Intro Music by Fretts!

Our intro and our outro music is Your Government Loves You and Wants You to be Happy, by Fretts! If you love it as much as we do, you can find more beautiful music at!

Outside The Lines; or Outlining for Pantsers!


The outline for Allie’s 2015 NaNoWriMo novel, taped to her apartment door.

What We’re Drinking:

Crispin Natural Hard Pear Cider! I actually normally don’t like ciders because they’re often too sweet, but that’s been turning around since the dry pub cider has come into vogue in the states. This is nice, though. Bright and crisp and not too sweet. The orange is definitely in there, but the coriander is primarily in the aroma.

What We’re Saying:

Outlining?! Bah!

James and I are both what people call “pantsers,” meaning that we write by the seat of our pants, instead of plotting out your story. So we’re not exactly experts on this topic.

First off, if you’re ready to start writing, go! Go write! You can always build an outline around it later.

(Check out our episode on writer’s block here. Then hate us forever.)

Plotters outline their story first. It’s just a different way of working, neither is better or worse than the other, and the fact is that the majority of writers are some kind of hybrid between the two.

James tends to reverse outline a piece after or during the writing process, which means to build an outline based on what he’s got to make sure the story works and the structure is sound and has all its parts. This is also how I revised A Guide to a Happier Life. It’s a tool to help you see where you need to change things, what plot points need more emphasis and what isn’t working.

Prolific readers often have a kind of instinctive understanding of story structure.

Going in and doing a reverse outline can help you if you’ve pantsed a story and end up lost, or stuck, or having written yourself into a corner.

If you use Scrivener, it has this really cool structure where you write each bit in its own file, and you can move them all around if you need to. If you’re outlining you can actually plug your outline ahead of time into that structure in Scrivener so that it’s always right there when you’re working.

Some pantsers think of the first draft as an extremely wordy outline. Like you just write down the bones of the story while you have them in your brain, and then you go through and add in where you need more details, unpack things that you glossed over, etcetera.

Remember, an outline is a tool. It shouldn’t cause you anxiety, and it shouldn’t stop you from writing. Also? If you only know the beginning of the story so far, you can write from a partial outline, and you might find that the rest comes to you while you work.

James brought up the expanding outline method, where you start out with a sentence that describes your story. Then you take that sentence and expand it to a paragraph with a few more details. Then maybe each of the sentences in that story become an act, and you write a paragraph for each act, and then those sentences each become a chapter! Before you know it, you’ve got an entire outline! You snuck up on it, so it didn’t have a chance to get away from you.

I outlined my NaNoWriMo novel for 2015 from an outline according to the three act, eight sequence structure commonly used in scriptwriting, because it’s super easy. Here’s a link that explains the structure.

James brought up the following outline method: Once Upon a Time (the beginning and setting), Day After Day (the normal routine in the setting), Then One Day (the normal routine changes), Because (the characters react to the change), Finally (the characters find some kind of resolution), and Ever Since Then (the new situation at the end of the story). I love this because it’s a really easy place to start and it makes sure that you’re writing a story instead of just an idea.


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