by | Sep 14, 2023

A big topic in the author world is whether someone is a pansters, an outliner, or a little bit of both.

A panster is someone who just writes their story by the seat of their pants, not having too much of a plan when they begin. They might have a general idea of where their story will go but don’t know the direction it will take to get there.

According to Bing, an outliner is “…a person who uses an outline to plan and organize their writing project. An outline is a hierarchical structure that shows the main points, subpoints, and details of a topic or argument. An outliner can use an outline to create a clear and logical flow of ideas, to identify gaps or inconsistencies in their argument, to rearrange or revise their content, and to keep track of their progress.”

I fall in the world of a little bit of both, although I lean more towards the outliner side.

When I sit down to write, I like to have a pretty detailed idea of what will happen from one chapter to the next. But, as I write, I allow my creative side to take over and see what happens. This can lead to problems once the first draft is written, but that is for another day.

This month I would like to talk about the method I follow to create my outlines… or lack of method since every book I have written so far has come about by a different approach.

The system I used to create one book doesn’t always work for the next. Sometimes I have returned to a technique I used earlier, and it works. Sometimes, I just throw everything out the window and start from scratch. But there are some steps to my process I always follow.

I always start with a pen and paper (or tablet with my pen) and brainstorm what I want the book to be about. In the Moonflower Mysteries Series, I have the titles and some characters’ storylines planned until the end (or planned end; it may continue depending on what happens). This is where I start. For my new series, I am working on only looking at one book at a time until I really get to know the characters.

Days are spent writing out all my thoughts on this book—ideas about what could happen, what has to happen, and anything that comes to mind. Slowly I can see certain scenes emerge or the characters start talking in my head.

From here, I usually go in one of two directions:

The first is to sit down and start writing out the story in the order it appears in my head. This isn’t the actual story but more like a running commentary about what I would like to happen. Below is an example from my second book, Construction, Curses & Crime.

I write out the things I come up with, including notes, as I go through it repeatedly to get the story right.

Once writing it out no longer works, or I can’t see how to get from one point to another, I moved on to mind mapping, the second method I use in creating my outline.

This second technique is where I start creating stickies of the scenes and just placing them randomly on a board. I used to do it with actual sticky notes and a presentation board, but once I found an excellent program online, I did it there. One reason is that I spent time replacing all the notes our feline children have taken off at night every morning. Most of them ended up with teeth marks. Plus, I can use it on my tablet, allowing me to take it anywhere.

Here is an example from Halloween, Hexes & Handcuffs:

For Halloween, Hexes & Handcuffs, I started with writing everything out. I would then go back each day and add more scenes as I read through it. Or add the little notes I made throughout the day. You would be surprised at how little scenes can randomly pop into my head. My subconscious always seems to be working on the stories. And since my memory stinks, I have to write it down at that moment, or it will be lost.

In this phase, I write down the scene idea in the main color for the outline. For example, Samantha and Brandon run into Nikki. I then have branches out from there with different things, such as a green sticky to let me know it is a subplot issue or a blue one about background information I won’t include in the scene but is vital for me to remember. I do this for every scene I have written or is in my head.

From there, I continue to add and move around scenes. Like the other day, I completely changed the opening to Halloween, Hexes & Handcuffs because I needed to ensure the crime happened before the tenth chapter. Having this mind map allows me actually to see the story in its entirety and make changes. Plus, if I come up with a scene at the end where they figure out who is behind the crime, I can add the necessary clues.

This process is always where I have the most fun. Some of the scenes I come up with never reach the final book. They get places off to the side when they no longer work for me to possibly use in another novel. Some scenes can take the entire story in a new direction.

Once I feel like I have enough to begin writing, I go to a nice little sheet I created where I put down the story, chapter by chapter, making sure to include the timeline.

Here is an example of my storyline cheatsheet for Halloween, Hexes & Handcuffs while writing the first draft:

Then I move on to actually writing the story, using the cheat sheet, as I like to call it. As I go through the story, I make notes on these pages about changes I’ve made to the storyline or flip back to previous chapters to include notes of things I need to add. I also include all the little notes and missing items that I add in capital letters while writing to avoid disrupting the flow.

And this is my basic method of outlining a story.

As I said, sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. There have been times I’ve written a story without an outline. Although when that happens, I always find myself going back through the above method to figure out plot holes or what is missing from the story after the first read-through.

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