Bubble Outlines

Susan Schreyer and I talked a while back about outlining, a subject that actually comes up a lot. She outlines; I don’t. So I said. But Susan suggested that I do outline and challenged me to think about what my outlining process is.

And guess what? She’s right. I’ve blogged about that on this site but it’s worth bringing up again because I also recently read an article by Ruth Harris on the same thing.

So if I don’t outline, how do I outline? Well, as I’ve said before, I daydream a story. I’ll go for walks in the woods and let the subconscious take over. In daydreaming the story I watch it in my imagination similar to watching a movie.

Then there’s this. Typically, about half way in to the work in progress, I draw some bubbles. It’s about the point in writing that I start feeling like I’m losing control of plot threads, or getting a bit confused about subplots.

Here’s what I pause and do:



Remember, I’m not artistic. I can’t draw. Some of my artist friends would make something prettier. But this works for me.

In the center is the protagonist. Around her are bubbles for each subplot and each character. The subplots get a color. This allows me to quickly see any subplot that doesn’t connect to the protagonist, or to the main plot. Each character also has to tie to the protagonist. In this current drawing, some characters have a color because the character is a subplot, too. This also allows me to quickly see if the character exists for a reason.

For example, in the bubbles above, which you may not be able to see very well, there are two characters, Sunny, and Cell. They’re kind of floating out there by themselves, with only a line to the protagonist. When I drew this out, I realized that they are in one scene specifically to give Cody a moment of respite. They don’t tie into any subplot, or even the main plot.

I can tell from this that I need to find a reason for them to be in this story that’s stronger than me simply enjoying these two characters from past books. If I can’t fit them in somehow then, during the revision stage, that scene of respite will have to be rewritten. Sunny and Cell may just have to wait until the next book.

When I draw out these bubbles at about the mid-point of a work in progress, I end up feeling more in control. Or at least, as much control as my imagination/subconscious will allow. Now, as I continue writing, I will periodically go back to these bubbles to remind myself who needs to be involved in a scene, where a subplot is headed, etc.

So there’s how I outline.


4 thoughts on “Bubble Outlines

  1. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing your process. I’m trying to help my 11 year old improve his writing. He says he wants to be a writer yet he hates writing😳

    I think he had so many problems with fine motor skills and hence, penmanship, before he was homeschooled that he has a mental block to putting pen to paper. Writing a single word down was laborious for him and disheartening as he could plainly see his writing wasn’t anything like his peers. But he’s full of stories and ideas. I’ve got to find a way to make it fun and manageable for him so he will write longer sentences, paragraphs, essays and hopefully someday, stories.

    Right now I am getting him to make a list of points he wants to make and then side by side we work together to group the points into relevant lists and then we flesh them out into actual sentences and paragraphs. I hate that public school made him feel he wasn’t good enough at so very many things. He just kind of gave up. On everything. But. He still says he wants to be a writer. So, my job now is to feed that desire and make him believe not only that he can do it but that it’s worth the efforts.


    • There’s hope: my son also struggled with fine motor skills plus being left-handed. At almost 21, his handwriting is atrocious. But he’s a writer. For him, it’s the computer and typing. I know some writers who use recorders, too. Luckily for my son, his school allowed typed or printed pages (probably to save their eyesight – his writing really is bad – almost as bad as mine…) You’re right, making it fun and finding what works is the key. Our son asked us to enroll him in an environmental science school when he was in 5th grade. That move got him out of traditional mainstream schools and helped him a lot. He just didn’t fit in mainstream schools. And this, a kid who was reading college level in second grade.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the encouragement 🙂
        So many kids that don’t fit into the box end up losing their spirit or just never realize their potential in the mainstream. I wish there were more options for everyone and not just for those people that live in urban centres.

        I’m lucky that I’m able to homeschool my son but a lot of families have both parents working. But the system should work for everyone. Not just the “easy” or typical children.


      • I live rural and the school we enrolled our son in meant a great deal of driving. While it was part of a public school district, it had a lot of similarities with homeschooling. It still surprises me that something like that exists in a rural area. But like I said, LOTS of driving. School didn’t ‘click’ for my son until he started college courses. And I agree with your comment on wishing the system worked for all kids.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s