How to Outline Without Outlining

We all have our own style
We all have our own style

I do not outline. I have tried to outline my stories. I have taken classes on outlining my stories. I have read books on outlining my stories, but the fact is I am not an outliner. If I have an entire idea in my head I write and write until I have it out on the page. If I only have a partial idea I write it down and then see where it takes me. I may know how the story will end but I usually have no idea how I am going to get there.

There are lots of opinions on outlining. Some people say it is absolutely necessary. Others say it can be optional. I believe that even though I am incapable of outlining before the story is done it is handy to have an outline after I know what happens in my story.

One way to make an outline for revising purposes is to read the story after it is done and write down the major plot points. I used to do it that way but it felt a lot like the homework I avoided in Jr. High. (For some reason I had teachers who thought outlining the chapter I was reading was a good idea. I disagreed.)

I have now found a way to outline as I write the story which kills two birds with one stone (look, a cliché!) I use the table of contents feature in MS Word and once I am done with the story I have a neat outline that not only gives me notes about the plot but also how many pages each chapter has so I can tell where I need to expand and where I need to cut.

I was going to explain how to set up an table of contents in MS Word but any Dummies Guide can do it better. I will explain that when I start a new chapter I type the chapter number in a Heading 1 style and a short description of the chapter on the next line in Heading 2 style. If I have notes I want to add to the table of contents I type them in the Heading 3 style. As long as I do these three things I am guaranteed to have a complete outline when I am done.

There are lots of writing programs that will outline your story for you. I have considered trying some of them but the truth is MS Word does everything I need so I have decided to save my money and work with what I am familiar with. This applies to all aspects of my writing. I could outline because everyone says to, but I prefer to stick with what works for me. I hope you follow the same rules for your writing. The only rules you should be following are the ones that work for you.

“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing. ”   E.L. Doctorow