An aspiring writer asked me to share my process for outlining. First, let me say that there’s no one right way to outline. If you find a process that works for you, follow it as long as it feeds your creativity. The process I’ll describe is mine and works for me, but it might not be the best fit for you. So please keep in mind that anything that doesn’t help should be discarded. Only hold onto the pieces that allow your writing to flow. Also, this is my process for outlining a novel, and there are different processes for other types of writing.
My first step is to figure out the beginning and the ending of the book. I need to have a rough idea of those two before I can do anything else. Typically, I’ll sketch out a few notes about each, but for the most part, the details are just in my head. One thing to keep in mind here, however, is that the ending I envision beforehand may not be the final form. In fact, there are almost always changes and alterations as the story comes into focus, but I have a general idea of where the story will stop.
From there, I sketch out each chapter individually, noting the primary scenes. I jot notes to myself on the characters involved and the basic components. These are usually in keyword form that will trigger my memory later. What I try to develop is a skeleton of the entire book so that I have a clear vision of the overall story arc before I begin writing. Much like the ending, the scenes that are developed during the outline may change through the course of the writing, especially as the characters surprise me in the flow of the action.
When I begin writing, I refer back to the outline regularly to make sure I’m staying on track with the overall story, but I also make changes to it as the story evolves. Quite often, I’ll realize that a scene belongs in a different chapter to make time line up, or I’ll scrap one altogether because it’s just not needed. Also, I may realize that a new scene is needed because some details are missing. However, by the time the book is complete, the outline and the book remain relatively consistent with each other.
So that’s my basic process. It ends up being fairly middle of the road between a rigid plotter and a seat of the pants writer, and for me, this allows me the best of both worlds. I have a good idea where I’m going and how I’m getting there, but I also have the latitude to allow the story to grow organically. Hope that this has been useful for you if you’re an aspiring writer, and for the rest of you, I hope this has been an entertaining insight into the mind of a writer.