On Outlining

Outlining lost

Creating a skeleton of plot points, a pathway from A to Zee, an insurance policy against the creation of bloopers and bloomers, a guarantee of reader satisfaction.

…or planning, quite simply.

I came upon the need to plan after losing the plot with my first attempt at a novel. Three-quarters done and the plot broke down, mistakes were noticed, continuity errors – you name it.

One year of writing down the pan, yes, but I could learn from it.

My next attempt saw organisation in the form of storyboards, character files, story construction files and most importantly of all I had a beginning, middle and two possible endings.

It was time to start writing.

But I hesitated.

I had three firm points – beginning, middle and two ends.

I had roughed out ideas of how the story might get from each point to the next but that’s all they were – rough.

I wanted a better plan but didn’t want to end up hiding the wallpaper with storyboards, didn’t want a zillion organised files on my hard drive, didn’t want to stifle creativity, didn’t want to lose the electric joy when the words stream from your fingers like mojo and all you can hear is your own panting. Didn’t want to lose that.

If anything I wanted a way of writing that could give me more of its nectarious drug, wanted to fly by my pants without the side-effects of plot holes, bloopers and bloomers – and poor reader experience.

The answer was shorthand.

I climbed the wall to writing land and let fly, let the story buzz me as the page filled in a haze of typos and scribbles of production and direction notes, and, once a scene was done I would read it through and check that the moving story was the best it could be.

And so it went on, the creation of story… I was panting.

Soon the middle came and went and the chosen end landed with a thump. Fifty-four scenes, each a single page of scribble. I read it again after a week away and found a few gems, dug them up and twisted the plot by deleting scenes and adding new ones. I even found the beginning to book two, which I decided there and then would be added to the end of book one.

It was time to write…properly. You know, with indents and speech marks and best use of page space and no typos…that kind of properly.

With my outline file behind my blank page I discovered a fresh buzz. I knew the story – or at least the possible story – and the words came easy as each scene was built via my scene note prompts and with each scene new ideas blossomed.

The characters were easier to `write` because I had spent a few days scribbling their scenes and that proved to be a time of discovery; not just learning about the characters and how they might act and speak but finding ways to improve the story, scene by scene.

I was pleased with the end product. I’d managed to enjoy the fly by my pants experience knowing that I would be stopping off at predetermined safety points – and it worked.

Readers liked it too – that was the real test.

I have since used this process with some of my clients. One writer came to me a few months ago. She had self-published, her book was getting bad reviews because the ending didn’t work, didn’t satisfy.

We found a new ending, one that would satisfy, and worked together on a run of scenes moving the plot from A to Zee. She found the experience liberating, enjoyed the buzz of shorthand scribble and is now rewriting the novel with a grin on her face.  

Planning is important if you want reader satisfaction.

Flying by your pants is cool, but foolish without a net of safety points.

I wrote the second Kimi book in five days.

Kimi’s Secret: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005ZCQ91W

Kimi’s Fear: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00A9R61N4

John’s editing services: http://www.johnhudspith.co.uk/

Leave a comment


  1. gerrymccullough

     /  January 20, 2013

    This is such a helpful post, John. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    • Thanks, Gerry. More writers are realising the importance of planning and benefiting from the improvements. Here’s to better writing!


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