Friday, January 8, 2010


I'm a pantser. For those of you that don't know what that means, it means I like to fly by the seat of my pants when I write. An outline isn't really for me. But I have written the same story almost 3 times now, and I'm thinking an outline might be helpful. At my writer's group we had a great lesson by Kristi K. on outlining. She provided many different outlining techniques. My favorite is one that is a list questions you can answer that would give you a basic understanding of your story. Here it is:

Thirty Minute Novel Outlining Exercise
1. At the start of your book, what distinguishes your protagonist from other people? What central strength does he/she have? How does this strength get him/her into trouble?
2. When the novel opens, what is s/he on the brink of doing? Why does s/he say she's going to do this? What does the action represent for the protagonist?
3. What external situation will require the protagonist's participation thoughout the course of the book? How does this connect with #2? Does it help or interfere? Can you build in a deadline for extra tension?
4. What is the protagonist's goal for the time the book covers? How does this connect with the external situation? Or does the external situation divert the protagoinist from his/her goal? Why does the protagonist SAY s/he wants the goal to be? Is there a deeper motivation as yet unknown to him/her?
5. What problem (external conflict) does the external situation present? How can the protagoinist eventually resolve that conflict?
6. List at least three obstacles in the way of her resolving this conflict. Make one an internal obstacle/conflict.
7. How will the protagonist grow because of confronting these obstacles?
8. What do you want to happen at the end of the book?
9. What will have to happen to the protagonist against his/her will to make your ending come about?
To me this is not as overwhelming as an actual outline, plus I think it will help me to firm up my plotline.
Also at our meeting Kristy C. (MMW) told us about FREE software that helps you outline your novel.

I'm hoping this tutorial shows up. If not you can watch it on the link above. It sounds really good. You can make the outline as in depth as you want. I may even give it a try. I will have to let you know if this pantser can actually be converted to outlining!

Do you have any tips about outlining? Share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. To give credit where credit is due, the list of questions comes from an article by Alicia Rasley (she has dozens of raelly great articles on all kinds of things and blogs now at ). Here's the link:

    I used to be a pantser, but after ruining a couple novels and taking on a very intricate project, I'm a devoted plotter. Like just about every plotter I know, that doesn't mean that I'm roped into a rigid structure or that I know every twist and turn my novel will take, or that I'll even keep to my outline, but I do always know where I'm going in my story, if not exactly how to get there yet.

    I've done a whole series on various plotting methods on my blog: . My favorites are the hero's journey and Larry Brooks's story structure. Holly Lisle also has a free outlining/plotting workshop that I found useful sa a brainstorming tool: .

    Hope those links work; something about the old version of this embedded content box disbles cutting and pasting. >:(

  2. Jordan-thanks for those links! I was wondering where she had gotten the outlining exercise. It's wonderful!

  3. Wow, thanks for all this really helpful info! I love trying new ways to look at my work - I often find things that I can do to make it stronger.

    I'm like you, Nikki. I never used to outline. For the project I'm ready to submit now I started my first draft with ten plot-points jotted on a sheet of paper and that was my "outline." But after the fourth draft got rejected I decided I needed to get more organized. I created an outline of the book as a revision tool and it worked great! I could see the whole book by glancing through a few pages, and it showed me a lot of things I needed to change.

    I have yet to do a detailed outline BEFORE I start writing. I feel like I'm still finding the process that works best for me. Maybe I'll try it on my next project and see how it goes.

  4. Easiest outline ever?

    Three disasters followed by an ending. Each disaster is worse than the one before.

    That's it.

    I love it.



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