October 03, 2012

How I Outline - The Journal Method

  We see these articles all the time. There a gazillion and one ways to outline, everyone has their different idea. A lot of them are similar, a lot aren't.
  Some of the most typical are

  I use none of these, save for a bit of the Basic Outline in the very beginning. So how do I outline? I don't know if it has an official name, as I rarely see it used, so for now I'd like to call it The Journal Method.

  Using the Basic Outline, I throw down the main plot points and a few details in between, so I can clearly see the goal and what the characters want. Then I take those basic points and begin writing my novel... in a very, very condensed form.

  Imagine writing in a journal. When having a journal, we typically don't write what our friends said word by word, what they were wearing, etc. We throw down the very basics, and leave it at that. It's vastly different from writing a novel.
  Now, think of it as your main character(s) having a journal. They write down everything they did that day in the same way we do. No dialogue, no details, just the most important actions. Do that to outline the entire novel, from beginning to end. Don't write it with dates or separate entries like an actual journal. Push them all together like one, gigantic entry of everything that happened to them. 

  There's your novel.

  When I did this with Colorless, my outline was around 10k words, which I split into the chapters that would become my novel. Now that my outline was done, I could begin writing. So I go to my first chapter - and everything that happens is right there. Instead of needing to open a separate document with my outline to make references, I only have to look down three lines, and there's what happens throughout the entire chapter.
   For instance, this is a line from my 'Journal':
  Ash doesn't approve of my plan, but I don't care.

  Now, here's how it plays out in my actual novel (note that this is unedited).
 "Are you insane?" Ash slammed his hand down on the table, crushing my papers beneath his fist. "You'll get yourself killed! They'll catch you long before you even reach the building, much less break in." I glared at him.
  "Then I get killed. It's better than living with the fact that I caused all of this. This is a rare chance, Ash, one that won't come around again. You can't stop me from going." I stood and began gathering my things. "And if you don't mind, I'd like my papers back."

  See? Much better, right?

  As I said before, I don't know how many people use this method. Probably not many, as it can take much longer than a normal outline. But in the end, I think it's worth the trouble and overall easier. You already have your novel split into chapters and everything - all you need to do is write the more detailed version.

  So, thoughts on how I outline? Do any of you use 'The Journal Method'? Have any questions about how this works? Tell me in the comments below!


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Brianna! I think I write similarly but it's all in my head. I generally have an estimation of where the story is going and how it's going to get there.

    <>< Katie

    1. Absolutely, and thank you for reading! I used to do it in my head, but I lost track of things too easily, so now I write it all down.

  2. i use a form of this, but i think that mine is less formal than yours. i write mine stream of conscious and if there's a particular line i want, i'll say "so then he was like blah blah blah"
    which isn't very professional but it gets it down.

    1. I started with that, then later on decided to make it more formal. Who cares if it's professional? You're the only one who's going to see the outline anyway. ;) Thanks for commenting, Sammy!