Oh, the joys of outlining (not)

I despise outlining. It’s my second to least favorite part about writing (rewriting takes the lead by a mile), but I have learned I have to do it if I want to finish something within a certain amount of time. Not outlining nearly killed me during NaNoWriMo, and beside having a world goal of 20k less for Camp NaNoWriMo, I don’t want to risk it.

I outline using what I call para-chapters. It’s basically a chapter…in a paragraph. Example:

  • Unnamed character #1 is watching Unnamed character #2 steal a diamond from the jewelry store. Unnamed character #1 calls the police. Police come and mistake Unnamed character #1 as the jewel thief while Unnamed character #2 gets away. Unnamed character #1 watches from the police car as Unnamed character #2 gets in a sports car and drives away.

Simple, fast, and works pretty decently. It’s also really easy to change a few details without having to go in and do really major editing. But, if I’m feeling the need to get more complicated, I use something like this:


  • Unnamed character #1 walks down street
  • hears a loud crash
  • turns around

Inciting Incident

  • Unnamed character #1 sees glass on pavement in front of jewelry store
  • gets out cellphone
  • goes for a closer look

Rising Action:

  • Unnamed character #1 sees someone moving around inside
  • watches as Unnamed character #2 smashes glass case
  • Unnamed character #2 pulls out huge diamond


  • Unnamed character #1 calls the police
  • Alerted by the sirens, unnamed character #2 runs away
  • Police mistake Unnamed character #1 as jewel thief, forces to ground

Falling Action

  • Unnamed character #1 tries to explain they’re not the thief
  • Sees Unnamed character #2 watching the action, tries to point them out
  • Is forced into the back of the police car


  • Unnamed character #1 is read their rights
  • Unnamed character #2 leaves the scene
  • Unnamed character #1 watches as Unnamed character #2 gets into a sports car and drives away

I once met someone who did one of those outlines per chapter. They had the most insanely complicated outline I had ever seen, and then, at the end, threw away like half of it because they decided they didn’t like how the story ended.

Finally, if I’m not feeling either of the above options, I use something like this:


This badly drawn manuscript mountain (I was in a rush) is most likely one of the things that you were given in school. Maybe it wasn’t a mountain…maybe it was a roller coaster or just a hill. But, surprisingly, this form of outlining actually works really well. It’s one of the easiest ways to do it, and if you have it on a piece of paper it’s easy to work on it if you’re out.

When I use something like this, I don’t actually write on it. I use sticky notes, which I can peel off and replace without making marks on the paper.

I consider those three forms of outlining the easiest, simplest, and most common. Of course, there are a hundred more ways, which vary from extremely complicated to extremely simple. You just have to find the one you like.

Oh, and take Veronica Roth’s piece of golden advice: when you’re done…revise the crap out of manuscript mountain.

Happy Monday,



3 thoughts on “Oh, the joys of outlining (not)

      1. Same. I figured out that I have to outline before writing or else I get stuck and quit. At least after the outlining I can look forward to everything else. 🙂


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