Posted On August 14, 2017 by Print This Post

Defusing Outlining Confusion by Miranda Nading

Please welcome author MIRANDA NADING! Her practical advice on outlining should be useful to plotters and pantsers alike.

After finding myself backed into a creative corner with Canyon Echoes, and using a rudimentary version of outlining to get myself out, I was still reluctant to embrace the plotter program. I had been a pantser for nearly 20 years and the idea of changing the way I wrote was daunting. A little outlining had saved Canyon Echoes, but my fear of losing the creative flow was simply too great.


That changed when I began building the world of Extinction. Three major plot lines spanned around the globe, and in orbit, all co-existing with a planet tearing itself to pieces. The plot lines had to carry their own weight yet interconnect at specific points. Parallels had to be drawn and events that affected one plot line had to be caused in another with ripples that carried through the other novels. Outlining became a necessary evil. One that was integral to surviving this series.

In fact, looking back over the past two years, with the release of the fourth novel in the series pending, I discovered a few important aspects of outlining that I didn’t expect.

  • I stay focused.
  • I write faster.
  • Mushy-middle and saggy-bottom syndromes are more easily avoided.
  • I can see far enough down the road to add a little foreshadowing in earlier novels of what’s to come.


Start With the Basics

Most of us outline without realizing it. If you’re like me, you have journals filled to the brim with notes on setting, character, and plot development. The biggest difference between those notes and a functioning outline is organization. Turning those notes into an outline not only builds the skeleton of the novel, it allows us to see the big picture. It makes it easier to control the essence of the novel, the pacing, flow, and tension. The weak points in the story become more visible and handling them becomes easier.


Building the Outline

Most genres benefit from using different plot diagrams. I tend to favor thrillers so when I set out to build an outline I focus on the rise and fall of tension. To find a healthy balance for my readers, there are certain fundamental questions I ask myself. When I have the answers, I have the building blocks to my story and can move forward with fleshing it out. This fleshing adds to my outline until I have a complete yet flexible roadmap for my novel to follow.


The Questions

  1. What was your catalyst? Where’s your big bang?
  2. How did your character(s) react to the big bang?
  3. First plot shift. Is it negative or positive? Does it offer false hope, despair, or something to strive for?
  4. What were the consequences of #3?
  5. How does your character handle those consequences?
  6. Now the meat and tators. Why did the big bang happen in #1 and where could it lead? A little foreshadowing of what’s to come, character flaws, that kind of stuff.
  7. What things does your character need to know to start solving this problem? Remember that old plot device, the red herring? This is a great place for a false resolution.
  8. How does the rug get yanked out from under your character? This is a big chapter, consider it the next big bang.
  9. How does your antagonist win the day? Yep, you read that right. In order to have a great aggressor reversal, you need to give your hero a reason to get off his/her butt and figure stuff out. Speaking of which…
  10. What are the consequences for your protagonist?
  11. Aggressor reversal. Up till now, your main character has been reacting, dealing with the issues that come up, and floundering a bit. What needs to happen for them to suck it up, buttercup?
  12. The Ah Ha moment, the light bulb over the characters head. What piece of the puzzle was he/she missing?
  13. Climax – What does your main character have to do win the day?
  14. Resolution – The good guys won the day, but did it come at a cost? Are there any loose ends? Is there a happily ever after?


Greater Than the sum of its Parts

Answering those questions took the outline all the way up to 14 chapters. Unless you are writing a novella, most of these plot points won’t end up as single chapters, but several. As you begin to put flesh on the bones of the story, it expands and so too does your outline.


Nor is it stagnant. An outline that doesn’t shift and change as your characters grow and the situations become more complex, is unrealistic. The outline I create by pen in my journals may contain a paragraph for each plot point, but the working model, the one I use in MS Word, only contains one or two key words. I add them to the chapter headings and open the navigation pane so my outline is always a glance away. This makes it easier to keep my eye on the ball and it allows me to relocate chapters without cutting and pasting.


Additional Uses

When I was ready to begin work on my romantic action/adventure Eldorado Gold, I outlined it from start to finish on a slow day at the office. When I started the actual writing process, I was amazed at how quickly the first draft came together. Adapting and modifying the outline as I went allowed me to catch holes in the plotline and weak points in the arc long before I reached the first read-through.

After the first draft was complete, I took the outline a step farther. I rated each point on the outline for tension and pacing. If it is too tense for too long, it could overwhelm or desensitize the reader. Inserting a few fleshing, exploration, or research & development chapters to give it some balance is a great way to avoid that.


The important thing to remember is that every chapter needs to move the story forward. It needs to have a purpose and a point otherwise it bogs your story down. If you are lost and finding your way through the story as you write the readers will see it.


Last but not least, with only a little tweaking the outline became a ready-made synopsis.



Learning to outline is like anything else we do, it takes time and practice. Nor does it have to be as formal as the system I use. The important thing to remember is that the creativity will always be there. Outlining doesn’t have to shut off the tap. It can be a great way to get organized, keep you focused, and keep the creative flow going. It can also help ensure you are hitting all the major plot points and tying up loose ends as you go.


The biggest benefit of outlining? It’s another way to stretch those creative muscles and push your boundaries out a little farther. Challenge yourself. Keep learning and growing. With each book, become a stronger, more confident writer. It’s when we stop testing our boundaries that we stop growing and find ourselves in the writing-rut.


Until next time,

Keep Reaching!


Are you a reformed pantser? What led you to try plotting? What tips can you offer new plotters?




Miranda Nading has been writing since the early 1990’s and has transitioned to writing full-time in April of 2017. She has worked in a variety of fields including the military, law enforcement, and administrative management. After spending the last 15 years in Wyoming and Southern Nevada, she has returned to Arkansas with her husband and her two Pomchi’s, Boomer and Missy, to be closer to her family. When not writing or spending time with her family, Miranda can be found exploring, researching, and dabbling in painting.

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9 Responses to “Defusing Outlining Confusion by Miranda Nading”

  1. Morning Miranda!

    Plotting is a necessary evil for working with a series like yours I’m sure. I still struggle with it even though I know it would kill those plot holes I always end up with!

    How do you tie in all your books into a series? Do you have an overall plotline for the entire series?

    Thanks for posting with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Peters | August 14, 2017, 8:21 am
    • Hi Carrie and thank you!

      With the Extinction Series, I have a journal just for outlines. I run one for the series that contains the major premise for each novel in the series, and a separate outline for each of the individual novels.

      I supposed you could say the one for the series acts a bit like Mom; keeping all the others in line.

      Great question.

      Keep Reaching!

      Posted by Miranda Nading | August 14, 2017, 1:31 pm
  2. It always fascinates me to see how people plot their novels. There seem to be as many methods as there are authors. I’m glad you found a way that works for you. Thanks for sharing your method.

    Posted by Staci Troilo | August 14, 2017, 8:26 am
    • Thanks, Staci. 🙂

      One of my favorite things to do between novels is to nerd out on books on writing. I love seeing the writing process through different eyes and I always seem to learn something new.

      Have a great week ahead.


      Posted by Miranda Nading | August 14, 2017, 1:34 pm
  3. I’m a pantser, which means I spend a lot of time on rewrites. Your post makes plotting sound almost doable. I’ll give it a shot – thank you!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 14, 2017, 11:37 am
    • Hi Becke,

      I was in the same boat when I was full-on pantsing it. Each novel got a minimum of six read-throughs by me, and that’s not counting the edits and proofreads. It’s been invaluable.

      I’m glad you found the post useful and good luck. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

      Keep Reaching!

      Posted by Miranda Nading | August 14, 2017, 1:36 pm
  4. Miranda – My writing kind of skidded to a stop when we moved to Chicago so I could take care of my grandkids. Recently I came across some OLD stories I wrote when I was in middle school. They were so awful I’m feeling inspired to jump in the deep end and prove to myself I can do better now. I know your post will be a big help!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 14, 2017, 9:05 pm
    • Becke, that’s awesome.

      I can’t imagine reading my middle school stories after all these years. Just reading my first published work gives me shivers. But they are a wonderful way to gauge how far we’ve come over the years. 🙂

      Taking care of the grandkids is a full-time job in and of itself. My entire family was working for a resort full-time in 2015. We worked our schedules around always having someone on days off to watch my grandson. I got very little writing done, but I sure do miss my grandma time.

      Enjoy the grandbabies and the writing journey. 🙂

      Posted by Miranda Nading | August 15, 2017, 10:35 am


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