12.24: Creating Great Outlines

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley

How might you go about creating great outlines? There are many processes, and we cover several of them.


Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Take the list of events that you’re considering putting into your story. Create a list of scene types, and assign your events to these scenes.

8 thoughts on “12.24: Creating Great Outlines”

    1. @Jon Mayo: King states in his biography that he learns what the book is about by way of writing it. He starts out with a situation and then, along with the characters, figure out how to deal with it. Why bother with the plot, he says. On another occasion, he sort of contradicts his own statement by saying plot is king (no pun intended) – as a means of stating that you should never deviate too much from your story by getting hung up on beautiful prose and such.
      There are a few exceptions, though. He outlined Insomnia, and was not satisfied with it in the end. Same with Rose Madder, if i remember correctly.
      There is also a long section in the biography where he describes the difficulties he had with the last third of his book The Stand. He didn´t know the ending for that one at all.

  1. Loved this episode, guys! Using history as the framework in my space opera comes naturally to me, because it’s my day job, lol, but it also makes a great shorthand when planning. Rather than write out, OK, they’re fighting this dirty war and it’s X and X and X… , I just say Ok, this part is like Vietnam, and this guy is like Henry VIII, only meaner, and these guys act like British officers in India. It’s a shorthand that lets me capture a whole set of feelings I want to convey while concentrating on story stuff like theme, structure and motivation, and how that would work with plasma rifles. 😉 My version of “write what you know.”

    But I’ve been hung up plotting the WIP, so I’m going to sit down with my epic music playlist and try Brandon’s trick, what scene would play out to *this* score…

    Love these all, thank you!

  2. I loved Mary saying “the outline is the bits you don’t want to forget”. I’m a short-story discovery writer who finds it easy to have my creativity locked out by an outline. I thought, “hey, I can do that!” which is a huge help.

    I attempted a novel for the first time with last November’s NaNoWriMo. I slammed into a wall. I felt I needed some kind of outline structure that fit my writing style.

    I may also borrow Brandon’s methodology of benchmarking important plot points back from the ending. I always have a beginning or end in mind. (often both).

    I think there’s a trap one can fall into where you feel your prequel has to go out of its way to explain every character quirk or affection a character has in preceding (but chronologically later) works. The first Daniel Craig Bond movie was infamous (at least in my own mind) for explaining things that didn’t need explaining.

  3. I love this exercise. Just yesterday I was working on a document for the seven-point story structure (which is the one framework that’s worked best for me, so far), using the YouTube lectures. I couldn’t force any one story of mine into all the seven points, but I did find at least one example for each one. It even helped me identify one of my problem areas. I always knew I tend to paint myself into a corner as it were, but I think I’m zeroing in on the exact problem.

    I was suspicious that the outline episodes might not be relevant to me, but they’re proving very useful.

  4. I’ve been trying to outline the second draft of my novel (the first draft had an outline, but it wasn’t very detailed), paying attention to the recursive structure of the plot. (The main character wants Thing One, but in order to get it, she needs to get Things One-A, One-B, and One-C; in the course of trying to get Thing One-A, she has to solve Problems One-A-(i), One-A-(ii), and One-A-(iii); and so on.)

    Then I tried to bind the various parts of the story together using Mary’s “yes, but / no, and” technique. It’s easy(ish) for me to figure out how to apply that technique to the innermost levels of the outline, the ones that refer to the individual scenes (yes, MC solves problem One-A-(i), but that solution creates problem One-A-(ii)), but when I try to recast the other levels of the outline in “yes, but / no, and” terms, it often feels either forced or redundant.

    I’m not sure if this is a sign that I’m being too anal-retentive about my outline structure, or if it’s a sign that there’s something in my plot that I haven’t thought through clearly enough.

  5. Great episode !
    It’s one of the theme from WX I most benefit from.
    Being a discovery writer, I used to be an eternal first chapter writer. Not as you often mention a perfectionist who always rewrite the same 1rst chapter but because I used to be stuck in this strange zone where I’m quite happy about the chapter I wrote but the story thus discovered calls for an outline and the moment I outline, I find myself both afraid of the scope the outline gives to the story and bored in advance because every thing is laid out….

    Thx to your outstanding podcast, I’ve been able to understand the reasons of this mental block and also the remedy: always try to find something more, and even some things more to spice up a chapter and manage to get all excited again about what I’m writing.
    A long process but I really owe my success in curing this blockage to all your advices! Thanks a lot.
    Now, I find myself with the same king of difficulties in the editing process… how not to get bored in this quite fastidious task ?
    You have done several episodes on editing, on the technical aspects of it but as far as I recall, not really on the way to manage the task mentally.
    Do you have advices on how, maybe not enjoying editing, but at least getting some satisfaction out of it ?

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