Outlining for people who don’t like outlines

Save the Cat. As I mentioned in my post last week, I don’t normally write detailed outlines for my books. My version of plotting typically involves making lists of possible future scenes/events, and choosing from those (or sometimes coming up with new ones) as I write. I once tried to use Blake Snyder’s beat sheet to outline a project I’d just started and completely stressed myself out because if I couldn’t figure out where the “break into two” was or which scene lined up with the “theme stated” beat. (Side note, I know many writers who find Snyder’s beat sheet enormously helpful, and I learned a lot from his book, Save the Cat.)

But my current WIP demanded some level of outline. In fact, I found myself wanting to write an outline before I got too far into this, simply because there are so many twists to the story. I didn’t want to constrain myself to the detail of a beat sheet, so I went with a simple, three-step outline.

Step One: Divide the page into three sections, one for each act of the book.

Step Two: Pencil in the opening and closing of each act (including the opening and closing images). This was extremely helpful because I could see all the major turning points, and with a few minutes of brainstorming, I came up with opening and closing images that mirror each other nicely. (Whether I keep those images in the final draft will be another story, but at least I have an idea that I’m happy with now.)

Step Three: Fill in the blanks with other key scenes you plan to write, or scenes that clearly need to take place to move the story from one point to another.

And that’s it! I’ve already adapted my outline a little as I continued writing, but now I’m much more confident that I know where this story is going.

How do you tackle outlines? Is the beat sheet your writing bible, do you prefer to wing it, or are you somewhere in between?


3 thoughts on “Outlining for people who don’t like outlines

    1. Liz Osisek Post author

      I find every project I tackle requires a different level of outlining. My last book just kind of poured from me with zero outlining, while this one demanded I sit down and outline before getting too far into the story.


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