The Thing About Outlines

I’ve tried on paper, I’ve tried on Microsoft Words 2004 and 2011, I’ve tried on Storyist, and I cannot make an outline. At first I thought perhaps it was because I cannot draw straight lines despite being a linear thinker, so doing it on paper is too much work because I have to use my ruler like I’m in the fourth grade again. Microsoft Word can make lines for me, but it is always getting mad at me for not using complete sentences and for making up words. Storyist accommodates creativity and lists everything very neatly in the sideboard. It ties outlines to characters and settings and plot points and chapter drafts.

So clearly the problem lies with me.

The most successful (i.e., least failed) attempt I have made exists on a piece of double-sided printed paper in size 8 font that is not even the full two pages. Needless to say “a page and a bit” is not particularly comprehensive of a book-length project.

I do find, though, as I’m making Attempt X of an outline, which parts I am most excited to write. This is perhaps why I have a page and a half of teensy writing that doesn’t get very far: because I have sections of pretty much first-draft scenes in the middle of an otherwise-dull outline.

In one sense this is a good exercise. The parts that ignite my imagination are obviously the parts worth writing. It is easy, though, to get trapped in those “transition” scenes before the exciting bits. It is usually during these scenes that I get stuck and decide to put “þ olde Hilroye” away for the evening. Maybe it will look better in the morning.

It doesn’t look better in the morning.

And then I wish that I had just written the poetic, violent death sequence that had played in my head over and over while I was looking up climate graphs for the Czech Republic to set the scene for pathetic fallacy while Sir Dies-A-Lot is on his way to said death sequence.

On the other hand, I now have a desk chock full of looseleaf paper – some of which is paperclipped, some of which have numbers, most of which have neither – that is probably enough to fill a book, without actually being a book.

Perhaps the most revealing evidence of my continuing issue with outlines is the face that this post was called “The Thing About Outlines” when I started drafting it in my notebook, after which I went straight to my laptop, rambled on, and in fact revealed several of my “things” about outlines.

So, the Thing About Outlines is: they’re killing people. Worse still, they’re killing people without any surrounding context. And for this, they must sit in time out for a while until they learn to play well with others (namely me).



  1. Hey Amanda Love the blarg so far.

    When coming up with outlines Iv always like the Jon CJG method. More than likely you’ve never heard of him and more than likely you would not like his show but he is a very intelligent writer and director. He essentially produces a 22 minute show on youtube every two weeks his story lines are smart and dynamic and amazing for a one man operation.

    For the outline process he starts with
    -Paper-Writing random thoughts in no particular order what so ever.
    -After that he takes those thoughts into a free program called “FreeMind”, with it you can create groups of thoughts in bubbles that can help to create that outline, This mind-tree essentially can be unlimited in size. Its probably a system that Bioware uses to keep track of all decisions in one of their games.
    -After that he uses a program that does cost money called “Movie Outline 3” essentially using it to make scripts and create proper dialogue with actions.
    -A Step that you could probably add in is from that you could write a book by creating a script then fleshing it out with details and transitions. When writing my self i’d often get so caught up in details and tryed to go from point A-B but when a change was needed I felt awefull about deleting whole bodys of work. I felt like I should have just done the bare bones before really fleshing out that story.

    IF you want to see a video where he explains this process Ill try to attach it. To me personally I see Jon Graham’s work as being some of the best amateur stuff out there. He does make a series called “Arby N the Chief”, its got some crude humor at times, but truthfully he does it because its a job that pays his way through film school. But behind the sometimes offensive jokes is a well written dynamic and innovative series. You dont need to watch his show, I just recommended watching his behind the scenes video and then see if that’s a process you can adapt to make your own outline and help you write your story’s or books with more ease.

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