How I Outline a Novel

How I Outline a Novel

Warning: this post contains spoilers for The Cruelest Curse, the third book in my Dark and Otherworldly urban fantasy series. If you haven’t read it yet, skip this post and come back later.

Plotters versus Pantsers. It’s the eternal writer debate. Like Kirk versus Picard or Batman versus Superman. The question is this:

Is it better to plot out a novel before writing or discover the story as you go?

I’m definitely a plotter. If I don’t outline a novel before I start, I get stuck and don’t finish. (Looking at you, NaNoWriMos of the past.) But my outlines aren’t set in stone, and as I learn more about the characters and story while writing, I tend to take some detours.

Case in point, here’s my outline for The Cruelest Curse.

Journal page showing the outline for the urban fantasy novel The Cruelest Curse.

I know, I know. My handwriting’s horrid. I tend to quickly come up with ideas and frantically scribble them down. There’s a few phrases on this that even I can’t read.

Gif of Jack Skellington from scratching his head in confusion

I also tend to use abbreviations that I’ve now forgotten, which doesn’t help. And apparently I’ll just straight up forget letters, like writing “dram” instead of “drama.” 🤦‍♀️

(If you’ve never read my novels, I promise they’re better edited.)

When outlining, I usually don’t write a lot of detail for each scene. “Leigh breaks out, debates leaving queen, but rescues” is all I put for that pivotal event where Leigh breaks her own thumb and stabs two guards to escape the dungeons. At the time I wrote the outline, I probably didn’t even know that was how she was going to escape, just that I needed her to at that point.

I’ll sometimes write lengthier, more detailed outlines when I’m doing a mystery or a more complex plot, but for action-oriented stories like The Cruelest Curse, usually a general framework is good enough.

So I guess I’m a little bit of a pantser, because I leave myself enough wiggle room to make discoveries as I write and modify the story. You may note the scene described as “conflict w/ queen, argues about what to do next.” When I originally wrote this outline, I imagined Leigh and Queen Eirenga resolving that argument and moving forward. When I wrote the scene, I realized there was no way they would come to any kind of agreement, and Leigh ended up attacking Eirenga and getting knocked out.

Writing is fun. 😊

Another notable change is where I wrote “in dungeon, talk w/ Rab” near the end. I’d originally envisioned Eirenga locking up Leigh after the climax until Dredarion comes out of his coma. Then I realized Leigh would be more valuable to her free (and wielding the Evensong Sword) until the Rashrang are driven out of the kingdom.

Finally, you might have noticed the note “sex?” in the last quarter of the outline. I’m guessing by the question mark that I hadn’t decided whether to include the sex scene or not during the outlining phase. 😅

So that’s a little insight into my writing process, which I hope you enjoyed. I’ve gotten a new writing journal since the one you see in the photo, and someday I’ll do a post about the brainstorming, plotting, and character work that I do in it.

Until then, stay safe and happy reading.

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Kristen Brand

If Kristen Brand could have any superpower, she'd want telekinesis so she wouldn't have to move from her computer to pour a new cup of tea. She spends far too much time on the internet, and when she's not writing, she's usually reading novels or comic books. Icon by @heckosart.

10 thoughts on “How I Outline a Novel”

  1. Writing is def fun! See, even I’m a writer and use words like ‘def’, 🤣🤣 I always chuckle at the ones that think we should always be perfect because we are writers. I’ve never seen the Arc on paper like that . . . Interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a pantser myself. But everyone once in a while I like to take a break from pantsing and do a bit of plotting, just to shake things up. We’re still talking about writing, right? >_>

    Liked by 1 person

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