Fine, I surrender. I’ll outline. But you better do it with me.

Into Google I went, and the second result to “fiction outline template” was this super linky post by Jennifer Mattern, which I post here for your use.

Okay, I admit it. It’s really for me. If you want to come along, you can too. You know you want to try it. All the cool kids are doing it. Except Stephen King. But he’s not a cool kid. He’s the dorky guy with all the money living in Maine with J.B. Fletcher from Murder She Wrote. I wonder if they know each other?

I see on the site that Jennifer got an award for “101 best Websites for Writers” from Writer’s Digest. So that’s not a totally made-up award. She’s got it from 2011 to 2015, so they sort of stack up the little yellow discs and it’s cool. I suppose if I was important, I’d know who Writer’s Digest is. Nevertheless, it sounds toity and important and stuff. And she looks serious. Look at her. Serious writer. I need serious. So do you.

There’s a link to “First Draft in 30 Days” which is like the gym for writers. Get in there! Lift those adverbs! What sort of weak outline is that? Go back and redraft! You think you’re going to outline in EXCEL?!  I’d have to buy the book to get in shape, though. I’ll consider it.

Back to Jennifer’s site:
I clicked on “No Plot? No Problem. — by Chris Baty” and as you can see, it says:

Page not found

Ouch. I’m wondering about the metaphysical message of No plot? No problem. Page not found.

Oh, look! The link for Fiction Book Outline Template — from is a free goody, a form! I love forms. Outline Worksheets, free for life. There’s a lot of forms… Hmmm. Do I have to answer all of this stuff? There’s a lot of boxes. A lot. Go look. You’ll see. If only it were a fillable PDF so I could type everything instead of using, blech, pencil!

Not sure that’s for me, but… here’s something! Index cards!!! (squeal!)

Okay, I’m kidding about the squeal part. I don’t like them all that much. Maybe I can learn to love them, like Dr. Strangelove and the H-Bomb.

Karen Woodward uses index cards. I’m down with that. That’s a professional trick of the trade for screenwriters. You use freaking index cards. Says she uses a program that simulates the index cards, which is also cool. I dunno if that’s me. Can I just use excel with a lot of open workbooks?  This looks extremely organized, down to the “did your villain remember to pack his toothbrush and floss?” kind of level. I’ll look at it in more detail.

Inevitably, I’m back to Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. I think it works, though the story I composed using that method didn’t turn out to be the story I wrote. It kept changing. I think I knew it wasn’t working when I was doing the outline, though it substantially changed the initial thing I worked on – 20 thousand words of something that could be potentially salvaged in the future to make it work.

I’ll give Randy’s method a go, again, and it’s back to motivation/reaction units, and scene/sequel. Does ANYONE actually write this way? Besides Randy?

23 thoughts on “Fine, I surrender. I’ll outline. But you better do it with me.

  1. Hey Jacqui! Yeah, I know the process– you start with your single sentence (Log line) of the story, then expand that into 4 sentences of logline + act 1, 2, 3. Then expand the sentences into a paragraph each… then into a page each. At some point I’m supposed to fill out all the information on the characters– EACH ONE– (ugh) and that includes unstated goal, ostensible goal, what happens to the character during the book and what’s the character arc.

    I was hoping to find a website where I could just hit a button and it’d do it all for me, instead of the above. ;D

    I’ll bet Tolkien didn’t use the snowflake method.

    Then again, it took him 10 years to write the novels because he got stuck… which wouldn’t have happened if the man had simply outlined.


    • Are you using Karen’s methods outlined on her site? And where’d you find a good index card app? The link she had didn’t work, but I was thinking there has to be a good index card program. Or… are you using REAL INDEX CARDS?!!!!!!!1111


      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m working mainly out of two books- Planning Your Novel, by Janice Hardy (her website Fiction University has a ton of info on it–it’s what led me to buy her book) for the outline (she refers to it as a synopsis. It’s nice if you’re a plotter like me, but I don’t think a pantser would enjoy it as much because there are a lot of exercises based on developing your story beforehand. The second is Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. And, yes, I’m using real index cards. Ones that I cut myself no less, because I wanted nicer paper! I’m all about longhand outlining and first drafts.


        • I confess I laughed when I read you wanted nicer paper for your cards. But it was a nice laugh, like when someone says “Why buy Nestle when you can get Ghirardelli?” (Answer: About $4 difference, that’s why.) What a nice way to enhance something. I think I have JSB’s book, but maybe I’ll take a look at Janice. JSB is the lawyer, right? The one they said would never be able to write, and then he basically hacked through all that to discover the secrets of writing that he is now willing to sell to anyone with a few dollars and an Amazon account. 😀 I’m not dissing that, but it amuses me. I liked his book, it gives a lot of hope, and really nails the 3 act play. Good stuff. I blame Kristin Lamb.

          So far, I’m more a pantsuiter than a plodder. Though sometimes my pantsuit makes me plod. I know, I-know-, in my heart of hearts, that an outline is right for me and I must do one. Plus, I can spec my book to the guy running the book universe and all that, instead of making vague noises: “It’s, um, about some marines, and stuff.”


          • Price-wise it’s not so bad since I already had a paper cutter. Better than buying Exa Compta cards. JSB has a bunch of books, and according to reviews I’ve read a lot of them rehash Plot & Structure, which I think is his marquee book. Yea, it’s all on 3-act (so is Janice Hardy’s), but I’m writing a 3-act so it works. I admit, I really like craft books–have so many I haven’t gotten to yet. Nancy Kress’ Beginnings, Middles, & Ends is another really good one, but I think it’s better for applying after you’ve got your first pass done.

            I’ve got Kristen Lamb’s log-line formula pinned to my mag board on my writing desk 🙂 keeps me from blundering along like “yea, so my book’s about these people that sorta need to save the world because, yanno, the gods aren’t cool…yea.”


    • I like Excel a lot. Other folks seem to love Scrivener, because I guess it caters heavily to plotting and outlining. I suppose perhaps a compare and contrast blog post on writer’s programs might be something useful, and maybe I’ll find a friend in a program where i can push a button and it’ll all just happen automatically.

      I’m living in a fantasy novel, aren’t I?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think I have a very well-developed method of outlining. Though I make a general outline for an entire story, then split it up into chapters, then outline each chapter. I do this all in a notebook. No fancy computer thingies for me (actually, I’m a computer geek, but I still like using paper for some things).

    Anyway, found you through Linda’s blog. Following! I write science fiction, too.


    • HI JayDee! Welcome.
      So why use paper? It just seems like a lot of work, especially if you want to move things around. Maybe I’m too attached to Ctrl X, Ctrl V. Though– a thought, perhaps index cards might be even better than a notebook? Jaime is trying it (see comments above) and it sounds kinda like what you’re doing already. I was reading one of these professional development books called “Save the Cat!” and the writer is going on at length about using index cards. However, he is also writing a screenplay, and the screenplay has a specific length (120 pages or so) and certain events happen at very specific points or the script tanks. Still, he’s in love with index cards… in this digital age.

      I, myself, will avail myself of something electronic. Notebooks! Pah! ;D


        • Jay Dee – so you’re carting around a small package of index cards and a pen? This isn’t a bad method, it just seems so… so… so 1980s!!! So retro. 😀

          Cool. Do you transfer any of that to electronic media once you decided on something, or do you continue to use the cards throughout the process? Do you tape the cards up on a wall or any of those tricks to lay it out best? And is it modular, in the sense that you can move scenes and events around easily?

          Maybe If I was forced to use cards, I might try it. Yeah. Forced.


          • I end transferring everything to the computer eventually. Good for backups, & when the rough draft is complete it’s a nice way to get the first pass done. For the index card plot system I have a giant magnetic white board I’ll pin them to for visualizing the layout.

            And pfff :-p compared to my photography gear a stack of index cards &/or a notebook is nothing to pack around.


          • Oh, no, nothing like that. I don’t carry index cards at all. I have a notebook. But it’s in my bag, which I take to work with me. I don’t just carry around the notebook wherever I go.


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