The Accidental Outline


One of the fun things I love about this blog of mine is the work in progress.

One of the pleasures of sharing my work is the feedback I receive from some of you explaining better ways of doing things. The other pleasure I enjoy is your work.

I like to see how you do it and why you do it and how you can turn a troubled scene into a success.

I will never stop learning and I don’t want to. Learning makes me better and the best teachers I have are the writers I listen to everyday.


Pantsying and other Goodies

A while ago I wrote a piece on outlining and pantsying. I tried the pantsying rout once but I felt lost. I kept having this bad feeling I was headed in the wrong direction.

Kind of like being lost in the woods.

In my last go around I did a scene by scene outline. I must have done something right because I wrote the entire novel that way. I felt good about it but at the same time I wondered if I could improve.


Can I do better?

You’ve read my experience with novel number two.  As with any novel things don’t always go as planned but that didn’t stop me from completing an entire outline before I wrote one word. 


I believed in it. I felt it was the best direction to go and for a while it felt right. But somewhere along the way something was missing. A certain feeling I couldn’t describe but I knew I had to pay attention to it.

Becoming restless like I do I knew I had to get started. This book wasn’t going to write itself. I decided to go back to my scene by scene outline. This time I did a little better, I turned it into a chapter outline.

A little broader. A little better.

As I moved along I discovered a rhythm that was lacking. The confident feeling that I had when I wrote book one returned.

It didn’t take long before I hit the 15,000 word mark. When that happened I stopped and realized I had made a strange discovery. Something I should have seen a long time ago.


It was in front of me all along

authors 1

It turns out I’ve been writing an outline all along. I just didn’t know it. It’s what you and I call the first draft.

When I wrote my first novel, draft one was a mess. Just ask Jo, my editor. But aside from that mess a story was laid out. The characters were developed and the plot understood.

The groundwork that I created in that first draft was far better than any outline I could have created. My struggles, my mistakes and ultimately my success in that first draft was the best outline I ever did.

We all have our own style. This is a tough gig we’re trying to do and I’ve learned the hard way whatever works do it. 

For me I need to know these people. I have to understand where they’re going and who they are. But most of all I need to know why.

I have discovered that the answer to those questions can be found in draft one. The accidental outline. We never stop learning, do we. 

authors 2



35 thoughts on “The Accidental Outline

  1. Pantser here 🙋🏻‍♀️. I do a reverse outline, which is outlining after I’ve pantsed my way through the first draft. It helps me work out the story so I can see what needs to be fixed in the next draft. Thanks for sharing your process, Bryan. I love hearing how other writers write 😊.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I am nearing the end of my first draft, and I already know I haven’t outlined it correctly as the confidence I normally feel round about now, is missing…


      1. My stories normally do talk to me, but this one is on strike. I have listened, waited, and thought hard, but nothing for it but to try and finish it and see what happens on the first edit…
        Thanks for your thoughts, Bryan…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I just write, moving in random directions like a three year old full of Halloween candy. Stephen King wrote an article on writing novels and he likened it to an archeological dig. Sometimes you find something wonderful and somethings you find nothing and have to dig elsewhere…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I roughly plot my outline, but I need to know who my characters are. What drives them, what scares them and what secrets are stashed in their closets. Only then can I write their story.


  5. I can’t plan things out too strictly. When I do, then I don’t stumble into magic moments. It all seems a little perfunctory. Of course, I need to plan enough to know where it is I’m going and why.


  6. I don’t call it an outline anymore. I write what I call a “sh*t-that-can-go-wrong list.” That is, I list the things that can go wrong for the protagonist on the way to achieving their goal. That process helps me discover the story’s turning points. That works better for me than creating an outline. It’s more fun, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post! I like to consider my first draft as a super glorified outline, because it not only takes a lot of the pressure off, but it also reminds me the point of the first draft. Figuring out my own creative process might just be the hardest part of writing.


  8. I always find it fascinating to read about other people’s writing style. I am a mixture of planner and pantster. I have a basic outline in my head (never on paper) and I go from there. As it goes off in a new direction, I re-plot the story’s course (again in my head).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. When I write I like to have my beginning and ending then, just make up the rest as I go. Before I do all that I envision the story until it’s clear in my head.
    When I was working on my first story I did the same thing though you did. To be honest it changed alot as I went over and added all the details.


    1. You and I are the same with the beginning and end. I have to be sold on the idea. You’re right about how things change. Even the most gifted outliner probably experiences this. Characters and stories change as we go. They sort of take over.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I decided to pants it, because that’s how I do most things (and it usually works), but then I realized that going on without a break for so long is impossible without an outline. So I wrote down chapters and a one sentence long description to go with it. I think it helps greatly, without impeding the freestyle too much.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. If the style works for you that’s all that matters. So much of this is finding the right fit. The bottom line is telling the story. Thanks for your input.


  12. Great post! Too many times writers seem to think there is only one right way to write a novel. You have to find and follow what works best for you! I’m a planster – outlining is too restrictive for me, and writing aimlessly is too scary, so I do a bit of both. Before I start, I take a bunch of index cards, and use one card per scene, writing down a couple sentences of what will happen. Then I use the cards like prompts if I get stuck.


  13. If that works for you that’s the best way to do it. I told someone the other day not to rely so much on how to books. All of us end of writing our own how to and the best part about it, it’s one of a kind.


  14. I Think I know what you mean Bryan! I said I was going to “outline” this year’s Nano Project. But since I had no time It was more like a list of ideas organized in a a four act structure. Then now that I’ve written 25K it feels to me like a 25K outline because it’s so fragmented, and unpolished. I cannot not call it writing! It feels more like when someone joins me to watch a movie and I rush to tell them what has happened so far: crude descriptions of scenes! So it’s kinda of an accidental outline 🙂


  15. The best part, Daniela is that it’s so free. It is the freest form of writing there is.

    Somewhere in the middle of all those words is your novel. You know where to look. You’ll brush away the stuff you don’t need and before you know it you’ll see it.

    That’s the best part of draft one. You know it’s there.


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