Outlining for Dummies- part 1

How do I say this nicely?

If you don’t outline, you either already are, or are going to be a disorganised mess. We’re talking puke-on-a-boat-in-a-storm level of hopelessness.

Great; now that we understand one another, we can move on to how the fuck outlining works.

Since I only have experience with being me, I will explain how I outline my shit (metaphorical shit-I’m not perfectionist enough to outline literal shit. You shall fall in this precise location in the toilet, or suffer the consequences!).

My ideas usually start with just a character and a setting. So, I know that Jenna is a sarcastic bitch who has a dark past and a thing for kittens, and that she exists in a world where kittens are killed for their soft pelts, because the residing queen set a kitten fur coat fashion trend. The central conflict is obvious: Jenna intends to stop the kitten massacre, because she fucking loves kittens.

How does she do this? I don’t know- that’s where the whole outlining thing gets tricky.

Books are made up of major and minor plot points, where major plot points are the things that push the story forward in a big way, and minor plot points are the things that build up your readers’ hopes and dreams. For example, in Hansel and Gretel, a major plot point is that their dad left them in the forest, because if they were never abandoned, they would never have found the witch, and thus the story wouldn’t exist. A minor plot point is when Hansel comforts Gretel as they wander through the forest, searching for their trail of breadcrumbs. If Hansel hadn’t comforted his sister, would we still have a story? Hell yeah we would. Would we care about these kids being eaten by a witch? Um, probably not, because as far as we know , they don’t care about each other, so why should we? That comfort scene shows the relationship between these two characters, and builds a rapport between them and us, the readers so we become emotionally invested in the story. Similar scenes include any part where the main character has a joke-y conversation, or stops to pet a puppy…basically anything that helps us get to know the characters, or the setting.

Therefore, when outlining, I prefer to make a list of all my character attributes so that I know what I have to show. Any illnesses or quirks or fears also fall under the category “attributes”, by the way. Not just stuff like bravery and intelligence. On a side note, I’m sick to death of brave characters! They’re always brave, but reckless; and instead of their lack of strategy ruining everything, it always ends up paying off, because they care about their friends, and friendship is important. Ugh, fuck you- in an actual scenario, people would be hella pissed, and the war or whatever would totally be lost.

I also make a list of stuff in this world I’ve created- cities and cultures, types of people, names of locations, politics, education systems, wildlife, food…anything and everything that might affect my story. You can skip this step if you’re not writing fantasy or science fiction.

After creating these lists, I start working on my major plot points. I found that, rather than making the plot into another list, it’s easier if you tape together a bunch of pages and write them on that long sheaf of dead trees. That way, your story looks like a long road to success. Ha! Wow I’m funny. Ahem, I meant to say that this way, you have space to write down minor things that happen in between each point, or draw arrows to rearrange things.


Point A                           Point B                       Point C                   Point D                    Point E

stuff 1                               stuff 2                        stuff 3                     stuff 4

Each Point is a major plot point, and each stuff is a summary of minor plot points. For instance, in the story I’m writing now, Point A is when Jay, my protagonist, gets drugged and kidnapped. Stuff 1 in my story is what he’s doing before getting drugged, and the people he meets after getting kidnapped. Stuff introduces new characters and shows who your protagonist is; it’s world building and emotional development. Or, in my case, it’s emotional constipation.

Got it?

Now, as to how plotting and the sequence of events has to happen…ugh, that’s a headache and a half. I’ll go into more detail next week, but basically, what happens is you get your central conflict in mind (you’ve already checked with your embarrassment complex whether or not your could bear to have someone read something about this…like if you’re already blushing thinking about inflicting a story about cats being murdered on the world, maybe go back to brainstorming? Just a suggestion), you think up a goal for your protagonist, and then you ask yourself: how the hell is s/he going to achieve that goal, given this conflict?

Your answer to the question is the bare bones of your plot…of course, then you have to go from the other side of the conflict and ask yourself: how will the bad guy of my story prevent my hero/ine’s goal from being realised? How will they find out that my hero/ine exists? Alternatively, what is my bad buy doing while my protagonist is out saving the world?

The answers that you get from those questions give you more conflicts, which your protagonist has to overcome.

And then you have to mix these two rounds of Q&A together to get a coherent plot that flows, isn’t boring, and makes logical sense.

As if that isn’t enough work for one day, you have to then come up with subplots to…I don’t know…make it better?

I’ll discuss all of this confusion next week. Until then, let me know what you do to outline. Do you follow my list-and-think method, or do you do something waaaaaaay more creative and fun? Alternatively, let me know if you’ve got any good headache remedies, because my method is also a guaranteed cure for a painless brain.


12 thoughts on “Outlining for Dummies- part 1

    1. Lol, and I tried pantsing once, and my manuscript ended up being so messy and gross, it was a miracle I even found a plot! I completely agree that you should do your own thing- I was just talking from my own experience, and from the experiences my writing buddies shared with me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I really do think writers are one or the other. I’ve really tried the whole outline thing and it doesn’t work for me at all – I find writing and letting the idea flow organically seems to be much better (for me, at least).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Likewise- I tried pantsing once, ended up with a cute little manuscript that was so cluttered with subplots and characters that mysteriously disappeared that I couldn’t even figure out who my protagonist was, never mind my plot! Yeah, in terms of how writing works, I do agree that writers need to choose a side; even if you only outline a little, you’re still an outliner, so there aren’t that many shades of grey to choose between.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m an outliner too, and sort of similar in style. I do a very rough outline and then do the character bios and world building while simultaneously fleshing out the story. My characters do change things as we go along, so I have to negotiate and adjust the outline, but we all know what the goal is. I can’t imagine writing without any idea where I’m going.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I found that most outliners keep their outline kind of loose because of characters insisting on colouring outside the lines… I’ve never been able to construct a plot without knowing the ending either; my brain is too cluttered to keep track of everything 😛

      Liked by 1 person

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