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The Top 3 Meredith-Cole-Style Outline Methods

Of course, there are many types and names and categories for these crazy people we commonly call writers... But when it comes down to how we approach the writing process, there are two specific categories we all fall into.

Pantser and Plotter.

Pantser is a writer who "flies by the seat of their pants," if you will. They can take the barest threads of characters, feelings, or scenes and spin them into masterful tales. No preparation (and sometimes even no brainstorming!) required. Most of the writers I know are pantsers; they are truly fantastic people and sensational writers who astound me with their incredible skills in this area. A Plotter is a writer who sits down and (often meticulously) plots out their entire novel before even writing a single word of the story. They are often obsessed with creating long and elaborate plots. Some of the most successful novelists in the industry are plotters. Also fantastic writers! 

 I myself am a bit of both. When it comes to short stories or blog posts like this one, I'm all pantser. I can just jump in and write it out in a few hours, close down the computer, and call it a day. But with novels, it's an entirely different story... I must know exactly where I am going to end up before I can even start. 

Down through the years, I've learned, through trial and error, all the many different approaches to outlining (and believe me, there are a LOT of them). Of course, this will be different for different writers, but these three outline methods are what really work for me...


Method 1;The Scene-by-Scene

This is my favorite, by far. It is simple; very easy to do and apply... For this method, each scene is written on one index card. 

To begin, take an index card and write the scene number, the novel's title, and which character's POV the scene will be written in. Then make a concise list of the things that happen in that scene... i.e. "Protagonist Introduced" "Brief Dialogue Exchanges Between So-and-So over Such-and-Such" or even just "Description of Surroundings." Just do whatever works for you; something simple. Something you will know what to do with at a glance. 

The great part about this outline is the ability to quickly find the scenes you want to write in a second's time; also, if you find something you need to change later on, you can simply scribble the improvements on a new index card and discard the old one. Presto!

I have also applied this style to chapters instead of scenes, which works just as well; I just tend to work better with scenes than entire chapters. That's just how I roll. :)


Method 2; Novel Snowflaking

The Snowflake Method is actually really fun! It's more of a recent discovery for me... I'd heard of it before, but never really thought to try it out until just a couple if months ago. If you struggle with outlining because you find it dull and tedious, this is the method for you! It's a simple ten-step process. Let me walk you through it...

Step One; Write a one-sentence summary of your novel. 

This sentence will be based on your main theme or idea. For Eclipse, my one-sentence summary would probably be something like... "A nomadic girl uncovers a dark evil and learns the unlikely secrets of her mysterious past." Use descriptions, not proper names (i.e. "a nomadic girl" instead of "Nyla Fleetwood"). Your sentence should be no longer than twenty words; again, keep it simple. 

Step 2; Expand the sentence to a paragraph, describing the story narrative, any major events, and the story's ending. 

To make this a solid paragraph, you will need to know that a good novel consists of the following three elements...

     -A Set Up

     -Three Key Turning Points

     -A Satisfactory Conclusion

To break it down, the first sentence sets up your story (introduces the reader to the main character and gives them a glimpse into their daily life). The second, third, and fourth sentences cover each of the issues that your characters must overcome (The Three Key Turning Points). The last sentence concludes the story in a satisfactory manner. 

Step 3; Write a one-page summary for your main character, including all of these points...

     -A one-sentence summary of the character's story (Past life and experiences that make the character who they are. What brings them into this story and why?) 

     -The character's motivation (What does the character want abstractly?)

     -The character's goal (What does the character want concretely?) 

     -The character's conflict (What prevents the character from reaching this goal?)

     -The character's epiphany (What will the character learn and how will it change them?)

     -A one-paragraph summary of the character's story (Expand upon the above-created sentence)

Step 4; Go back to the one-paragraph summary you wrote in step 2 and expand each sentence into it's own paragraph.

Add details. This will become a one-page summary.

Step 5; Write a one-page summary (like you did for your main character in step 3) for all your major characters. 

Step 6; Go back to the one-page summary you wrote instep 4 and expand it into a four-page plot synopsis.

Step 7; Expand your character summaries from steps 3 and 5 into "character charts."

Include as many details as possible. Here are some to consider...

     -Birth place/date

     -Physical Descriptions



     -Life Goals

Step 8; Using the expanded plot synopsis from step 6, make a list of every scene you need to write to complete the novel 

Break the whole thing down into individual scenes (again, about forty scenes is the minimum). At this point, all you really need is little, one-sentence descriptions of the scenes, similar to the one you did in step 1. 

Step 9; Using the scene list you created in step 8, write a multi-paragraph narrative description of each scene.

Include a list of characters and a concise description of both where they are and what happens in the scene. 

Step 10; Write your first draft! 

Now your novel is outlined and you are ready to start writing! No one said you had to start at scene one either... Just pick your favorite and get going!


Method 3; The Straight Outline (a.k.a The Ultra-Rough Draft)

I call this "The Ultra-Rough Draft" Method (although it is more commonly know as "Staight Outlining"). Basically, you just tell yourself a really quick version of the story; a "pre-draft" draft, if you will. ;) 

Just write out the events and characters. Really, I would even say it's like skipping the whole Snowflaking process and just doing step 9. Simple enough... Right?

I hope you found this helpful and fun! Thank you so much for taking a peek! 

I love hearing from you! Don't hesitate to comment below if there is any particular subject you would like me to address in my next post. Also, feel free to share how these methods have worked for you or if there is any different outline methods you prefer...

Thanks for the read! 


     Meredith Cole


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1 comment

  • Nicely written and informative. I learned outlining in school and it was tedious and boring. Having options when planning a novel is a great help.


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