04 Aug


Posted in Process, Writing

Earlier this week, Elana Johnson wrote a post asking for input on outlining and in response to it, I thought I would share with you all my own outlining style.

Warning:  the following post gives a detailed look at the workings of the gabi brain and these methods may not be suitable for all writers.

The truth is, I’m a visual thinker not a verbal one, which is probably a bit strange for a writer.  In a former life, I was a product designer and a lot of my design training tends to inform my approach to writing.

I’m also a native New Yorker, born and raised and still living in the city.  My love for this city also informs my writing, despite the fact that I have yet to write anything that’s actually set in NYC.

My visual approach to writing has merged with my New York mindset and lately, I have found myself outlining in the form of subway maps.  The basic idea is that subway lines represent story threads and the “stops” on the subway line represent individual scenes.  In some outlines, I have several threads that intersect and come full circle (like the BAX outline above).  In other situations, I might have two separate lines that run parallel but come together in some key points (like my very early outline of my WIP).

In addition, I also make charts to go with my subway outlines, in which I detail what happens at each of the “stops.”  In particular, these charts include the following information about each scene:

  • Characters
  • Important Events
  • Setting
  • Purpose (or “Why am I writing this scene anyway?”)

I realize that the subway lines might make sense to me, but to other readers (like my critique group or a workshop) they just look like lines and dots.  This is why I make the charts, to help translate the insanity that is my outline method.  This method might not work for all people, but for me, it helps to think of writing a piece as being sort of like a journey.  It also helps me to think of each scene as one dot in a long list of dots, because writing a dot is easy.  Whenever I start to feel doubts, I try to remind myself that it’s just a stupid dot and I can write one dot.  That way, dot by dot and scene by scene, I get myself to write the book.


Comments on this post

  1. salarsenッ says:

    This actually kind of makes sense. Do your lines intermingle like the subway lines? I'm assuming they do. So you use dots to represent scenes. I'm also assuming with each successive dot, the character grows, tension heightens?

    1. gabi says:

      Exactly. The lines intersect when two separate story threads come together in one scene (just like subway lines intersecting at a station). And you assumed right that with each dot, the character grows and tension heightens (in fiction, of course). I also use this method when writing non-fiction papers, where instead of the character growing, it's the argument that develops.

      If I could build the maps in 3D, the lines would move up and down in space as tension increases or decreases (the way some subway lines go deeper in the ground or higher up than others). Methinks I might be getting carried away with the analogy. 🙂

      1. RosieC says:

        What an interesting idea. Maybe I'll try that for the next WiP when it gets underway.

        1. Elana Johnson says:

          It's the last part that gets me. It's just a stupid dot and you can change it. That's so true! I think that's why I freak when outlining. It feels so permanent, and I just haven't thought that far ahead.


          1. Adventures in Children's Publishing says:

            Love this! I am the same way. I have to have the big picture in front of me, not so much a linear outline. Great analogy. Thanks so much!


            1. gabi says:

              Rosie – Glad you liked. Give it a try, who knows maybe it will work. If not, you'll probably find a method that does work in the process.

              Elana – I know what you mean about the dots. This why I like thinking of an outline as a journey because sometimes when you travel, you know exactly where you're going, but sometimes it's more fun just to wander and see where you get to.

              Marissa – Yes! Seeing the big picture is key for me too. I like to think of outlines as being like maps… you can stick to them or you can toss the maps aside and wing it. Still, it's nice to have a general idea of where you want to go.

              Happy outlining everyone!

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