All About Outlines


I write very basic, bare-bones outlines and they are definitely subject to change. I find it helpful because it gives me direction so I’m not waffling from one chapter to the next. That being said, sometimes the story I set out to write is not the story that actually comes out. Sometimes the characters have developed in a way that the original story outline no longer supports. As an example, I’m going to use my story “Grey”. If you haven’t read it yet and haven’t heard about the ending, read no further or prepare to be spoiled. When I started it, I had a plan that everything would end happily ever after. Bella and Edward would be together forever. Then, as I was writing it, I realized that this wasn’t the story I was writing at all. I had to go back and completely rewrite two of the chapters, because they weren’t true to the characters. Then I had to change the ending because I realized that Edward and Bella’s happily ever after would have felt fake. Edward was in a downward spiral and he was dragging Bella with him. They could never function in a natural, loving, healthy relationship and that truth became more and more obvious to me as I was writing. Three close friends helped me and advised me as I drastically changed my story and reaffirmed my suspicions that my outline no longer worked with the story I was writing.

Long story short – an outline is a great idea for helping you figure out what you’re writing. It can determine a general timeline and provide direction and consistency. It doesn’t, however, need to be etched in stone. If the story your writing no longer fits the outline you started with, don’t be afraid to branch out and sketch a new outline.


I love outlines. I outline the entire story and each chapter. I tend to get distracted, especially when reviews start messing with my resolve, so for the most part, I cling to my outline. I think it makes me feel more secure, knowing that I have an endpoint and I know where I’m going with the words. It also makes it easier to foreshadow and connect themes. It’s all about prep for me. If I do all the research and organizing ahead of time, when it comes down writing, I’m less likely to get stuck.


I’m very pro-outline. It’s so easy to get lost in a story if you’re posting it as you’re writing it. The outline doesn’t need to be detailed. I tend to make a skeleton of the story and then before I sit down to write the chapter, I flesh it out. It’s also helpful, if you’re like me and your characters randomly talk to you when you’re shopping or driving around. You can go home and write down the dialogue to use later or down the road.


I usually have a loose outline in my head when I start a story, but as I am working on it and get to know my characters, it changes a lot, so I won’t commit to paper until I am a few chapters in. Then I will loosely follow it, but if a good idea comes to me to add, I will. I never completely change the direction of my stories. I always write the first scene knowing what the last scene will be. Everything else is just the journey, and I may make a few side trips.


I have mixed feelings when it comes to outlining. Traditionally, I am not an outliner. As you can probably tell from my previous comments, my writing is very “free-flowing” in style. I can’t try to make my characters fit into a preconceived storyline–they gotta do what they gotta do. In addition, I tend to write out of order. If chapter 21 is calling to me one day, I’m going to work on chapter 21, even if I only have the first three chapters of the story written thus far. I have found that I have to write whatever is in my head at the moment, or I might lose it. If I deny myself the writing of chapter 21 when it hits me and expect that it is still going to be there after I’ve written the first 20, I may find out that I was wrong. As another example, I may have an exchange between two characters in my head. I have no idea where it’s going to take place in the story, but it’s demanding to be written and so I write it. Hopefully, if it’s good, there will be a place for it, somewhere in the story.

In a nutshell, I am innately far too disorganized for an outline.

All of that said, I find outlines to be useful when writing derivative fiction, if you are posting as you write. If you post chapter 1, you will have people expecting chapter 2 so you’d better know where you’re going with it. An outline helps with that.

I have also found recently that I will outline the second half of my story. By this point, I have my characters well in hand and I know what my story is going to be. I just need to organize my thoughts and know what is supposed to happen when. It is a good guide but I don’t expect myself (or my characters) to strictly adhere to that guide. My rule of “the characters gotta do what the characters gotta do” is always in play. If they take a detour, so be it.

Plus, my characters like to talk. As a rule, if I have ten chapters left on my outline, I plan on there being twelve.

My main issue with outlining has always been that, once I outline, some part of my brain considers the story to have been written. Why do it all over again, but with more words? It is therefore hard for me to find the inspiration to keep moving forward.


I outline plot concepts and ideas before starting a new story. I have general, vague outlines telling me where I want the story to go, but I don’t do chapter outlines, because it doesn’t work with how I write. I know where my characters are, and where I want them to be by the end of the story. I know where everything is supposed to happen, but the in-between is definitely not outlined. This is supposed to be fun, and I had to deal with outlines throughout college and law school. I hate staring at them.


I have a general outline and fill in the blanks as I go. It allows me to be flexible and not limit myself if I get a brilliant idea midway through. I definitely find it helpful – it’s my guide.


Almost everything I write is outlined to within an inch of its life before I get started. Plot, character outlines, etc. It’s very helpful when I’m not feeling very creative – I don’t have to guess at what happens next because I already know. I do mostly stick to my outlines, although sometimes I get better ideas for things as I go along. I never deviate from my outline because a reviewer has asked for something to happen, though.


Yes, I outline everything to within an inch of its life. Sometimes my outlines, have outlines. It’s excessive but again, it’s what works for me.

Obsessing Over Edward

YES, YES, AND HECK Y—sometimes!

Yes I outline. If I didn’t then I’d forget all of the wonderful ideas that pop into my head. I don’t have that kind of memory that remembers and recalls everything that comes to them. Honestly, if I don’t write it down within 2 minutes of having the idea, it’s usually gone with the wind.

I outline by chapters, meaning … as I write the story outline, I break them down into chapters. There are a few specific points that I start off with, and I plug them in according to the timeline. Once that’s complete, I go back and fill in the holes with what I think should happen with the characters to get them to accomplish those major plot points. Each of my chapters outlines, start off with a specific goal in mind and usually 3-5 bullet points of ideas that should be included. I don’t usually expound on the chapters until I’m ready to write them, and that’s when I talk them out with someone that thinks like I do.

The other reason that I outline is that sometimes, during the writing process, I write something that needs to be followed up on later. If I didn’t plug that reminder into my outline then I’d have holes throughout my story.

With fanfic, your reviewers will sometimes come up with something that you had never thought about. When an idea springs from a reader then I’ll put their idea in the outline, with their penname so that I can make sure to credit them with the idea if I decide to add it to the story later.

I usually stick pretty close to the outline. However, sometimes a plot becomes much more complicated than you originally planned. HOFY started out as a fluffy little baseball story that was originally plotted out as 25 chapter, but after writing Edward’s grief, it completely changed the dynamics of the story.

Complications that I hadn’t originally considered came out as his voice whispered to me. So, you have to be flexible with your outline, you never know where your characters will take you.


I do outline, but I also leave room for deviation in order to keep the characters strong. Most stories are either character driven or plot driven, and I try to keep a balance between the two. Occasionally a character will want to do something that makes me change my outline (usually Edward) but I always have the final outcome in mind whenever I post a chapter, but the final outcome starts off kind of vague and gets sharper and sharper every time the plot advances.


Writing a story without a plan is like riding a bike blindfolded. Unless you’re an experienced and/or ultra-gifted writer, we’re likely to see meandering arcs with random bumps that make our teeth rattle painfully, followed ultimately by a crash and burn. Whether your plan is on paper in outline format or merely in your head, you should at least have one. You should know why you’re writing the story. You should know how it’s going to be different from others in the fandom. You should have a vague idea of the beginning, middle, and end. That being said, don’t be afraid to alter your plan once you really get into the guts of the story. Don’t be afraid to trim out the excess fat. Just because it seemed like a good idea five months ago to have E and B go through all kinds of drama doesn’t mean that you have to keep it in now if you feel your story coming to a natural conclusion.

scarlett letters

I do, extensively. Yes, I stick to them for the most part, but do allow myself the flexibility to change things if inspiration strikes.


Yes and no. I tend to have a vague idea of what I’m trying to accomplish with the story — a theme, if you will — and then I always have a list of things I think are going to happen, in somewhat chronological order. I’ll plan the current chapter out a few days before I write it, or sometimes maybe two chapters in advance, but if I go any further than that, it goes back to feeling like I’m forcing the chapter and I end up having to chuck it. I plan out what I’m going to do to the characters, but I let them react how they want to.


Yes, always. It’s not as in-depth as some; just a line or two for each chapter, describing what happens. I pretty much stick to the outline. I make adjustments. If it suddenly occurs to me that “this” moment needs to happen in conjunction with that event, rather than the one I had planned, then I adjust. But the arc of the story, the events I planned, happen the way I intended from the start.

Tallulah Belle

I have an outline for Elemental. Did I follow it? Nope. I didn’t follow it except for key plot points.


Code Name: Nanny is the only story I’ve ever made an outline for. It helps a lot and I think it’s alright to change it a little bit as you go but don’t suddenly change your whole plot half-way through the story.


One comment on “All About Outlines

  1. Outlines aren’t really my thing. I have so many ideas and thoughts that it’s sometimes ridiculous. So I don’t refer to outlines as a means of organization. My ideas just come at the strangest times.

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