Outline: Draft 2 (What’s Wrong With Me?)

Succinctly: a lot.

However, as I’ve mentioned before, I write stories in complicated worlds. If I don’t do a lot of pre-writing, then I need to do a lot (a lot) of writing and even more editing. All my insanity now cuts down on the insanity I will need later in the writing process.

So… we’ve covered coming up with ideas, choosing the idea, roughing an outline, and carding your story. Next up is the exciting experience of updating the draft of your outline.

It’s suddenly occurred to me that not everyone had eight years of writing outlines to drill the process in your skulls. It wasn’t fun, but I do think it’s helped me out later (it definitely helped me in AP US History where I was required to write one for every chapter). For this post we’re going to talk about outlining.

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Lay It All Out: Carding Your Story in 5 Easy Steps

Last time I talked about the rough outline I make of my story when I first start to plan it out. The next step in my frighteningly detailed method of pre-writing is carding my story.

It’s possible that you don’t know what carding is (I didn’t until just a couple of years ago), but it’s an easy answer. Here’s a step-by-step guide to carding your story.

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Writing Plan: The Unchecked List

This time I didn’t do very well checking off my list. It’s not a surprise, but I’m still disappointed in myself. I don’t know what I was doing this month, but it wasn’t writing. It’s amazing how badly I did this month.

…I should probably move on, shouldn’t I?

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Take a Minute to Outline

By this point it should be obvious that I am a plotter not a pantser. I am also wordy. Strangely, though, I am only wordy when I’m trying to explain something or I’m talking to you. In my writing I usually need to add words in the second draft. Yeah, I know. Weird.

To deal with my inability to stop talking, I decided to break down my writing process into small steps instead of one giant post. (You can take a look at my longer pre-writing post here and imagine how much longer that would have been if I’d explained everything.) This first post deals with the basic outline.

This method is a version of the Snowflake Method, altered to work best for me. His guidelines are great, but some of the steps just didn’t work for me, and others needed to be modified. This is just another example of how to use things that work best for you.


A Ripe Idea (If you’re not sure if your idea is ready, take a gander at this post here.)

Depending on Your Preference:

A Computer and Word Processor (You could use your phone or tablet if you work like that.)


A notebook/paper and pen

Step 1

I write down my idea in one sentence. This sentence cannot be a run-on sentence; in general, I try to keep it under 20 words. I’m being descriptive and generalizing a lot. This is the sentence I can turn to when I’m introduced to a family friend (or a friend’s friend, I suppose) as a writer and they ask what I’m working on.

This is, surprisingly, the hardest part of this method because it’s only a sentence that represents my entire plot. Yes, you read that right: my 500 page book is going to be condensed into one sentence. If you’re willing to give this a try, it might seem daunting. Now, take a breath, and read some of the examples I’ve made up. None of them took me longer than five minutes (which is about as much time as you should spend on your version).

Examples (see if you can guess them; answers at the end of the post)

  • A boy wizard goes to a magic school where he finds friends and battles an evil Dark Lord.
  • A young man learns that his favorite books and magic are real,  but not the way he remembers.
  • Although her voice is beautiful, a young maid isn’t beautiful, especially in the court of the kingdom she has to save.

Step 2

Now I take that sentence and make it a paragraph. I’m more flexible with this than I am with the sentence, but I try to keep it to the standards of paragraph writing I learned in elementary school: 1 intro sentence, 3-5 body sentences, and 1 conclusion sentence. Sometimes I also allow myself a background sentence, but not usually.

This is the paragraph I can pull out when that person my grandmother introduces me to actually seems interested in the my one-sentence pitch. Someday, I imagine I may be able to use this method with people who actually can help my writing career. The thing I need to remember, though, is that the paragraph covers the entire story; it’s not like the back cover copy.

Tip: I try not to take too much time with this. If I’m taking more than an hour, I start doing other stuff and go back to it.

Step 3

The next step is to make this paragraph into a full outline. I start as far back in the backstory as I’ve imagined, and go all the way to notes for after the denouement. This is essentially the timeline for the entire story as it lives in my head.

I really like writing this part because it’s when I see all the holes in the plot. I usually know the beginning and the end, and some vague sense of what direction everyone has to go in, but here I find what works best for the story. The first of the surprises tend to show up here, and the story starts to take form.

Another tip: Sometimes you can go straight from this to a detailed outline, but I find it easier to card than outline it. Use what works best for you, but keep in mind that this is still a vague outline. Don’t worry about putting too much detail into it.

While It Simmers

There we go. That’s how I outline. It shouldn’t take longer than a day or two to do all of this,  I have a solid foundation for my story, and it’s all in a few pages I can easily reference when I need to refocus. If I have my world solidly in mind, then I sometimes jump straight into carding or writing. Otherwise, my next step is world-building, which I’ll do after letting the story rest for a day or two.

I’m sure I seem insane, but do any of you outline? What are your methods of pre-writing?

Answers (I took these books from the stack of finished books on my desk; tell me if you guessed right)

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone) by J.K. Rowling
  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  • Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

Plotting: Build It From the Ground Up

I love my notes and outlines, I really do. Right now I have a nice stack of them for my newest story sitting in my red accordion file-folder. Once I have all of my pre-writing done, I’ll probably move them into a 3-hole binder, but not yet. I’m happy where they are.

There’s something that should be said before I go into how I start outlining a story. The stories I love (and tend to write) have intricate plots with full back-stories and foreshadowing. Since my stories tend to have so much involved, I need some sort of plotting. Not everyone writes stories like mine or writes like I do, so this might not be the best for you.

Start Small

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Heartbruises and Black Ink

An absolutely brilliant look at another type of writer — one who need inspiration more than planning. Highly recommended blog that doesn’t have enough followers.

Oh, The Blinking Cursor:

Today’s post wasn’t on the blog schedule.  I want that out and understood, because it’s going to be a weird one.

We can call it motivation, I suppose.  But in a very real sense, at least for me, and I would assume for most people who write emotionally, who write poetry, their motivation is… emotion.  It’s what fuels a writer like me, fuels me.  If I don’t feel anything for what I write, its like there’s no soul to my piece.

It seems that writers of my ilk seem to thrive on heart-bruises.  A double edged sword, to be sure, because it means there’s constantly conflict.  In order to craft, we need it, and that means there is… rarely peace in our lives.

…an old writer friend of mine wrote a poem, and the following stanza is from it [see it here].

“…give me something to write about


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