Adventures in Extreme Novel Outlining

I began writing fiction as an interior decorator of rooms that were ill-designed.

Hemingway Writing

“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.”

– Ernest Hemingway

Specifically, my early stories feature quirks and atmosphere but lack something in orchestration and plot. In other words, I began this adventure as a die-hard pantser who resisted outlining and structuring.

Over the past several years, I have slowly admitted that I actually thrive on using an extensive outline. It has been pretty strange to evolve toward something I so despised before and to realize that I hated outlining because I wasn’t taking it far enough!

Last month, I took a week or so to concoct a 60-page outline template. Sooo nerdy. More precisely, my new template is an outline, thematic map, research summary, worldbuidling bible, and character map. I’ve used it to write most of a novel draft and it is going so much better than my previous drafts.

Screenshot of Series Plot Template by Cindy GriggBefore this, my foray into outlining led me to use a spreadsheet (I was inspired by J.K. Rowling’s). While it helped me more than any other type of outline had, I was still struggling. This latest template has me finally hitting my stride, it seems.

What I’ve created is pretty over-the-top so I’m not comfortable posting it or sharing it yet. It’s pretty individual to me and how I think. So far, it has empowered my need to be super thorough, a need I hadn’t necessarily realized I had.

At any rate, my 60-page outline template is not all that revolutionary as writing tools go. It’s basically an enormous questionnaire to fill out as I flesh out the structure and all its moving parts.

IMG_7080But it feels revolutionary to my daily struggle with fiction writing! This way, I have my daily marching orders–literally. I can just head out on a writing walkabout as I dictate my novel into a digital recorder. It helps to now have a full vision of what needs to be created, as I take the outline for that day with me on my iPod for reference.

I’m finding that I’m more gracefully weaving all the threads of character, theme, worldbuilding, and other elements already mentioned. I think this is because I’m not preoccupied about where the story’s even going! Or what it’s even about. 🙂 Or who the people in it even are…

So that’s what’s going on in my fiction world right now. Happy writing in yours.

5 thoughts on “Adventures in Extreme Novel Outlining

  1. Jess Alter

    Congratulations on picking up this author tool which works so well for you, Cindy. I’m a ‘pantzer’, too, so I find myself returning to build backstory for characters and setting up chronologies, locations–the works. I agree it changes how I write, for I suddenly have more character motives–both of those present and those who show up later to influence the story more directly–to draw from.

    Excellent post, Cindy! Kudos. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jenanita01

    I have a sister who writes, and she is a definitely not a plotter. Time and again I have been told ‘Let the characters write…’
    And at first, that’s what I did, but found myself making copious notes on everything as I went along. Not to mention all the backtracking to fill in all the bits my characters assumed everybody knew.
    Gradually, this has evolved into detailed character maps and storyboard, and writing blocks are a thing of the past!


  3. Hannah G

    I have a theory that writers start out at the wrong end of the plotting-pantsing spectrum and work their way toward the right end or point in the middle, wherever that point or end may be. I started off as a hardcore plotter, but have been incorporating more and more pantsing into the mix… Otherwise I get slower and slower, stuck in the mud of planning until eventually I’m not moving at all.

    Still jealous of your extreme outline, though, and may take a stab at designing one for my own brain. 😉


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