Outlines, Schmoutlines!

I’ve been on the computer (writing) all day and just noticed that the house is in complete darkness. It’s 9:00 pm and, apparently, I’ve been in writer zombie mode (in the zone) –trying to make up for lost time after my darling feline toppled one of my storyboards and the hundreds of index cards that I had to painstakingly affix to the board (hence the discovery that pins were not a good idea, with four-legged creatures trolling about). Okay, maybe I exaggerate. There were only 76 index cards, but still…. I was mightily “annoyed” (for want of a better word). To those writers who, like me, are a little (ha!) bit OCD, you will no doubt understand that the cat-induced chaos disrupted my morning. Nevertheless, once each card was taped back in its proper place, all was right with the world. And this is where I segue, albeit not very gracefully, into the subject of book organization – namely, outlines. “Seriously?” – you might ask (while rolling your eyes). Yes, seriously. Outlines do work. Promise.

Outlines help to organize your thoughts and develop the message and flow of your book so that it’s not a jumbled, disjointed mess of creative ideas that, although no doubt brilliant, simply do not make sense. I realize that outlines may not be every writer’s cup of tea, but for those who are trying to tackle a book project and are feeling overwhelmed, try writing an outline. Humor me. You might be pleasantly surprised.

By the way, if you’re going the traditional publishing route, both the literary agent and publishing house will most likely want to see a book outline before determining whether your manuscript may be worth their while.

I know it may be tedious, but the more detailed your outline, the easier it will be to write the book. Outlines are truly efficient writing aids.

So, let’s begin at the beginning :

The “raison d’être”

1. Prepare a statement of purpose for your book and, subsequently, for each chapter. This is also part of the “book hook” that will either attract or repel a potential publisher.

Book Outline & TOC

2. Develop a preliminary Table of Contents. It will help to structure your thoughts logically and give you a cursory overview of your book – i.e. The Big Picture. This is your overall book outline.

3. Establish your chapter titles (they don’t have to be exact, and can be revised, as you progress with your book).

4. Determine who, if anyone, will be contributing to your book (i.e. writing the Foreword or Afterword).


5. Yup, more outlines. Prepare a brief outline for each chapter. Each chapter should have its own statement of purpose (which ties to the overall book’s SOP).

6. The chapter outlines should ideally not be in bullet format. “Talking” outlines are best. This is a chapter-by-chapter summary, in paragraph form, explaining the What and the Why of each chapter, followed by points covering the important events (fiction) or areas (non-fiction) of the chapter.

7. Each chapter should have a concluding sentence.

Book Conclusion

8. All chapters should lead to this final conclusion – whether the book is either a work of fiction or non-fiction.

References, Resources, Bibliography, Photo Citations, Index

9. This is a very important (but admittedly tedious) part of the book outline. Gather your sources (primary and secondary). List your photo citations (don’t wait until you’ve written the book …. do this in advance). And develop a cursory Index.

Again, this is an organic process …..your outline(s) will change as you progress with your book. This is okay. The purpose of developing an outline is not just to appease a publisher. It’s much more basic than that. An outline is, in my opinion, an indispensible tool to help you … write your book!

And, one more thing: “mind maps” help you to visualize your ideas. You may want to consider using some mind mapping software.

To each his/her own.

Word to the wise – keep your pets away from your easel or storyboard!!!!

Image via Creewalker.wordpress.com.

2 thoughts on “Outlines, Schmoutlines!

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