Writing PSA











  • Writing is hard. 
  • Outlining is harder. 
  • Trying to create a logical, step by step outline with character motivation based on an existing draft is damn near impossible. 

Plan ahead, kids

I’m facing this struggle right now. I’ve basically decided to throw the whole draft out and rewrite, with the draft as a reference/bible.

It’s hard, but I don’t regret it. I’m learning loads. Outlining helps me sleep at night.

I’m finding that I like outlining, because I think it helps me avoid major structural errors, and the enforcement of connecting the scenes via character action and consequence helps keep the pacing going. 

I used to think that outlining the book meant killing the surprise, but there’s still room for the story to move and change once you get in there. I like knowing off the bat that all the scenes I have planned out work – they’re dramatic, serve a purpose in the story, and are interesting.

I can’t figure out why outlining doesn’t work for me. I love making lists, and I work better when I have a to-do list. Editing involves less teeth-gnashing for me than drafting because I finish a scene and move onto the next one.
I also write/think in episodes, so I will have snippets of future scenes written and then will be guiding my story towards that event as I go. It gives me something to look forward to incorporating into the novel draft. You would think that outlining would provide me with a little list of things to look forward to in the same way.
And yet, every time I sit down to outline, all I get is a vague list of bullet points that gets thrown out about halfway into the draft. Maybe it’s a lack of discipline? Maybe I haven’t found the right outline format yet?

How do you approach your narrative structure? do you use any of the formal structures you find writing craft bloggers talking about online?

There are a lot of them. I tend to divide the story in a weird way. but I always figure out my major points, usually with Inciting incident, climax, midpoint as the first things I figure out. I HAVE TO KNOW what the midpoint is. I have to know what my big twist and or change in the middle of the story is. 

I never, never, NEVER outline by taking out a blank sheet of paper and then going like this:

1. Dean is running late for an audition

i. Dean hears a little girl crying
ii. Dean helps her find her mother and is now late for the audition 
iii. Dean can audition because the whole thing is running late 

I would die of fucking boredom and despair if I tried that.

What I do is i get together some index cards.

Real index cards. I could use the corkboard on scrivener but I find that the actual cards in my hands are better because of one thing that I will describe below. on each card, I write a sentence like:

Michael offers Dean huge sum to leave Cas; Dean rips the cheque into bits.

And then the next one could be:

Dean brings Castiel home to his place in Burnaby and is ashamed of it.

So far nothing connects those two cards. so I will have to connect them. But for right now I’m just coming up with simple scene ideas. I can write some of them in order, but I write whatever comes to mind, one sentence per card. each card is a beat. It might be a whole scene, but it’s probably less than a whole scene, and that’s okay, that’s fine for now.

I arrange the cards in what I think is the correct order, but I don’t *write* them in order. I usually just write whatever’s in my head. and then I read the cards in the order I think they go in, but once I get about say 40 cards for a novel, I shuffle them, and read them out of order. (i’ll end up with at least twice that, though.) The point isn’t to rearrange them in order, but to see if I can CONNECT the scenes to each other even if they don’t happen one after another in sequence. 

so let’s say that i have an anonymous note in one of my scenes, and in scrambled order the anonymous note card is next to my hero meeting a friendly person who supports them after a failure. 


yeah I know you wanted the antagonist to write the note. BUT WHAT IF? is that cooler? is it more interesting? do you have to do another GMC table all of a sudden? Or what if the friendly person saw the antagonist write the note, and wants to use their harassment of the hero to further their own plans?

this is why ONE SENTENCE PER CARD even though that sentence may not sum up a scene, but only a beat in the scene. so now you have room to note connections, motives, foreshadowing, symbols, epiphanies, etc. you can use the front of the card and the back. 

I shuffled the cards for Project Blackwing a few times and wound up with a few surprises that way. 

once I feel like I need to read the cards again, i put them in order (which might have changed because of the shuffle game) and I reserve the index cards that don’t fit (they might later, or they could be discards) 

Now I read the cards in order, and say, “and because of this,” or “So therefore” and read the next card. Does it follow? no? That’s a hole. a card needs to be rewritten, or a new card needs to be filled in, or there’s another card for your discard pile. once I can read the scene cards and feel like I have no gaps, THEN i can write my linear outline or even a synopsis based on what I have scribbled onto my index cards.

And that looks like this:

Scene 1 – Dean is running late for an audition in downtown Seattle when he hears a little girl crying. torn between making the audition on time and helping a child, he turns back and finds the girl’s mother in a nearby Starbucks. He’s going to be late, but he continues upstairs anyway and manages to audition for a lead role, doing his best.

Scene 2 – Castiel can’t believe the hot guy from Starbucks who saved the day is auditioning in front of him. He chooses Dean, not wanting to even look at the other applicants. He calls Dean’s cell phone.

Scene 3 – a telephone number with a Seattle area code calls. Dean’s on international roaming and the charges are outrageous. He decides to take the call and it’s Castiel, asking him to come upstairs to discuss a contract. Triumphant, Dean returns to the office. 

That’s a lot longer than the 1. i. outline but it’s a lot more detailed, so it’ll help you remember what happens next. 

i’ll try it!


I am so amazed by people who have the ability to outline. I can’t do it. I’ve outlined three fics and then felt like I’d already written the fic and that’s where it stayed. An unpublished outline.

You guys have way more skills than me.

“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”
George R.R. Martin

If George RRRRRR Martin gardens his way to a blockbusting series, so can you.