Posts Tagged ‘writing an outline’

December 7, 2015

Fiction That Wows Your Reader (Part 9)

Writing an Outline First

Writing an “outline” before you actually begin your fiction manuscript is one of those options that each writer must decide whether he wants to use. In my opinion, it’s a necessary nifty little tool of organization that helps move the writing process forward.

Let’s first define “outline.” A manuscript outline is NOT:









III.    Etcetera

Where the term “outline” ever came from is beyond me. Maybe that’s what scares some writers into running the opposite direction when the word is mentioned at writers’ conferences.

What is a Manuscript Outline?

Simply put, it’s a short paragraph or two written in third person with NO dialogue that cites the main characters and describes the action and scenes in each chapter. It’s a roadmap, if you will, that gets the author to the end of each of his chapters and, eventually, to the end of his story. Using a chapter outline usually expedites the thinking and writing process and helps you get finished much quicker than if you’re wandering in “I don’t know what to write next” Land.

I, for one, must have an outline, skimpy as it might be, that takes my characters to a climax near the end of the story and then to a final resolution. The outline gives me direction so I know what the characters must accomplish or must face before the last page. In my last published book, SNOW, PHANTOM STALLION OF THE POCONOS, I also made a detailed list of every character. (We’ll discuss “character sketches” next time.)

Back to outlines. I’ve met authors at writers’ conferences who have the “Seat-of-the Pants” writing style. They state that they like to start with a few main characters and a skeletal storyline and start writing to see what happens!

Frankly, that would drive me crazy, and I’d probably still be writing my first manuscript, which would be about 2500 pages long by now. My head would be spinning just as my characters would be, never getting anywhere or seeing anything happen. (In fact, I know a few unpublished writers who are caught in this trap. They never finish their project because they have no idea where their characters are heading! Of course, I also know some best-selling authors who use this method as well.)

A Sample Outline: Below I’ve listed a short example of three chapter outlines for one of my published works. Take a look and decide which kind of writer you are. Are you an “outliner” or a “pantser?” If you haven’t considered writing outlines before you tackle that fiction manuscript, maybe you should. You might get finished much quicker than you ever dreamed.

Sample Outline for Three Chapters for:

Book 8. Keystone Stables




Chapter Outline

(Will foster kid Skye find her real parents?)

 Chapter One

            It’s summertime! Mr. and Mrs. Chambers, Morgan and Skye have just finished showing their horses in equine events at a horse show in Virginia. Now they and their four horses are on their way to South Carolina where, for two weeks, they’ll serve as short-term staff at Ralston’s Rocking Horse Ranch, a Christian special needs summer camp. There the four plan to give lessons in horse care and riding and help in the kitchen. After that, they plan to attend at least a half dozen other horse shows where they’ll show the horses and compete to try to win blue ribbons and cash prizes.

Close to Charleston, they pull off the interstate and have lunch at a diner. Their meal is interrupted when a waitress drops a full tray of food right near their table. She tells the Chambers’ family that hearing Skye Nicholson’s name startled her. She asks that they meet her when she leaves work in an hour to discuss something very important about Skye’s real family.

Chapter Two

            The Chambers and the girls wait for the hour and meet the waitress in the parking lot when she comes off duty. The woman, Millie Grove, pulls a photo from her wallet, which shows her holding a three-year-old child whom she claims is Skye. Millie says she’s the sister of Skye’s father, Kent Nicholson, who had married Rita Ulmer sixteen years ago. She relates that both parents battled with drug and alcohol abuse, and three years into their marriage, they were both in a serious car accident that claimed the life of a young mother in a second car. Because Kent was DUI, he was he was sentenced to ten years in prison for vehicular homicide. Rita testified against him, and he threatened to get even with her, so she entered the witness protection program and changed her name. She promptly divorced Kent, left Skye with Millie, and moved away without leaving any forwarding address. Millie never heard from her again and tells Skye that there’s a slim chance that Rita might be living in Pennsylvania close to her only sister.  She also says that although she tried to keep in touch with her brother, he severed all ties with her and refuses to see her or write to her. When Rita left, Millie was a single mother with two of her own children, so she had no choice but to place Skye into foster care.

When Skye shares that she desperately wants to find out about her parents, Millie gives her the only information she has, the name of the prison where Kent had served and the name of a fellow inmate, a friend of Millie’s, who knew Kent and Rita.

 Chapter Three

            The Chambers decide that Skye’s quest to find her roots is most important in her life at this time and rearrange their summer to help Skye. After fulfilling their commitment at the dude ranch, they decide to dedicate the rest of the summer to tracking down Skye’s parents.

When doing research about the prison where Kent had been serving, the Chambers’ family finds out that Kent served his full sentence and was released. They also meet Ralph Mowry, the inmate who knew Kent. He tells them that Kent went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to start his life over, and Rita went somewhere in NYC, the only lead Skye has to finding either of her parents. Skye goes online with her laptop and finds three men with the name “Kent Nicholson” in the Gatlinburg area.


          So there you have a sample of an outline for three of my chapters in the last book in the Keystone Stables Series, THE LONG RIDE HOME. I couldn’t have written eight different manuscripts with completely different storylines if I hadn’t had an outline for each book. Skye would probably be floating around in the clouds harping about something and never get to first base in the first chapter of the first book!

Maybe you should consider writing chapter outlines to get your manuscript on the move. By the way, when you send a proposal to an agent or an editor at a publishing company, they just might ask for that chapter outline, so why don’t you start writing yours today!


(Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com

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