Monday, December 2, 2013

What's Your Outline Style?

Do you use outlines? Or are you a seat of the pants (SOTP) writer?  Or a little of both?

I hated outlining in school; my brain found it difficult to narrow the info down to key points. It's much easier now - I suppose an adult perspective offers a broader view. Breaking down the process helps, and I share these pointers in two of my teen writing classes:

The outline can help keep the writing plan organized and on track. It is like a paragraph or a story; there is a beginning, middle, and an end. The beginning is the introduction and includes the opening thoughts. The middle contains supporting facts and the end summarizes and concludes. It helps to break the topic into categories: introduction, body, and conclusion.

Outlines should not contain every little point you intend to make. Highlight the main points as a guide. Formal or informal – whatever your preference, the outline breaks the topic down into manageable and organized pieces.

For small projects, most of my writing is SOTP. I often have a mental outline or a scribbling of notes to aid the process. Larger projects get at least a rough outline. Usually. :) When revising, I often categorize the info as I review the material to make sure I covered everything.

Here are a few links that offer help with outlines:

Perdue Online Writing Lab - This site offers info on outlines, writing, research, citation, and more. It's a valuable resource for junior high through adults; my students and I use it often. 

Jeff Goins - Mr. Goins shares wisdom for writers of fiction and non fiction. One tip he shares on this page is to write a table of contents as an outline guide for a book. Hey, this is what I did with my book!

6 Secrets to Writing a Novel Without Outlining - Brian Klems confesses how when in school and required to write an outline for his story, he'd write the story first. I'm pretty sure I did that too. 

What's your outline style? Were outlines hard for you in school?  Have any tips to share?
Happy writing,


P.S. A few of you asked me to let you know when my book, Homeschool Co-ops 101, came out in paperback. It was released last week. :)  Check it out here.
Photo credit: Stock Exchange

Text content copyright Karen Lange 2013. No part of the text may be used without written permission from author Karen Lange.


  1. Congrats on your book release in paperback. I like to outline the key plot points and then fill in the details as I go. I may try outlining a few chapters ahead as I go. We'll see when I get some time to write.

  2. It's free-form, but I always outline my novels. I'll spend as much time getting the outline right as I do writing and revising. For shorter pieces like guest posts and articles, I'll just jot down a couple key points first.
    Congratulations on the print book!

  3. Hi Karen! I found this post fascinating. I am a very anal person, so I just figured outlining was too 'button down' for what a writer was supposed to do. I have been sort of free-wheeling it for a while now.
    But now I feel like you are giving me permission to outline. Yay! I think I would like that very much. And letting me know that I don't have to get it all down, just some jumping off points, is key too.

    Thank you for helping me organize my thoughts today!

  4. I tend to write a very broad outline and then add little notes so i don't forget stuff. Comes in very useful after the first draft and I realise all the stuff I forgot to put in.


  5. The first thing I do is summarize the story act-by act. This allows me to see plot holes. Then I take each act and divide it into chapters. The chapters I do outline, to be sure I don't forget to include key pieces of information. Once that's done, I get to begin my favorite part---the storytelling!

  6. I hated outlines in school. I always wrote the report first and built the outline afterwards. While I don't hate outlining anymore, I don't find they work very well for me. With my current WIP, I have done more structured pre-planning than ever, but still - no actual outline.

  7. Natalie,
    Thank you! Even when we lay the best of plans, it can all change when we write, can't it? :)

    Thanks! It's interesting to see how everyone handles projects, big and small!

    So glad to be of help! It really is a matter of personal preference, I think. I say do what is the best fits your style. :)

    That sounds like what I do sometimes. I have all sorts of notes scribbled here and there for certain projects! :)

    That sounds like a good plan. I'm with you, my favorite part is the writing! :)

    Now see, I knew we had a lot in common! :) No super big outlines here either. Structure yes, in some forms, but no outlines that can be graded. :)

    Happy writing,

  8. I'm working within an outline right now--sort of :-) It's historical fiction and I keep coming across scenarios I'd love to incorporate, so the picture is still evolving. So I'm both--working from an outline and the seat of my pants. Thanks for the links, and congratulations on the release of your book!

  9. It is so funny- I hated outlining in high school, too! I now need to outline before I write. I like to have an outline of my characters and what I think will happen in the story. I am open to changes as I write, but I find that when I spend more time thinking beforehand my ideas flow better when I sit down to write. :)

  10. Kenda,
    Thank you! Your method sounds like what I do sometimes too. It changes, lol, sometimes depending on my frame of mind. :) Best wishes with the book!

    You know, that's another good point. That helps me with certain things I write, and then with other things it's totally SOTP. Go figure! )

    Happy writing,

  11. I often have some kind of an outline (in my head, not on paper), but most of it comes while writing... so, I have a tendency to type faster and faster as I go, because the ideas keep coming!

  12. I feel so insignificant. When will I be able to write better? I realise I need to work harder at it and use all the tips and pointers I pick up from here and a couple of other blogs. Discipline, discipline, discipline...! I love to visit your posts.

  13. Seat of the pants girl, here. I have a general idea of where I'd like to wind up and just keep going until I get there. Sometimes I surprise myself. You have to trust your writer instincts, too. Thought provoking post, Karen. =0)

  14. I have a file on my computer of good links and blogs for writing but my sewing machines have been getting most of my attention. I also received a Kindle last year and my reading has gone up as well. I keep that folder as I know the writing bug will bite again :) Hope you are having a wonderful holiday season. Merry, merry Christmas!

  15. If you hear someone cheering, that's me! I appreciated Brian Klems' article over at Writer's Digest. Oh, and if you haven't guessed by now, I'm a SOTP writer. :)

  16. Marja,
    That happens to me sometimes too. It's interesting to see how it works for my writer friends. :)

    So glad you enjoy stopping by. Always enjoy stopping at your place too. Enjoyed reading your story about you and your brother. What an adventure! You are a better writer than you think. :)

    Susan S.,
    I think you are right - trust your instincts is the best way to go. And for everyone that's different, and can be different for various projects too. :)

    Oh I am sure the writing bug will get you again! Always enjoy reading your posts. Keep me posted on how things are going! :)

    Susan R.,
    Yes, you are the one who first explained to me what SOTP meant! Back when I was a little greener than I am now! lol :)

    Happy writing,

  17. I always wrote the essay first and then the outline. I wasn't (and still am) a big fan of outlines.

    Thank you so much for visit my blog and leaving that nice comment. I look forward to your future post! <3

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  18. Diana,
    Neither am I! Guess you could tell, right? :) You are welcome - enjoyed my stop at your blog. Looking forward to dropping by again. Thanks so much for swinging by!
    Have a great weekend,


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Have a blessed day!