Saturday, May 27, 2017

7 Steps to Outlining Your Novel (When You're NOT a Plotter)

A pantser is someone who, "flies by the seat of their pants," meaning they don't plan out anything, or plan very little.
~The Magic Violinist,
The Write Practice: The Pros & Cons of Plotters & Pantsers

I'm a hardcore pantser. I've never been much into outlines, and when I try to write one, I fail miserably. I have a half-decent idea of where I want my story to go -- but how do I get there? I've tried storyboarding. I've tried the synopsis method. I'm currently reading Randy Ingermanson's How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method (and am beginning to realize that it just won't work for me).

The thing is, I need an outline. It's been one of my goals to write and finish one by the time summer roles around, so I can make some serious headway on my WIP. So this Tuesday, during my lunch break, I pulled out my favourite notebook and began taking a few notes. By the time I was finished, I had seven steps for outlining your novel... when you're a pantser.



Pinterest: The ultimate tool for ultimate procrastination.

How to use this step:
  1. Create a secret (or non-secret) board for your story.
  2. Edit the description to be a one-sentence summary for the direction you want your novel to take. (Example: During the Regency, a middle-class woman and an upper class gentleman fall in love, but must face the trials of pride, prejudice, and social boundaries along the way.)
  3. Find pictures. Pins that describe the setting and/or characters are particularly helpful.
  4. Organize your pins by giving them descriptions. (Example: Elizabeth Bennet, age twenty. Middle class. Daughter to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, sister to Jane Bennet.)


My favourite playlist-creating program is Spotify. Of course, it's entirely up to preference whether you choose Spotify, YouTube, or another app. This tutorial will be for the first.

How to use this step:
  1. Create and title a playlist.
  2. Hunt down songs you feel describe your story's theme, characters, etc.
  3. Add them to the playlist.
  4. Listen to the playlist whenever you want to mull over (and/or write) your novel.


I'm a horrific artist. Blog design and my Photography class are about as good as I can get. Plus, I care about accuracy -- which means that whenever it's time for me to make a map, it usually involves a ruler (or three) and a compass (and maybe a protractor, too 😉 ).

How to use this step:
  1. It's simple (even if you're not a good artist, *coughs* like me). Just draw your map.
  2. If you haven't figured out the names of your locations, feel free to research. If it's a sci-fi novel set in outer space and you're busy naming planets, consider what today's planets are named after (Roman gods).
  3. Build a map key. It can include centimeters-to-miles, what each province contains, etc.


I prefer to view this (and steps five and six) as the hardest parts of outlining a novel.

About Act I:
  • It takes up approximately twenty-five-percent of the story
  • The protagonist is introduced while in the midst of his own little world, and quickly encounters the problems he needs to solve
  • The three main events include the opening scene, the inciting event, and the Act I problem

How to use this step:
  1. Write a brief summary in a style similar to the description for your Pinterest board (in step one). (Example: Three handsome strangers make their way into the five Bennet sisters' lives. Mr. Bingley, a wealthy member of the upper class, falls in love with Jane. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth develop a hateful relationship. Elizabeth develops a crush on Mr. Wickham.)


About Act II:
  • It takes up approximately fifty-percent of the story
  • The protagonist abandons his current life and faces obstacles between him and his goal, causing him to repeatedly struggle
  • The three main events include the choice, midpoint reversal, and Act II disaster

How to use this step:
  1. Repeat part one of step four, this time for Act II. (Example: Mr. Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth, despite the disadvantages of her current situation. When he proposes, Elizabeth angrily rejects him. He responds with a letter disproving her accusations.)


About Act III:
  • It carries the story out and brings it to a close, taking up the story's last twenty-five percent
  • The protagonist puts a new plan into action, using the education he's acquired over the past two acts; he knows his goals and sets out to achieve them
  • The three main events include the plan, the climax, and the wrap-up

How to use this step:
  1. Repeat part one of step four, finally for Act III. (Example: Elizabeth begins to fall for Mr. Darcy, but Lydia's elopement with Mr. Wickham tears them apart. Mr. Darcy solves Mr. Wickham's debts and convinces him to marry Lydia. Mr. Bingley proposes to Jane and Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth.)


This is only necessary if your story involves any sort of quest. For Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, it might show Elizabeth's journey with her aunt and uncle through England and to Darbishire, as well as her journey with Maria and Mr. Luckas to Mr. Collins's parsonage near Rosings Park.

How to use this step:
  1. Photocopy the map.
  2. Using a pencil, draw the protagonist's journey from place to place.
  3. If there's more than one primary character, use a different-coloured pen to mark his own progression.
  4. Build a map key to identify the characters and their colours.


Track your chapters:
  1. Start and label an Excel sheet.
  2. Let the first column be dedicated to page numbers.
  3. Let the second column be dedicated to chapter numbers.
  4. Let the third column be dedicated to chapter titles (if applicable).
  5. Let the fourth column be dedicated to one-sentence summaries of each chapter's contents. (Example: Mrs. Bennet informs Mr. Bennet that Mr. Bingley has rented Netherfield, and requests for Mr. Bennet to send Mr. Bingley an introduction.)

Keep a calendar:
  1. Print a calendar for the time period your novel takes place during (or is inspired by).
  2. Keep track of events that occur. (Example: Tuesday, October fifteenth, 1811 -- Mr. Darcy insults Elizabeth at the ball in Meryton.)


Dear pantser-Dragons, I do hope this has helped you outline! I'm happy to report that this method has helped me to develop a minimalist outline for And Did the Waters Tremble. 😁

What do you think? Do you have any tips or steps to add? The comments are open!



  1. These are really good tips! I'm an odd cross between a pantser and plotter; I like to pants most of my story, but I can only start writing when I have a basic skeleton plot. Often world-building, such as creating cultures, can help spark really interesting plot point ideas too, so I often do it at the beginning! Thanks for the tips. I'll have to try a couple of them out! XD

    Sincerely, Melissa

    1. I totally get being crossed between pantser and plotter! I've been that way myself, as of late. :)

      Thanks for commenting, Melissa! <3


HELLO, FRIEND! Whether you're new to the Dragoner's realm or a Dragon-friend faithfully returning, I'M SO EXCITED TO HAVE YOU HERE. *hugs and gives you cookies*

I always make a point to respond to comments, although my replies might be a little late in the coming (thanks to that pesky li'l thing called Life™). *winks*

But again, I'm thrilled to have you here -- and commenting! All I ask is that you keep your comments clean, respectful of others, and free of spam. Comments that do not follow these guidelines will be deleted.

Feel free to drop a link to your blog; I'll be sure to stop by! <3