Do You Outline?

I'm sure the G Man outlines. He must be.

Well, do you?  Reason I asked is that I've been doing this outlining thing in 2013. Over the last two years, I have proven myself I can write a story up to five thousand words with an inspiring prompt only, but my thoughts aren't organized enough to go beyond that. After you've been published several times in short story magazines, what else is there but trying to write a novel, right? So I've been outlining, trying to give legs to my ideas and put some rationality behind that enthusiasm of mine, to make sure it lasts at least two hundred pages. But what do I do exactly?

  •  Synopsis. I write a story overview from beginning to end. This way, I hit my narrative roadblocks on a five page document and not a seventy-five pages one. It's easier to go back and fix things.
  • Character bios. Short and sweet, but having accurate info. One of my biggest weaknesses is to only develop one character very well. The rest of the cast seems to exist to make that character look good. This way, I can make sure everybody wants something and has a life of its own.
  •  Timeline. Then I don't get confused about what happened when and most important, no more thinking about when my characters go to sleep and much less of writing it. That's a stupid flaw if there ever was one.
  •  Playlist. I just add song as they occur and keep it at the bottom of the document. I find it keeps me in the mood.
So, do you outline? If so, what do you put in there? Anything you would suggest doing? If you don't do it or don't do it anymore, what are your reasons not to? I've outlined for most of the weekend and my enthusiasm for my current projects has doubled, so I'm curious about your opinions regarding that aspect of long-distance writing projects.


I'm a pop culture blogger and author living in Montreal, Canada with my better half Josie and my dog Scarlett. I am a proud member of author collective Zelmer Pulp and have about a dozen of short stories published to my resume.


  1. I used to be a total fly by the seat of my pants guy. The problem with that was it made first drafts take forever and the rewrite/edit stage a bitch as I tried to get rid of the dead-ends and the pointless meanderings. I tried plotting everything out and working from a strict outline, but that wasn't me either. Now, I function somewhere in between. Idea becomes a plot sketch. I ruminate on it a bit, then, just really quickly, I bullet out plot points so I always have somewhere I'm moving toward. If something occurs to me as I'm writing, I'll jot that down too. Character stuff I keep in my head mostly, though I'll write notes as I go to keep from contridicting myself. Right now, that's working pretty well for me. Though honestly, learning to love the rewrite and fully understand what it's for has been the most help to me when it comes to producing a better story.

  2. Yeah, I'm trying to keep an open mind about it too, so I don't feel contrived while I'm writing the actual story. Rewriting is still the great shadowy zone for me though.

  3. Usually I outline in the form of letting an idea gestate for a long period in my head, but depending on the complexity of what I am writing (and the amount of characters in it) I occasionally jot down a skeleton framework encompassing beginning, middle and end, along with basic traits of the characters and what each brings to the plot. I had to do this with 'The Gamblers', which was too complex to just make up on the fly. However, once the novel was in the last third, and I knew where everything was going, I just let the characters do their own thing. This made the final part as surprising for me as it was for the characters.

    I also rewrote the hell out of 'The Gamblers', cutting an entire side-plot and dumping several other chapters that meandered away from the basic plot. I love re-writing and editing, because it often reveals a better story hidden within the synopsis or first draft.

    Novellas and short novels I just make up as I go along, rewriting and redrafting where necessary. It doesn't much bother me to go back and rewrite, particularly if where I'm going is much clearer than it was in the first attempt.

  4. Here's an approach I've found works for me: I'll start writing with only a vague idea what the story is about. Then, about a fourth of the way in, it'll all start to click and I'll suddenly know what I'm writing. At that point, I write a synopsis/outline sorta thing, written as if I'm telling someone the story of the book. That way, you can be sure of the flow, and that you aren't wasting time on pointless stuff (and you know how I hate pointless stuff...).

    Of course, it helps to keep the outline loose, so that you can change it on the fly, if need be.

  5. Figuring out how to rewrite will change everything for you.

  6. @heath & martin. Is it me or no one really has defined thoughts on the subject? Maybe it's meant to be that way, so outlines don't grow contriving.

    @Chad. I suspect the same. Hopefully I can end up writing something I deem that is not a total waste of time. I like where I am so far in my current project. I love what I did so far.

  7. I outline but rather than jot down who, what, where type notes, I try to come up with a problem or something that needs dealing with in each bullet point. That way I find it's more of a prompt when I come to writing it up.


  8. I think the beauty of outlines are that different approaches work for different people. My approach works perfectly for me, but I've no doubts that it won't for Heath or yourself, in the same manner that Heath's way of working wouldn't work for me. Experiment with different approaches, find something that works for you and then stick with it.

    Rewriting is a big part of the process – for me at least. I love the rewrite and wouldn't feel ready to inflict any of my work on the world without copious rewriting and editing. Some talented bastards (Jim Thompson, Georges Simenon to name a couple) could write a novel in a few weeks and do virtually no rewrites at all, but they're the exception rather than the rule.