My Overly Complicated, Possibly Obtuse, but Wholly Essential (for me) Method to Outlining

Now there’s a title to chew on. Today I’m going to dive into my strategies for outlining my novels. Doubtless many of you have heard the gardener vs the architect quote by George R. R. Martin when it comes to outlining, which essentially suggests there are writers who discover the story as they go and those who know the fine bits and details ahead of time.

For a long time, I never outlined. It seems like madness to me now, but I’d simply sit down, place my fingers on the keyboard and pick up where I left off the day before. I wrote the An Assassin’s Blade trilogy, Curses, Crones & Unspeakable Things, and most of Sorcery and Sin in that manner.

Starting with Runeforged (Ascension trilogy), I began outlining… rather extensively. And I believe that’s fairly obvious. Ascension, in my opinion, flows more smoothly, has more effective foreshadowing, the pace is better—the writing all around is tighter, more economical, and ultimately more compelling than my earlier books.

My outlining has evolved since then, but mostly the nuts and bolts are the same. I begin with character sheets, rules for whatever magic might be in the book, and a brief history about the land. Most of the details within don’t make it into the actual book.

I then write a broad outline that extends no more than twelve chapters. Each chapter is given one or two brief paragraph of what happens. This lets me spot any gaping plot holes or inconsistencies and also aids me in my next task, which is writing detailed outlines for those chapters.

Everything that happens in a chapter is reflected in these detailed outlines. I equate them more to rough drafts than outlines, actually. A typical chapter outline is 50-75% of the finished chapter’s word count. As you might imagine, this takes some time—usually between 30 minutes to 1.5 hours. But it greatly speeds up my actual writing of the chapter. With an outline in hand, I can knock out a 4,000-word chapter in less than two hours.

Because my outlines are so extensive, my first drafts are usually fairly clean. Huge rewrites are extraordinarily uncommon, because I catch whatever would have necessitated them in the outlining stage.

Outlines don’t seem to help with my problem of writing crooks and nannies and instead of nooks and crannies, however.