Forum Friday: How Do You Outline?

Unless you are a prodigy, a diehard pantser, or some combination thereof, an outline is an absolutely essential blueprint for writing a novel. An outline allows us to chart events, organize them, rearrange, cut, add, develop characters and motivations along the way. It’s kind of a like a scale model of an elaborate mansion or theme park: you are visualizing the full, complex picture before you start building, and by planning it all out first you are saving yourself valuable time and reconstruction efforts!

But how to go about doing it?

Here are just a few of the possible methods out there:

  1. Flowchart
  2. Word Document
  3. Sticky Notes
  4. Note Cards (see haphazard starter attempt top right)
  5. The All-Encompassing Super Spreadsheet of DOOM (aka JK Rowling Style)

Sureasmel of Ink Out Loud mentioned Final Draft, a program that brands itself as screenwriting software, but can be very useful for novel outlining, too. Here is a handy dandy, color-coded screenshot from her:

An outline from Sureasmel using Final Draft 8

Be sure to check out Sureasmel’s full and very informative post on outlines, too.

All methods have their pros and cons. From personal experience, I would strongly advocate AGAINST starting with a word document– it’s very difficult to see where everything is at once and move things around. But once things are basically set in place, a word document is great for quick and tidy reference.

So how about you? How do you outline your books, and what method(s) do you find most effective? ***NOTE*** If you already have a photo of an outline or outline attempt on your blog, I would be happy to show it here, give you credit and link to the post in which it appears.