had learned so far. That made it even easier. It also made it longer. 55000 words ended up consuming only 1/3 of the outline, and the second half of it still isn't very detailed.

Can you tell I'm excited about it?

So try this, sometime. Just start outlining as if you have no idea where you're going and it doesn't matter. Ask yourself questions as you do it. Don't let yourself stop typing. Just outline. there will be time to think later.


Tyrean Martinson said...

Love your method! I use a one sentence (huge one sentence) plot line, and then write several big plot points before jumping into rough draft phase. When I hit a bad spot in the rough draft, I jump back to the outline and outline again . . back and forth, until it's all done.

M Pax said...

I usually write a few lines, but I like your idea a lot.

Anonymous said...

I would use the hero's journey method. Go into the new world etc. There's a good explanation at

Post a Comment


The Gregwriter © 2010

Blogger Templates by Splashy Templates