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Nov 12, 2012

NaNoWriMo Tip #12: My Favorite Outlining Method


These are my personal tips for NaNoWriMo. You know the drill. Take only what works.

I learned this outlining technique from my dad, also a writer, when I was twelve. It remains my favorite and most heavily used method of outlining my books. It’s nice for long, complicated plots with multiple points of view. If you’ve read my Unfinished Song series, you know I love those!

Once I have played around with my plot cards, and I’ve settled on an order, I want to have my outline in a form that is still somewhat fluid (I still might add, delete or switch around scenes), and highly visual, but less easily disturbed by a cat looking for a place to nap.

Also, by now I’ve usually compressed several cards into one, and expanded other cards into several, so it’s all become messy. I pick out a nice pen and grab my pile of colorful post-it notes to write the new, clean plot points onto each post-it note. I try to keep it to a line or even just a word or two. It’s just to remind me of what the scene is; I’ll write a longer note about it as well in the third outline I keep on my computer. Again, you may not want to have this many outlines. This is just how I do it.

Post-it notes come in many sizes. I suppose you could skip the index card step by just writing out your plot cards on the larger size post-it notes. I prefer the smallest size, which is 2x3, and I always try to find a variety of bright colors.




I buy, borrow or re-purpose a three ring binder, not too thick (half-inch or inch) and fill it with hole-punched blank paper. At the top of each piece of paper I write the name of the book, the Act (sometimes) and the Chapter number. The “chapters” in that series are quite long, between 7,000 and 14,000 words each; each chapter has between 8 and 18 scenes. Each post-it note is a scene. I stick it on the appropriate page, in order. The post-it notes stick well to the paper, although they are also easily moved around.

In the Post-It Outline for my Unfinished Song series, which is written in third person, multiple points of view (PoV) I use the different colors to indicate whose PoV each scene is. In my current project, if I decide to write it in First Person, that won’t apply, so I might use the color codes for something else. Main plot versus subplot, perhaps, or something to do with setting.

The advantage to the Post-It Outline is that I can flip through the binder, and tell at a glance which chapters are too full of scenes and which are too hungry for scenes. I can tell if the pace of the novel is accelerating; if it is, there should be more (but shorter) scenes in the later chapters. I can tell by the color codes if I’ve remembered to include a scene or two with each of the main characters in every chapter. As a rule, I need the protagonist to be in a reasonable proportion of the scenes. If I see there aren’t enough post-its with her color, I know I’ve let the subplots take over, and I prune them back.

When I write the next outline, on my computer, I consult the Post-It Outline. I continue to consult the Post-It Outline even after I’ve commenced the draft, and sometimes beyond. In the days when I had to write synopses for agents, I would consult it again. Nowadays, I flip back through the Post-It Oultines of previous books in the series to refresh my memory about earlier events. (I used to have each book in its own binder, but I’ve joined the whole series into one larger binder.) It’s important to keep it current.

1 comment:

Ink in the Book said...

I use post it notes, too, but not like this! I *love* this idea! What a fabulous way to see your chapters and scenes at a glance. Thank you for sharing this tip. It's excellent:)

Yay!