The Dreaded Outline turned Toolbox

Those few passersby might have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. It’s because of not having adequate time and because of guilt. The time excuse I’m sure anyone with a child can understand. The guilt issue might require a little explanation.

Even this lovely writing scene was interrupted by an emergency,
"Aiden's learning to crawl," episode.


You see, I’ve been stuck with my writing. For the past month I was trying to get my rewrite of “Covers Can't Hide You” done so that I could submit it to my Crit group. If I don’t get a lot of writing done, I don’t feel like I should be posting much on the blog. I feel sort of like a hypocrite sitting here telling others, “write write write,” while I’m trudging through my own work. Which brings us to the point of this post.

This image pilfered from

Having been gone from my novel for so long I find myself needing to reenter it. What was flowing nicely before has suddenly grown murky and stagnant. So what do I do? Normally I would reread what I’d already written, all 20,000 words of it in this case, and dive back in. However, that’s dangerous for a few reasons. First, there’s the constraint of time. Second, I run the risk of going crazy with revisions as I am reading, (because I have done this in the past with other projects). And third, I have to try and keep track of all of that information in my head. As the story progresses, the amount of information that I am trying to keep track of is getting overwhelming.


That led me to a decision to try something new. First, I decided to start from the end. In the Writing Excuses podcast they spoke to this point once upon a time. Brandon has always started his books with an ending in mind and then written to it. Dan, who used to have very weak story endings, just winged it. He has now gone to Brandon’s way of thinking and finds that it produces a much better end product. So I figured, what the hay, I’ll try it too.


But in trying to get the ending down I found that I needed to poor over everything that I know about the two worlds and all the characters inhabiting them. This led be back around to one of my original problems, keeping track of it all. So, I decided to try another first for me, outlining.


So the first thing I did was trolled the net trying to find what an outline actually looks like. Is it that Roman numeral thing we learn in school, is it something more organic, are their specific things that definitely should be in it? Well, those answers are not all that easy to find. I found several websites dealing with the issue and each of them in their own way and none of them gave a visual example (I’m a visual learner).


As fate would have it, Dave Farland sent out a kick in the pants dealing with this very issue while I was … dealing with this very issue … only he didn’t say how they should look either, just talked about the general idea of not wanting to do one and how you should. “But I do want to do one, I just need to know how,” I wrote back. He sent out a follow up the next day responding to an email that he got … about getting stuck writing from the outline. Seemed I just couldn’t win.


That’s when I set my mind, late last night at about 1:45 in the morning, to coming up with my own outline guide. I decided to use the tools in Word 2007 to develop a roman numeral styled outline that would cover everything that I’ve been hearing and reading about. It has sections for the worlds, governments, magic systems, characters, try fail cycles, acts I, II, and III, story worthy problems, just about everything that I can think of is going into the outline. Will I use it all? Probably not. Will I fill it all out? No. But it will all be there if and when I need it.

As I was going through my books, I came across an anecdote by Stephen King where he talks about bringing a toolbox filled with tools to do a simple job that required a screwdriver.

“Yeah, but Stevie,” he said, bending to grasp the handles, “I didn’t know what else I might find to do once I got out here, did I? It’s best to have your tools with you. If you don’t, you’re apt to find something you didn’t expect and get discouraged.”

Having worked in construction, I can completely understand this example. I can’t list the number of times that I’ve started working on something only to wind up finding that I needed a tool that I left behind. That inspired me to call this, not an outline, but a TOOLBOX. In it, we put everything we think we might need, and even some stuff that we think we won’t need. It has the shop drawings that show us how the project should be completed and all the tools we’ll need when we find that the ideal world that the engineer who came up with the shop drawing lives in doesn’t match what we find out in the field.


I’m not sure how to post it as a downloadable link, so until I take the time away from writing to do that, send me an email at and I’ll send you out a copy of it. What I love about the Word 2007 formatting is that the outline is expandable and contractible, so you can close down certain strings of information much like a folder tree. That way, when you’re not worried about the intricacies of your government, you don’t have to let it clutter up your screen.

The first 21 pages of my outline for Diviner. Now I
can see how people get to 100 pages plus for these things.

A word of warning though, don’t let this lead to WBD (World Builders Disease). Don’t get lost in the outline and never come back out of it to write.


Now then, I’m going to head over to the outline and work on it some more. Maybe pull out some of my many books on writing and see what else I can add to it.


If any of this is helpful, please leave me a little note. As Philip Difranco used to say at the end of his videos, “Comment, Rate, Appreciate.” Or something like that. And be sure to tell others. 

Next up: Brainstorming in reverse. 



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