How I Write: Outlines

JV How I Write

Today’s writing topic is all about outlines and how they work for me. I’m not going to stand here (sit here, really–still haven’t put together my new standing desk) and tell you that every writer must use an outline. For me, it helps. I stress out if I don’t know where the story’s going, and it freezes me up. The issue of “not feeling inspired or surprised” with an outline doesn’t affect me, because I’m constantly being surprised by what my characters do, and I often have to change up the outline a little bit (or a lot a bit) as I go.

What does my outline look like? It starts off as scrawled bullet points in a notebook, and I usually think each bullet point is a chapter, but most of the time I smoosh them together so that several bullet points, or actions, go into each chapter.

Once I’m done with that, I type them up and print them out. Then I can refer to the print-out easily while I’m drafting. This is a pretty messy process, usually, with additional notes scribbled in. And if I get stuck, I sometimes doodle in the margins.

JV outline pieces

This happened a lot in the typed outline for the Haunted Halls: Winter’s Cavern trilogy, and you can see an example above. 🙂

As far as how I structure my books, it depends on the book. Is it a standalone, like the YA fantasy I’ll be publishing later this year? Or is it a series of books that need to tie together, like the two Haunted Halls trilogies? Each individual book, regardless of how long it is or whether it’s a part of a series, follows the three-act structure and from there, I follow Blake Snyder’s format that he shared in his book Save the Cat. It’s a pretty straightforward way of outlining a book, and I’ve written several novels with his format as a guideline.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful or at least mildly interesting to someone! Questions? Stick ’em in the comments!