Writing: It’s ALL About Plot Outlines

Today, it’s all about PLOT OUTLINES.

A good plot has a few ingredients that help make it a success: characters the reader can care about and identify with, engaging dialogue, interesting conflicts or obstacles, good sub-plots, the enticing pivotal moment, and the all-important wrapping up the loose ends.

What’s the best way to figure out plot? Some writers are pantsers, and let the plot unfold as they write the story. Others map out their plot in some sort of plot outline — on index cards, whiteboards, handwritten on paper, intricate maps, etc. There is no right or wrong answer; use what works best for you.

Admission time. I’m a former pantser turned plot outline convert. Don’t get me wrong. I love the freedom of letting the story tell itself. But when push comes to shove, I love the freedom I have from knowing where my story needs to go, even more. Maybe it’s the “control freak” in me, but the visual map keeps me on track. I can clearly see the beginning, middle, and end of my project (as well as all the little conflict points, which truly is a great motivator my plot isn’t going to wilt away to nothing). Since the outline breaks everything down into little steps, it gives me hope and peace of mind my story works and can be finished. This. Is. Totally. Worth. The. Time. Spent.

If I want to deviate from my outline and change something, NO worries. There’s always room to be flexible, as long as I make the effort to review my outline and make any necessary adjustments to other parts of the outline. No need to stress about tying up loose ends, after the fact. My feeling is anticipate the problems early on, and it’ll give me more time to focus on my creativity.

Make your outline as detailed as you like–in fact, I highly recommend it. Remember the outlines from high school? The ones where everything is numbered and lettered with indents in an orderly fashion? Yes. That would be the way I plot. Handwritten, then typed into Scrivener. I can even organize index cards on the corkboard…

My Sample Corkboard on Scrivener


Then I organize my chapters… Look! I love seeing a Table of Contents, it makes me see my project as a REAL book.


After the plot outline, I’ll format my chapters on Scrivener and start writing…


The photo below shows a rather famous plot chart…thanks to Slash Film for this one .


JK Rowlings Plot Chart for ORDER OF THE PHOENIX!!


How do you plot?

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Vivian Lee Mahoney

Consider yourself warned: I write books about rebels. I'm also a postergirlz for readergirlz, a literary advisory group for teens. Who knew going back to the teenage years would be so rewarding?

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