Master The Outline – 12 Methods For Plotters & Pantsers – Part II

OutlineingLast week I confessed all kind of Pantser secrets. Like the fact I’m a filthy dirty  cheating hybrid and I actually sit somewhere in the middle of the plotter-pantser hot tub party.

One of the biggest differences between plotters and pantsers is whether or not they outline. In last week’s post, I talked through the first three of twelve outlining methods, including:

  • Chapter Outlines
  • 7 Point Plot Plan
  • 3 Point Plot Plan

Today I am going to run through the rest of them.

Method SIX – Flash Like A Streaker

The flashlight method, is one I think is genius. It’s like the ultimate hybrid method.

It works by starting to write, then outlining only so much as you can see. Illuminate just enough of your next few chapters for you to continue writing without falling off the plot cliff and watching your novel crash and burn because you nawzed it right up. For example, say you’re on chapter 4 and you know loosely what shit you’re going to get your main character into for a dozen more scenes, then you just outline those. You can forget the remaining 300 scenes, and only plot just far enough ahead to keep you going.

Good for Plotters: because you know what’s coming in advance, allowing you to have crossed and dotted the appropriate vowels and consonants.

Good for Pantsers: because you don’t have to plot the whole book before you start. You only need to jot notes for as much ahead of your current point as you know. Meaning, you stay on track but also have flexibility to change stuff up when needed without having to force out plot twenty chapters in advance.


Method SEVEN – The Arty Farty Writer

CC Picture, credit here.

CC Picture, credit here.

There are a stack of methods you can use to outline if you are visual. The most common being the mind map.

But you can also use a flow chart to plot chapters, or character arcs or pacing.

Joanna Penn has a great article explaining what and how to use mind maps  for outlining.

Good for Plotters: because you can quickly and efficiently plot the whole of your book on one page. There’s nothing better than a one page overview.

Good for Pantsers: because you can freestyle, the act of mind mapping is in itself a method of going with the flow, lines and bubbles are put wherever the voices in your head tell you to put them. Do it in pencil and you can change to your heart’s content.


Method EIGHT – Geek Out With Your Apps Out

Photo by Kent Bye

Photo by Kent Bye

There are so many apps, tools and programmes designed to help you outline and keep track of your novel related buns in the oven.

You can use excel to create scene list by way of plotting. There’s a great article on The Write Practice on this topic.

But it’s not just excel that you can use. Scrivener is infamous for its ability to help you to plot out and plan your novels. Just check out the YouTube tutorials from the Scrivener Coach.

Good for Plotters: because you can go nuts with these programmes. You could drown yourself in the heavenly fountain of plotting details.

Good for Pantsers: because umm… okay, not so great, it’s pretty detailed to be fair.


Method NINE – All Context & No Plot Makes The Pantser A Happy Writer

I nearly peed my pants with excitement when I read about this type of outlining. I immediately promised myself to at least attempt this.

You know when you’re reading a story and the start of a chapter its thundering and lightning, only to find at the end of the chapter the sun is shining at full pelt despite it being monsoon season?

Well context outlining will help stop you doing that.

The context outline, involves plotting out (in order ideally), every ‘venue’ or ‘location’ in your novel and any associated contextual information.

Context outlining is  the ultimate cheat. It’s everything BUT your plot. It’s locations, timing, weather, and anything else big picture context you think is relevant to your book.

Good for Plotters: because you could do this as well as another type of outline. You can bathe in the detaily goodness of minutia and continuity

Good for Pantsers: because it’s not your standard outline. No plot required, bitches. Fill your boots with the shit you usually fudge up, while not having to determine any of the plot.


Method TEN – Meta Like You just Met Ya Novel

Let me make a huge sweeping generalisation that’s bound to annoy some one. There’s two types of people in life: big picture people and small detail people.

Big picture folks, like me, love nothing more than bathing in the glory of the end goal. It’s a little catalyst of pug  puppy joy for them. They constantly think about the end game and are happy to play strategy tennis, taking short-term botox injections for long-term baby face.

But what they forget to do, is think about the process of getting there.

Me: So you wana work full-time as a writer?

Me in my head: Sure do.

Me: Awesome… How you guna do it?

Me in my head: Oh… Shit.

When it comes to writing a book, you need details as much as you do plot structure and story arcs. The beauty of outlining is that you can play both to your strengths, or if you want some self-development, to your weakness.

If you know you’re no good at remembering whether Johnny Jr. was fat and wore silk gloves or skinny and blind, then build an outline for those kinds of details. You could note them by chapter, or by arc journey i.e. he’s fat at the start and by chapter 20 he lost 87 stone.

Stuff you could include in a META outline are things like:

  • Was the splodge on the dogs back brown or black?
  • Foods characters eat
  • Habits
  • Any notable changes to characters from the start to the end
  • Any quirks to settings
  • Character names
  • Family relations

Good for Plotters: because this method is detail to the max. This is the kind of outline that would give a true plotter a big fat outlining Ohhhgasm. It captures all the tiny details you don’t want lost and you can plot them by chapter if you want

Good for Pantsers: because it helps you not lose all the shit plotters write down and we might otherwise forget, change, or simply f*** up.

Scott Westerfield’s (author of the Uglies series) article on this very topic is fab.


Method ELEVEN – Snowflake

Image credit: creative commons

Image credit: creative commons

Possibly the most well known of all the outlines, Randy Ingermanson created the snowflake method.

The premise of his method is to start small and work up to a long outline and eventually novel.

  • Write one sentence about your novel
  • Expand it into a paragraph
  • Then a page… and so on

Good for Plotters: because it is a true outline, you build on what you know and develop it into a full outline which directly leads into a full manuscript.

Good for Pantsers: because you build on what you know. If you only know one sentence, that’s all you need to start. Although the method dictates completing the outline before you begin, you don’t have to. You could get to a paragraph, start writing bleeding on the page and then expand as you go.


Method TWELVE – K.M Weiland

Image from Amazon

Image from Amazon

So, my intention was to have finished reading this book before I recommended it, but I haven’t had time to finish it, and I’m impressed with what I’ve read so far. K.M Weiland’s book Outlining Your Novel, is less of a method in itself and more of a comprehensive guide to outlining.

It’s an outlining bible. It guides you through making a decision on what kind of outliner you are, things you should include and the different methods in which you can do it.

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So there we are. That’s all twelve methods. Which, if any do you use? And have I tempted you to try any new ones? Let me know in the comments below.


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53 comments

  1. While reading your post I thought that I am a mix of a pantser and a plotter. I love to have a structure and a frame but also give myself the freedom to extend the frame and add chapters. It was funny to look at it that way.So your tips always related to me.. lol!

    1. Well I am glad they do, I suspect a lot of us are hybrids really. It’s kind of hard to be inflexible and only do something one way, because then what happens when a plot hole arises? How do you get out of it?! I do a few things from a lot of these methods I reckon. 😀

  2. Does anyone really do any of this stuff???!!! I mean, I just think of a story, mull it around in my head for a month or so, write a basic plan on sheets of A4 and stick them on blu tack in the wall in front of me, then start writing. Then I take down the pages and add to them/change bits as I think of better ideas. I bet that’s pretty much how most people write, even though, admittedly, most will care too much about their interior decor to stick blu tack on the walls.

    I like the article, though, your turn of phrase is good to read!!

    Good tip for people who understand the importance of doing some planning, but are impatient to get on with it – each day, when you think ‘I’ve had enough today’, do this: under the 300 or 3000 words you’ve just typed, make a few notes that will remind you where you were, and what comes next. Helps that staring-at-a-blank-screen thing when you go back to it, especially if a few days have gone past.

    1. Who knows. I think I tend to filch a few elements from a lot of these. I tend to write chapter outlines (which doesn’t sound that far off your version) a few people mentioned that the flash light works for them and a couple others use the snow flake method – that doesn’t work for me though.

      I love that tip – I think you even have said it to me before- but it’s very true. Knowing what you were thinking the day before, really does help you to pick up where you left off 😀

  3. I think I’m probably closest to the flashlight – I have a fair idea of where I’m going, but like to concentrate on where I’m at, at the moment. It is interesting to see all the different outline methods, but what each writer does is probably an individual interpretation or conglomerate.

      1. It’s hard to explain… I should do another post about it soon.
        I basically write a basic summary of each chapter for the whole novel. Then while I write I outline each scene and plot point for every chapter with post-it notes. I stick it all in a notebook so I can easily move them around if I need to. I also list characters, plot points, editing notes, etc on large index cards.
        It’s probably more work than I need, but it works for me. 🙂

        1. OH YES. I do recall seeing a post with pictures about your outlining. I do remember now. Each to their own. I do love a post it note actually and often use them to help me scrawl notes 🙂

  4. I feel like I’m a few of them, but I guess I call my method the Join the Dots method. I don’t even write in the right order half the time. If I know there’s a cool bit in Chapter 12, I’ll jump forward and write that, then I might go back and do chapters 10 and 11, and then I’ll go back and beef up chapter 9 for some foreshadowing, and then write chapter 13. I’m daft though.

    1. I’ve said this to a few people, but I feel the same. I can see myself in a few of these too. so I don’t think I know another non linear writer, but I find that fascinating. I write pretty much linearly, but if I get stuck I might move on just one chapter. I love that you can hop all over the place 😀

  5. Wow. Lots to digest, Sacha! I see the strengths in so many of these variations. What I find really interesting is the idea that probably most of us are a little of this and a little of that blended into a unique mix that works individually. I can also see how outlining methods might change as a book progresses, moving from a looser model to a more structured one as the book works toward its conclusion. For example, the flash method seems great for the start of a book, but may not work as well at the end when the loose threads need to be tied up. The snowflake method is something that I use when I’m stuck. And the context method seems tied to world building and character bios, which if done well, will help channel the story. Interesting and thorough outline of outlines 😀

    1. Yes I agree – I just said the same to Debby actually. I can see a little bit of me in a lot of these. But I did exactly as you said. Pantsed my way through the start of the novel and then wrote a really structured chapter outline for the last half – how funny that you guessed that some people would do that.

  6. Well Sach, I’m a definite cross between a Streaker (Method 6) and a Snowflake (11). Even as a plotser (I call myself), I couldn’t pants through an entire book without some kind of an outline. I need a direction outlined and continue to plot as I write. It’s so interesting to learn about how others structure their books! So in summation, I guess I’m a Snowflaked Streaker, LOL.:) xoxo

    1. hahahaha snowflaked streaker! hilarious. You do make me laugh. I honestly don’t know what I am. I can see myself in a bit of all of these. I guess I’ll figure it out the more books I write.

  7. I used Ulysses (for Mac) until Scrivner finally came out with an iPad version because it allowed me to keep notes on characters and places in lieu of a “meta” outline. However, as someone who gravitates between planning and free-wheeling, when it comes to making sure I don’t contradict details, I also find the search feature in my word processor is a good tool to double check what I’ve written.

    That being said, I’m never averse to going back and rewriting the old passages based on the new details simply because I like the new version of the character (or setting) I’ve envisioned. The reader will never know my homophobic athlete is now a transgender universalist minister,

    1. OH MY GOD. WHY have I never thought of using the search function?!?! I feel like a right tit now! BUT EPIPHANY. You are going to save me so much time. Best comment ever! Thank you

  8. Outlining, hmm. Mostly it`s in my head but I do write down the characters that helps me a lot to build up their voice, okay so most of them don`t need that, they are loud enough in my head. But I will write a chapter outline in a batch as I go along so I guess I`m No.1 “Flash like a streaker.” lol Great post, Sacha. 🙂

    1. I think it probably is for a lot of people actually. haha, love that you’re a streaker. I am in some ways too, although I am trying to train myself to be able to do all the outlines of the chapters at the start – it’s hard though, not my natural inclination.

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