Sunday, February 6, 2011

Favourite Outlining Tool

I've been asked if I outline when I write and the answer has always been an unqualified "yes." But, I outline differently for fiction and non-fiction. Non-fiction outlining is much easier for me - I just do a basic list of what I want to cover and expand from there.

Fiction outlining is much more detailed. Since I'm writing historical fiction, keeping an accurate timeline is important. Plus, each book in the series is a stand alone novel, featuring recurring characters. So, I keep detailed character sheets on each character for review.

My favourite tool, however, is a pad of blank calendar sheets. My books are mysteries set in ancient Egypt - no waiting for forensic lab results, no Miranda warnings, just quick, swift, and often brutal interrogation and justice. I plot out the book on a calendar sheet, from inciting event to conclusion, which keeps me on track, and my chapters are designated by dates from the calendar.

The blank calendar pad has a lovely column on the right, where I can write important information to remember, facts to verify, or questions to answer during the course of the book. Everything I need is in an easy to read format and right next to my computer for easy access.

I don't know how well this would work with a book covering an extended period of time - my books generally span less than thirty days. In ancient times, "evildoers" were not imprisoned - they were banished, forced into labour for restitution, recieved a number of lashes and released, or executed within twenty-four hours of sentencing. How's that for swift justice?


  1. ugh, I wish I could find the discipline to outline! But this is a cool idea, my WIP spans about 6 months... I think you just invented Outline Lite!

  2. Erica, it really works. When my timeline gets unruly, I also have a dry erase blank calendar, so I can move things around without wasting the paper calendar sheets. I did that with my current WIP; the timeline needed a major adjustment and with the dry erase calendar, I could move as much as I wanted, with just a swipe of the eraser. Nice.