Thursday, November 19, 2009


There's lots of ways to outline and different ways work for different people. Some find outlining doesn't work for them at all, others have a fluctuating outline.

I have found I need some type of framework to keep me focused when I write. Especially since I've started fast drafting and I don't have as much time to figure out what I last wrote and think what's supposed to come next. Those of you who are working moms know that time is almost as precious as chocolate.

How it works:
I break my story into 20 grids on a big piece of butcher paper like in the picture. Each grid represents a chapter. Now, this isn't set in stone, but it makes me think what's going to happen first and most importantly how it will all work out in the end.

I number each grid 1-20 in black marker. Then I give each chapter a header like this:
1. MC is in ordinary world. Extraordinary thing happens.
2. MC called to adventure- denies the call
3. MC meets mentor and can no longer deny the call

On the bottom of the grid I write Setting:_______. This keeps my characters from hanging out in the school cafeteria chapter after chapter. I find setting such a great writing tool, so I like to vary it and think of places I've not seen in other books.

Then in the big chunk of space provided, I insert sticky notes. They are color coordinated like this:
Green- main plot
Pink- romantic subplot
Yellow- secondary subplot (for me it's a family situation)
Blue- my antagonist (he's got his own evil agenda going on)

I write what happens during the chapter for each of these onto the papers and stick them into place. I like the sticky notes because they come on and off easily since changes do happen as I write. They also give me a quick visual where the subplots are showing up.

And that's it! This outline works for me because it keeps me from rambling off on some wild tangent (as I like to do), it forces me to think of the story as a whole, it's easy to change, and it's a great visual for what's happening in my story.

Do you outline? If you do, what tips do you have to share?


Kelly Polark said...

WOW! Now THAT is organization!

Jennifer Shirk said...

Oooh, you are too organized for me. LOL
How long does it take you?

My outlining is VERY...not good. LOL I usually do a general two page outline and then expand on it as I write and get ideas.

Angela Ackerman said...

I tried to do this once and failed miserably. I think for me, all I need is to know a few key scenes, and how the book starts and ends. If I try to plan to much, I hit a wall. I'm one of those types that needs lots of room between a & z so I can get a little lost. Lost is good for me--interesting stuff happens!

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

goodness - how organized. I just try to set up a document that has a sentence for each chapter on what the chapter is about. Then, I keep adding to it as I move thorough my manuscript. Its kind of a simultaneous process

Carmella Van Vleet said...

Yow-za! I bow down to your organizational greatness! When I first start a new project, I do a spider web kind of approach where the MC in the middle and anything and everything I can think of (setting, other characters, motivations etc) go out in random threads. Later on, I have a grid type outline. It always changes as the story progresses, though.

Brenda said...

WOW! What a great system...I wish I could be that organized...Hugs..

Christina Farley said...

Ha! You crack me up Kelly. I guess I am organized which would have sent me laughing hysterically prekids. But the thing is I'm a terribly determined person and if it means I have to be organized so I have time to write, let's do it!

But it's really not hard. I think this took me about two hours to make. Of course, I did a lot of brainstorming beforehand.

And it believe me, things change all the time. Like when I wrote the first chapter, a character was supposed to show up, but never did. :)

Nina Berry said...

Very cool, very visual way to outline! Sounds like something tv writers might do on a big white board as they outline a script.

I outline too, and it goes through a few "drafts" (though that's way too intimidating a word for the changes that occur.) The first outline is just a few spare lines that give me beginning, middle, and end. Then I fill that out by looking at my structure charts (mythic story structure, screenplay structure) to see what bits will inspire me. Then I just write the outline, which can go on for pages, with sort of arbitrary chapter breaks that always change completely when I actually write the book.

But outlines are GREAT! Knowing the end before you start and having at least an idea of how to get there really propels your writing along.

PJ Hoover said...

You're super organized! I've yet to find a tried and true method that works each time. And so I keep trying various things, from massive, in depth, outlining, to not so much at all.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I bow down to you, Oh Great One! You are seriously organized. In life I'm like that. In writing not so. I jot down notes ideas, type them up and then start writing.

Christina Farley said...

I'm giggling now. And far from worth being bowed down to! :) PJ and Sharon, I think you're right, everyone has something different that works for them. That's the brillance of storycrafting isn't it?

Nina- Hey! Fun hearing from you. Yes, it now that you mention it, the chart is kind of like what those TV people do. You would know more than I would.

I always wished I could go and see the storyboard for Lost, especailly when I heard that they had like three seasons to the end already finished. Makes some great plot lines that tie in so nicely!

Meg Wiviott said...

I am impressed! I usually don't outline. At most, I draw a kind of table - think of Excel (though I don't use Excel) using columns for different plots (i.e. main plot, romance, best friend, family) and the cells for what I want to happen in each plot thread. It usually changes completely, but it's a starting point.

I like your use of butcher paper - it gives lots of room. I'm usually trying to squish everything into a word document. Maybe I should use Excel.

Rena Jones said...

I write mostly PBs, but did outline my one MG. I have to admit, it wasn't nearly as organized as yours. That's great!

Crystal said...

Oh. My. Gosh. Christina, you are SO organized! I gotta take my hat off to you. Wow! I kind of do some sort of outline on yellow legal pads, as far as sketching out a cast of chracters and scenes, but that's about it. Love your system, though! :)

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Nora MacFarlane said...

(long, low whistle...) Impressive! I'm like Angela, I tried this once and it really hemmed in my creativity. I'm definitely the "right-brain pile" kind of gal. I need to know the beginning and end, a few key plot points and the stakes. I take off from there.

tkread said...

Hi Christina! The link to this was actually listed by another one of Jill's students in our follow up class email group! Small world. Love the new website and your pitches are great. Fingers crossed for you. Your time will come soon I know! tk read

Christina Farley said...

TK- That's too cool! I'm so jealous you got to take another class with Jill. She's amazing.