by Jean M. Cogdell


Maybe- Maybe not.

It’s your book, you make the rules.

Different strokes for different folks. Me, I’m trying to be more organized in my writing this year. Only time will tell if I’m successful. LOL

However, I find outlining is a bit of a mystery.

Outlining an unwritten book is weird because you don’t know what will happen. It’s not the same as outlining a book read for a class assignment. No the formal process of outlining a book idea is as foreign to me as Spanish or French. I know just enough to embarrass myself.

Last week I announced to my friend, with much excitement,  I’d finished outlining my first novel. I was stumped for a second when she asked me how many levels I used. Huh? Levels? Like in… I, A, 1, a, ii….

None. Nada, zip. I didn’t use any. Instead, I let the story unfold in my head and then put it to paper one scene at a time. 1-30.

Late at night, I lay in bed and the characters drove me nuts until I added another scene to the list. That’s how I outlined. Nothing fancy. Just one paragraph at a time. Also known as the headlight method.

Today, outlines are much more fluid than the rigid things we studied  in school many moons ago. In fact, if you Google how to outline a novel you’ll find just about as many ideas on outlines as stories on the latest TV personality.

“Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you make the whole trip that way. “

E.L. Doctrow

Take your pick. Old school (traditional), Synopsis, Scrivener, Snowflake, Headlight method (yeah some weird names), Mind mapping, Sticky notes, Scratch pads, 3 acts, and the list goes on. Don’t let the idea of making an outline intimidate you. If you want to try just pick what works for you and run with it.

However if you just want a guideline to keep you from driving off in a ditch you might try my idea.

  • First: Open up your program, whichever you choose to use. Scrivener or Word, list your chapters, and then let the story begin to play in your head.
  • Next: Begin to write brief notes about what will happen.
  • Then: Step through each numbered chapter until you reach the end.
  • Now you’re ready to let your freak fly!
  • Go to the beginning and start writing. Use the numbered paragraphs as a map for when you get lost or veer too far off the path.




Guest post contributed by Jean M. Cogdell. Jean grew up in a small SC town, near the Great Smoky Mountains. Her stories and essays are available in Fiction Southeast, Anthology Once Upon A Time, Flash Fiction World II, Scissors & Spackle, Squawk Back, WTD, YAREAH, and Angie’s Diary Online Magazine.