Outlining


Unfortunately, Wix has not yet resolved my text editing issue, so I’m still missing bios for the new beta readers. Please stick around to the end of this blog to see some of our talented new betas!


Through the month of April, we’re going to be focusing on the structure of your novel. By the end of the month, I’m going to make an important announcement of new content coming from Overhaul My Novel, so check in weekly to ensure you don’t miss it! Sign up for the mailing list at overhaulmynovel.com/novelnews. Don’t worry, we only send out one monthly update and reserve unscheduled blasts for important announcements.


We’re kicking off April’s blog series with a post about outlining your novel. There are several methods for doing this, but I’m going to go in depth with my favorite method, the basic outline, or “Skeleton.” My personal ritual actually forces my outline to eventually morph together with the “snowflake” method, but we can start with the basics and move up from there.


When crafting your outline, the first thing you need to do is decide whose story you are telling. While writing fiction, I prefer to limit the main storyline to just one character rather than breaking it up between several characters or sets of characters. Some authors, such as Gaiman and Adams, write from third-person-omni with great success! However, you’ll find that most early novels from even the most talented writers are just from the perspective of one main character. That’s because an omnipresent narrative is extremely difficult to develop, not just from an outlining perspective but even during drafting and revisions. It’s easy to get confused and, worse still, confuse your reader, if you try to add too many perspectives at once.


In the writing community, people are generally divided into two distinct groups, the “pantsers,” people who don’t outline, and the “planners,” people who rely solely on their outline and never deviate. Somewhere in the mix are the self-proclaimed “plantsers.” I think some of my personal best writing has come from plantsing, and I’m sure I’ve written some things I’ve thoroughly enjoyed just flying by the seat of my pants, but I’ve found I have the most luck with actually completing a project, and experiencing little to no writer’s block, when I carefully plan and plot my outline before starting that first draft.


As an editor expanding into the world of coaching, I generally advise against full-on pantsing. You need to have some sort of formula, a road map, for your journey. If you’re uncertain of your destination, or even if you have a destination in mind but don’t know the way, likely you’re going to find yourself taking a lot of unnecessary and frustrating detours. Think of yourself as the chauffer, driving your reader to their destination. If you struggle to take them on the journey promised, you may find them disembarking from your ride and catching the first bus home.


Begin by deciding upon your main character. For an example, I’m going to use myself, and the purpose of this rudimentary outline will be to create a short autobiography. I’m twenty-five years old, and I could try to disclose every detail of my life, but even at a young age I’m going to struggle to fit everything in to one book, and I may find it more frustrating than rewarding. Instead, I’m going to pick just one story from my life and tell that. This same type of selection is important to make while choosing a story for your fictional character, as well! In the story of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, written by Rick Riordan, we start with 12-year-old Percy and his struggles at that age. Throughout the book we learn more about him as the details become relevant to the plot, but the author never attempts to share Percy’s full life story or info dumps on us at any point.


In my case, I’ll tell the story of how I became an editor. The first thing I need to do is choose where I’m going to end my story; this will allow me to pick a reasonable starting point. For me, I would say this journey truly reached a satisfying conclusion when I signed my first editing contract back in December of 2018. Since this is a short book, I’m not going to pick a huge span of time. Though I purchased my domain and started this website up around the year 2015, my LLC wasn’t incorporated until 2017. Further still, I didn’t truly begin looking for work until May of 2018 when I was let go from my position as a property manager in South Overland Park. Since this could be the inciting incident, I’m going to use that as my starting point.


I’ve now selected a beginning and an end:


May of 2018: Let Go from [Property Name]

December of 2018: Signed First Editing Contract


Next, I need to establish motivation. Why did I finally put my foot down and really begin to pursue editing as a career? Overhaul My Novel was incorporated a year before I finally got a contract. Why did I wait so long? How come I didn’t just go back into property management? How did that make me feel? What was the turning point, and what were the stakes once I made that commitment? What was my end goal, and how did I go about achieving it? These are the basic questions I’m going to answer as I build my outline.


I waited to pursue my career as an editor because I felt that being a good property manager took priority.


I didn’t go back into property management because it wasn’t my true passion, just something I fell into.


It made me frustrated and angry, but determined.


The turning point was realizing that I could spend all day every day working for someone else, and there is always the chance that it’s just not good enough, and I can be dropped just like that.


My promise to myself was to have my business running successfully within one year. If I failed, I told myself I would go back to working a desk job somewhere. This would be entail giving up or putting off my dream.


My end goal was to establish a working business; to be specific, starting my journey on its first step and obtaining that first contract.


I went about this through rigorous marketing, joining twitter at an opportune time, and using my experience as a property manager.


Now that I’ve answered these questions, I should put together a quick list of things that I did or that happened physically within my world during the timeline of my story.


May: I was let go.

June: I drove to Phoenix alone. I bought a laptop while there, determined it would become my new writing buddy. (It did). I got a little sidetracked this month and thought I might begin trying to make money by streaming with Twitch. (spoiler alert: this did not pan out, which I would discover by November, when I finally stopped streaming)

July: I ordered all new business cards and updated all of my websites. I began announcing to family and friends. I also began to run out of my severance package and needed to start making money, so I began applying for jobs as a nanny.

August: I began nannying a family of three kids (who I am blessed to still have charge of today)

September: I put more focus into marketing my business online, including on tumblr and facebook.

October: I drifted away from editing and spent more time on Twitch, doing Halloween makeups and playing Tomb Raider obsessively.

November: Burned out on twitch, I announced my departure. Around this time, tumblr was beginning to fail and I, like many other creatives there, started searching for alternatives (in my case, twitter). I was pleasantly surprised to find a plethora of creatives changing platforms in a wave, which I was able to ride to build a large audience fairly quickly.

December: I run my first editing special, and as a result I finally land my first editing contract!


I’d like to recall some relevant events from my past that will contribute to the story. This is something you might do less often with fiction, but it’s quite common for biographies or other types of non-fiction. Even still, you may write these anecdotes for your own reference to add to or strengthen your character development and motivations.


I discovered I loved editing in college, where I was taking creative writing courses because I have a passion for telling stories.


I fell in to property management after spending several years in customer service and eventually landed my first leasing agent job totally without intention. It’s really just where I wound up, and not where I necessarily wanted to be, even though I was fairly good at it.


To further elaborate on my “turning point,” I’ll share some stories from the property I worked at that drove me toward the edge: In general, how much time and energy I spent on the property. How the property manager before me was never present and I was working double time doing her job and mine, including visiting with residents to resolve complaints after hours (the HVAC incident). The time my maintenance tech went AWOL and I had to drive 30 minutes at 2AM to unclog a toilet. How I had to clean and paint an apartment for a particularly picky couple because my maintenance tech wouldn’t do it. When my leasing consultant faked an arrest (yes, this is a true story!) so that she could have St. Patrick’s Day off. When that same leasing consultant faked a seizure so she didn’t have to help move furniture. When I had to fire that leasing consultant and she began sending me a barrage of angry messages over facebook and text, telling me that I was a terrible manager and calling me lots of names. The time my only other leasing consultant quit without notice then insisted he was due his commissions. The day the property owner promised me that I was going to keep my job when management changed, and then let a stranger tell me I wasn’t going to be hired on with the new company.


The benefits of having started in property management, including my time spent marketing and how I learned a great deal from it.


As I continue to outline, I will keep writing down ideas and things that I remember that add to the story or my motivation as a “character.” Now that I have all of my ideas laid out where I can see them, it’s time to start putting them together to form a cohesive story. I’ll need to decide where my anecdotes may best serve, as well as choosing where and how to disclose my motivations and finding a way to raise the stakes so the reader feels as invested in the story as I am, both as the author and the main character.


May: I was let go.

- I waited to pursue my career as an editor because I felt that being a good property manager took priority.

- I didn’t go back into property management because it wasn’t my true passion, just something I fell into.

- It made me frustrated and angry, but determined.

- The turning point was realizing that I could spend all day every day working for someone else, and there is always the chance that it’s just not good enough, and I can be dropped just like that.

June: I drove to Phoenix alone. I bought a laptop while there, determined it would become my new writing buddy. (It did). I got a little sidetracked this month and thought I might begin trying to make money by streaming with Twitch. (spoiler alert: this did not pan out, which I would discover by November, when I finally stopped streaming)

- My promise to myself was to have my business running successfully within one year. If I failed, I told myself I would go back to working a desk job somewhere. This would be entail giving up or putting off my dream.

- I discovered I loved editing in college, where I was taking creative writing courses because I have a passion for telling stories.

July: I ordered all new business cards and updated all of my websites. I began announcing to family and friends. I also began to run out of my severance package and needed to start making money, so I began applying for jobs as a nanny.

- Why didn’t I just go back into property management? One problem was time management, but the other was: I fell in to property management after spending several years in customer service and eventually landed my first leasing agent job totally without intention. It’s really just where I wound up, and not where I necessarily wanted to be, even though I was fairly good at it.

August: I began nannying a family of three kids (who I am blessed to still have charge of today)

- I may draw some parallels here between how similar working with children is to being a property manager.

September: I put more focus into marketing my business online, including on tumblr and facebook.

October: I drifted away from editing and spent more time on Twitch, doing Halloween makeups and playing Tomb Raider obsessively.

November: Burned out on twitch, I announced my departure. Around this time, tumblr was beginning to fail and I, like many other creatives there, started searching for alternatives (in my case, twitter). I was pleasantly surprised to find a plethora of creatives changing platforms in a wave, which I was able to ride to build a large audience fairly quickly.

- This is where I will raise my stakes by reiterating the stories I’ve jotted down above. I’m getting to the halfway mark of my one year deadline and still haven’t signed any clients; these stories are what await me if my business does not succeed and I have to go back into property management.

- I’ll talk about how my business generated lots of interest, but nobody was willing to pay me due to lack of completed work in my portfolio. Describe how I use my business experience as a property manager to help build this business.

December: I run my very first special, and as a result I finally land my first editing contract!


I know that this seems like a lot of information to come up with at once, especially if you are inventing details and not simply recalling them. However, if you come up with all of these things now, you will have much less leg work to do when the time comes to actually draft! If you get stuck, you can always revisit your outline.


It’s important to remember to update your outline and keep good notes as you draft. I typically will add things as I disclose details to my reader. If you need help with your outline, Overhaul My Novel is actually about to incorporate a coaching/consultation service, which will ultimately change the format of services offered here. Another thing to stay tuned for!


Do you have any questions about outlining, or are there elements you feel I’ve missed in this post? Post them in the comments below!


Now, as promised, our new beta readers!


Laura Buckley

Laura has loved reading all her life, reading in any and all free time for as long as she can remember. She used to read on the walk to and from school, leading to some narrow misses when crossing the road, and to this day she falls asleep most easily with a bedside light on and a book in her hands. She loves stories in almost all genres, aimed at most age ranges, and she believes in reading thoughtfully and critically.

When she isn’t reading, Laura can often be found in the gym, preparing for challenges like Tough Mudder, which she takes part in regularly.


Christy Box

Christy graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in anthropology. She is an avid reader with a particular passion for thriller, suspense, horror, and mystery books (or any story that can surprise her). Christy is currently a staff writer for Screen Rant, Ranker, and Factinate, where she covers entertainment and history topics. She has also served as an editor on three United Nations projects, proofreading content written by non-native English speakers. She has spent the past decade writing fiction in novels, screenplays, and short stories. Her latest project is a thriller novel. She loves female leads in literature, and she has provided sensitivity reading for male authors writing female characters. Because of her science background, she can also give feedback on the realities of archaeology, cultural anthropology, and forensic anthropology. When she's not reading, writing, or editing, she can be found traveling around Florida, ranting about TV shows, listening to a well-loved Queen playlist, and screaming into the void. She can't wait for the next literary adventure beta reading will bring her.


Marta Mariott

Born in Everett, Washington, Marta’s passion for reading began at a young age. As a child of the 1990s, she grew up with a love for the Amelia Bedelia, Babysitters Club, and the Goosebumps series. Since then, she is rarely seen without a book in her hand. During her teen years, she developed a taste for the mad and macabre when she discovered the works of Stephen King and Shirley Jackson. She dabbled in creative writing in high school before she went on to graduate from Cal State Long Beach, with a B.A. in English emphasizing in Literature and Creative Writing. While working on her debut novel, she hopes her new position as a beta reader, she can offer new authors, of any genre, advice they can carry all throughout their careers and hopes to one day get them from a rough draft to bookstore shelves. When she is not reading or writing, you can find her working in the kitchen or listen to her favorite true crime podcasts.


I have accepted a couple more applications, but I am waiting to hear back from the beta readers before posting their information. Hopefully by then Wix will be functioning properly and I’ll be able just to add them to the database as usual.


As always, thank you so much for reading, and tune in next week to read about creating a strong narrative voice and why it is important for your novel!


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