Tuesday, 28 June 2011

How do you write a book outline?

One of the first things I heard about when I started down the path of writing my first novel was that a book should start with a book outline. Okay, I thought, show me an example. I surfed the web and came up empty. That was over a year ago. More recently, I've had two books on the go, and after 30,000 words or so, it was getting pretty hard to remember where all the various plot threads stood. Does X know that the death was a murder? In this chapter, does she already know the name of the victim, or not? I really needed a better outline tool. I had been using a word document in which I provided a brief outline of what happened in each chapter, but it was cumbersome to find the exact piece of information I needed when I needed it. So I thought I'd take another look for a "book outline" tool. Thankfully, Cameron Mathews of Truckpoetry.com came to my rescue with a useful tool. It's a simplified take on the "snowflake" method, so I thought I'd give it a try. It's called Cameron's Outline helper (http://www.truckpoetry.net/2007/09/author-resource-outline-helper.html). It helps you build the scenes and characters and helps you track your progress towards completing the various scenes. It was originally designed to help with NaNoWriMo (which I haven't participated in), but I'm using it pretty successfully for my two works in progress. I have made my own modifications to it as well. For example, I don't really want to know how many more words I have to write to get to my goal; I'd rather go by words completed. I guess I'm just a "glass half full" kind of person; I want to know what I've achieved because it gives me the motivation to keep going. I'm also tempted to combine some of the tabs. For example, two tabs are about the characters in your book. I'd prefer to include all of the information in just one tab, so I know that when I click on the tab, I'm bound to see the information I was looking for. And, something simple, I've renamed the tabs because I couldn't remember what information was which step. So far, so good. It's helped me summarize the plot points of each scene much better. And I wrote over 1,000 words today, bringing me up to over 38,000 in Grounds for Death.
I hope your writing is making progress, too.


  1. Glad to know it's helping you. I struggle with wanting so so desperately to plan and yet only finding great success at "discovery writing" aka flying by the seat of my pants.

    Anyway, while I flail about trying to find my way writing (and stalling out in revision) on my mysteries, I'm glad, at least, to know my little tools and gadgets find good homes :).

  2. Thanks, Cameron! Your outline format really helped. I finished the book (all 65,000 words of it)!

  3. Nice - you are welcome and glad it helped!