Outlining as you go is a writing strategy introduced to me by Dean Westly Smith in the book Writing into the Dark as a way to keep track of vital pieces of your story to use as reference. This approach is different from outlining a novel before you start writing. The basic principle of outlining as you go is to write a basic summary of each chapter after you write it. As well, you will want to keep track of the characters, places, and things that are important to the chapter. For instance, what a character was wearing, where the gun was hidden by the killer, and so forth.
Why Should You Outline as You Go?
Anyone who has finished a book knows is familiar with the problem of remembering everything that you wrote down. From start to finish, your book is most likely going to take months to write and in some cases, it may take well over a year. By the time you finish, your story is going to have changed and you will most likely have forgotten parts of your story.
Outlining as you go lets you have a constant birds eye view of your story that can be referenced at any time. Essentially, you are keeping all of the most important information in one place that is easy to find and even easier to use.
When writing Child of Fire, I had several drafts and the story changed a lot during the writing process. Once I had the finished version of the book and published it, I read through the book and compiled an official book outline that helped me keep track of specific information that would be useful when writing book two. Since most people are not capable of keeping such detailed information in our heads, an outline like this will serve as an excellent reference. It has also saved me time by providing me with general information and where it is located. As a result, any time I need to find something in book one, I can search the outline first, then reread the chapter. This has been a big help since continuity can become a huge task which I, nor any author, should neglect.
Here is an example of the outline for the Prologue of Child of Fire. (Spoilers Ahead)
Keeping Track of Crucial Information
Keeping track of your POV character, their descriptions, and any specific items they have is extremely useful for any book. I would argue that if your story has more than one point of view character, this section of the outline will be all the more important to you. Also, separating this information from the other character descriptions makes it all the easier for me to review this information later.
Listing all characters, creatures, groups, and objects of importance that appear in each chapter is useful for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, it helps me keep track of all the character descriptions so they can be correctly referenced latter on. Not only has this helped me keep track of how I spell some of the rather unique names, but its an important tool for helping me keep track of side characters that do not appear much in the book. Aside from the chapter summary, this information is perhaps the most useful and the information I reference more than anything else.
Specifying the locations and details is a neat trick for remembering the set pieces where your story takes place.
The chapter summary is the core part of outlining as you go. To have a short description of what you wrote in the chapter, a few sentences that can be referenced latter on, can help you recall things that you might have forgotten during the days, months, or years of writing your story. As I previously mentioned, it is impossible for most writers to keep everything strait in our heads. If you are the type of writer that outlines first, writes second, this will be helpful for you. I can’t count the number of times I wrote something vastly different from what I planned. This has been my process for keeping track of the final version of the story, since my mind can still remember the versions that appeared in each draft of my novel.
These outlines do tend to need revision from draft to draft, but it takes only a few minutes while writing to create this little outline. Trust me, these few minutes can save you hours latter on and are truly worth doing. Also, if you write like me and don’t outline anything before you get started, this will be a valuable tool for any future writing. Give it a try and see how it can help you improve your own process.
Get started with my template, or feel free to create your own. I don’t believe there is only one way to do something and there is definitely no right way. This is just my way and all I want is to help others by sharing my processes. To learn more about outlining as you go, I encourage you to read Writing into the Dark which is a short book on writing that has been supper useful to me and has helped me in developing my own writing process.