What’s in an outline?

Every book I’ve written, I outlined. I am a planner by design (ho ho ho), and yet with each subsequent project I feel my planning process evolves: if not in cleanliness, in utility– perhaps because each time around, I better understand what makes a good story, and that allows me to better shape and reshape the whole thing at the skeletal stage.

Since the outline is a sort of growing, changing process itself (and must vary from author to author as much as from one to the next), I thought it’d be fun to share a snapshot of personal stats from my current one.

I first conceived of this idea probably last August, and began work on it more in earnest in October/November. There’s been a lot of stop and go with it between the holidays and another project so it’s hard to say exactly how much time I’ve put into it, but maybe that’s an accurate portrayal, anyway (because life IS stop and go, isn’t it?).

project: M

outline version: 4.0

page count: 31 single-spaced

format: chapter by chapter, bullets into prose

title: I started this project without one and FINALLY FOUND IT LIKE A WEEK AGO YAY

highlight colors: 3

text colors: 6

margin comments: 30

accompanying documents: 5

those documents are:

  • cuts
  • bullets that became fleshed out scenes (well, more fleshed out than the ones I left in)
  • a rambling list of story questions, plot holes, ideas, me talking myself through problems, tracking things, and points for consideration
  • a clean copy of a list central to the story
  • floor plans

placeholders? Yes, but very few at this point

research? Has been done; one minor subject left to

One thing I can say: my outlines are always messy at the start. I think because they are my truest first draft: the place where Editor Julie doesn’t exist, and I am literally just throwing ideas on the page as fast as they come to me.

Incidentally, this may be why even my outlines require drafts.

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2 thoughts on “What’s in an outline?

  1. Egads, 31 pages??? My longest outline was 6 pages. I wound up losing every bit of enthusiasm for that book because I got bored from knowing what would come next. It’s fascinating how different writers take totally different approaches to writing, isn’t it?

    • I KNOW, RIGHT? (Thirty-one pages seemed excessive even to me.) With this one I haven’t been able to stop the bullets running off into scenes and dialogue! Kind of flips organization the bird, but has definitely held me fast in the story.

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