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.