The following is my side of a conversation I recently had with a student regarding outlining.  I thought it might be of general interest.  So, here it is, my notes on outlining your story…

Be sloppier.  I know it’s weird that you’re submitting your outline (which is yours alone) to be commented on, but still you should treat it as your outline and be sloppier.  Make lots of short notes (no need to number anything).  It’s good that you tried to organize your notes by what I’ve come to regard as Plot, People and Place.  Don’t worry, further organization will come as the outline evolves but now is the time to be sloppy.  You’re painting with a broad brush.  Open up your mind and start throwing things onto the paper.

Let me get you started…

For the plot, think of working some of these standard elements in to keep things moving:

Shock opening – Many people read a few pages to see if they’re going to like a book, so think of a big opening.  This often involves starting at the middle (or even climax) of your story and jumping back and forward later.

Foreshadowing – Elude to what’s going to happen later early to get people hooked.

Cliff Hangers – End each chapter/scene/… with something shocking that forces the reader to continue on to the next chapter/scene/… to find out what happens.

Red Herrings – Be sure to mislead the reader into thinking they know what’s going on so you can “pull the rug out from underneath them”.

“Carrie” Ending – End your story but then drop a bomb on the reader.  This name comes from the Stephen King novel “Carrie” in which the novel ends with a girl visiting Carrie’s grave only to have Carrie reach out of the grave to grab the girl’s hand.  End with a shocker if you want people to read your next book.


Is Beth short, fat?  Good looking?  Where is she from?  Does she speak with an accent?  How does she feel about being so young and trust into such a predominant position?  What are her faults?  Weaknesses?  Fears?


Where does this take place?  City or country?  Does it smell?  Is it loud (more probably dead quite – no pun intended)?

My point:

Dig deep into your understanding of the story.  Crudely document in your outline all the important plot, people and place elements that you plan to incorporate into your story.

Also, how long is your story?  If it’s to be a book you’ll need side stories to fill your 80k words.

Another point: Don’t worry about finishing your outline.  It will grow/change/evolve as you write.  At some point you’ll feel the need to write (the next fun part that deals with putting your thoughts to word) and that’s when you’ll be done outlining (although you’ll bounce back and forth often).

Here’s a challenging opening line for you:

Beth knew she was dead where she stood.

I’ll see you in the classroom,