FacebookPixel NoScript


If you’re anything like me, the idea of writing an outline before you start a new writing project makes you cringe.

I’ve never been a natural outliner. I was always the kid who wrote the outline after the paper was done so that I wouldn’t get in trouble for not using one, and when I was getting my MFA this was made worse by a class where we were forced to write and rewrite an outline, over and over, before we were allowed to begin a writing project. That soul-crushing class put me even more off outlines. I didn’t even want to hear the word for several years afterward!

Some people not only hate outlines, but don’t need them. They just sit down and write the story, discovering it as they go along. If that’s you, you’re in good company — Isaac Asimov, one of the giants of sci-fi writing and publishing, was rumored to be such a writer, and he wrote intricately plotted stories that you wouldn’t guess were unplanned.


Rules for Discovery Writing
Some writers discover their story as they go along.

I love the idea of discovery writing (aka pantsing, or writing by the seat of your pants.) My brain isn’t naturally suited to creating outlines — though part of me longs to be super-organized, too much planning makes me restless and I can’t stand it.

But the problem, at least for me, is that I hit a ton of dead ends, don’t realize what my story really is about or who my character is until after five drafts, and end up with a ton of loose ends and forgotten plotlines to clean up.

This can still work — I wrote Reinventing Hannah without using any outline at all — but it takes a looong time, at least for me.  Reinventing Hannah took me 18 months to write because I was figuring out my characters and story, trying one thing after another, and occasionally getting frustrated and not writing anything at all.

After working on Heart Failure for nearly a year,  I realized that my old method just wasn’t going to work for this project. There were just too many plot elements to keep track of and I couldn’t get a coherent story together. If I was ever to give birth to this book, I needed to find some sort of planning method that would help me get a draft finished.

If that’s where you’re at, read on, because I’m going to share my method with you.

Step 1: Use Writing Software

I recommend using writing software to help you keep everything organized, though if you are an old-school writer who prefers to do everything by hand and then just type your final draft, that works too.

I highly recommend the Plottr software, which currently allows you to pay a yearly fee of $25 or a one-time fee of $99. 

This software is amazing. I’ve been using it for about a month and have gotten almost an entire fanfiction planned in addition to 3/4 of Heart Failure. It offers a free trial so you can try before you buy. (Full disclosure: I love this software so much that I’ve applied to be an affiliate, though I’m not one currently.) If you’d rather not spend money, you can use Evernote, but it’s a bit harder because it doesn’t have the templates and interface that Plottr has.

Step 2: Get To Know Your Character

I agree with Libbie Hawker, the author of Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing, that strong novels begin by creating a strong character.

There are various methods of getting to know your character better, some of which I will be teaching in masterclasses in 2022. But for now, what you need to know is:

  • Your character’s name (obviously) – this can change later if you decide the name you’ve given them doesn’t fit anymore
  • A bare bones. idea of what they do. For example, in Reinventing Hannah, Hannah is a high school student who is involved with community service. 
  • Some sort of personal problem that the character will need to overcome in the course of the story. For example, Hannah’s challenge is to overcome her tendency to be a people pleaser.

And that’s it! You can learn more about the character later, but brainstorm these three things and write down your ideas somewhere. If you use Plottr, you can create a character entry for each character in your story and list these three things.


Step 3: Hit the Pivotal Moments

There are a variety of different story structures out there, but all of them require you to hit certain points,

  • How the story opens, aka your opening scene or opening sequence. This should introduce your main character and set up the conflict.
  • The inciting incident. This is the event that sets the entire story in motion — without it, nothing else would happen.
  • The first decision (called by various names) – This is the moment where your character decides to do something that puts them out of their comfort zone. In Reinventing Hannah, it’s the moment where Hannah decides she doesn’t want to isolate anymore and tells her friend what happened to her.
  • Midpoint – about halfway through the book, something happens that messes up the character’s previous plans and pushes the story in a different direction.
  • Second major decision – Things are getting really bad for your character and they decide to do something drastic that pushes the action toward the climax
  • Climactic point – the most dramatic, do-or-die moment in the story
  • Ending. – how your story is resolved

Don’t worry if you’re not sure about all of these right now.  If you use Plottr you will have access to a ton of templates that will explain exactly how these story points work and you can use those to build your story.

In any case, you just need to write one or two sentences for each of these points. You don’t need every detail — that’s what writing the book is for.

And that’s it! After taking notes on all of this, you have enough to get started on your story. If you get stuck, you can use this roadmap to figure out where you want to go. In my next blog, I’ll go over how to reverse engineer if you get stuck between two points.

Do you do any planning before you start writing? Let me know in the comments!

For more help planning your writing project, join my Facebook community for writers.

About Author and Writing Coach Jack Ori

About Author and Writing Coach Jack Ori

Jack Ori helps aspiring authors finish writing the books only they can write and get them out in the world. He is also a young adult and women's ficiton author; his second novel , Heart Failure, will be released in December 2021.

If you would like more support with your own writing projects, join Jack's free writing community on Facebook, Give Birth to That Book!

Find this helpful? Share it with someone else who could use it too!

Like this:

Like Loading...