To Outline or Not to Outline, Part 4

In today’s installment of my To Outline or Not to Outline blog debate, I have a bonafide outliner — with some great insight into her unique outlining techniques.

P.J. Hoover is the author of a series of three middle-grade fantasy novels, The Emerald Tablet, The Navel of the World and The Necropolis, which chronicle the adventures of a boy who discovers he’s part of two feuding worlds hidden beneath the sea, and her new novel for teens Solstice, which takes place in a Global Warming future and explores the parallel world of mythology beside our own. She’s also a member of the author group The Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels.

Before I sign over to P.J., don’t miss Bethany Hegedus and Jessica Lee Anderson talking about their processes later this week, or Donna Janell Bowman, Nikki Loftin and yours truly from earlier.

P.J. Hoover

P.J. Hoover

And now, here’s P.J.’s great wisdom:

Thank you so much for inviting me to weigh in on the evolution of a book. It’s always such a fun subject to discuss. So the question is, what’s my process for a new book?

Let’s see. The first thing I do is make lots of little notes about all the ideas for the book that come to mind. Once I’ve thought about these ideas and maybe done some Googling to see what else pops up, I then start a new Excel spreadsheet (it’s the engineer in me). In Excel, each character gets a tab at the bottom of the page, all my ideas go onto a tab, and then I start a tab that will evolve into something resembling an outline.

For my outline, I’ll list all my key events and then try to set some sort of timeline by each event. When I’m feeling especially motivated, for each scene I come up with, I’ll categorize it into what I’m trying to accomplish in the particular scene. And if I notice some elements of the book getting more attention than others, I’ll find a way to remedy that, either by shifting scenes around, adding more scenes, or enriching current scenes.

I’ve been using Excel since I first started writing, but my level of organization changes for each project I work on. Some projects almost write themselves and require less attention to the spreadsheet ahead of time, while others really take advanced planning.

So do I outline? I guess when I answer it this way, the answer has to be yes. That said, I do allow for changes to my outline, and in fact, as I’m writing and these changes occur, I embrace them. I love when I deviate from outline, because it’s a sign to myself that the creative process is really kicking in.

Awesome! Thanks for sharing, P.J. I feel like opening my Excel right now and exploring.

Chime in. What’s your writing process?


What do you think?