The Best Strategy for Outlining a Story

Posted May 8, 2017 by Pamela Nicole in Writing / 4 Comments


In the last year, I’ve been super into ways of simplifying the outlining of my story. I developed a workbook to do it, and tried so many things, as some you may already know.

But that was only part one of my master plan!

Sure, knowing about your characters and settings and everything is very important, but then, what? There are so many things to fill in, that are left in the air, and that throw you in an infinite void of despair.

For a few months, I’ve been trying out, both on me, and with people I know on their stories, something I’m so so excited about.

An ultimate outline framework.

Now, I haven’t invented the wheel or anything. It’s not about that. It’s about doing tons of trial and error, searching for this magical solution that would make outlining suddenly easy.

It’s not easy, and it will never be. But it can be less complicated and messy. Outlines should uncomplicate things!

I never did arrive to something magical. But it’s still kind of awesome. It’s more of a mindset shift than something revolutionary, but it made all the difference for me.

All this time, we crack our heads, trying to come up with how best to approach planning our stories, putting the pieces together in hopes of getting to something that even resembles a story, and then adding details and shaping it… etc. Just like a puzzle.

And how do we solve puzzles?

  1. We first figure out what pieces we have, spread them all out, and start picking them apart. There are so many! So you just group them together in a pile if they look similar.
  2. This is where we probably start looking for those pieces that will frame the whole puzzle. The flat sides give these pieces away so that’s easy. Now that you have those pieces in place, you can start filling in.
  3. Finally you start looking at the bigger picture. The whole thing isn’t as overwhelming, and just a few details are left for you to understand what you’re doing.

And planning a story works almost exactly the same! That’s how the Puzzle Framework was born.


Why a framework or system?


There’s safety and beauty in having a system

This was my number one reason for wanting to stick to one way of outlining I could use again and again. With writing, having a system is really difficult, what with fickle writing moods and every story being different, but isn’t every story a puzzle? Sure, the final masterpiece is different for everyone and for each story, but there are some things that do apply to everyone.


There are some things that everyone does to plan a story

We think about characters, we think about the beginning, and the end. We think about plot, we think about character backgrounds and relationships… And it’s a big giant mess. It’s fun unraveling it. But it can be a pain in the ass too, and don’t we know that?

I noticed that some of the big names in the writing industry usually have some kind of system to the creation of their stories. Something they found that worked for them, and so they stuck with it. And lurking through their websites, and reading their writing advice, it stood out to me, that indeed, all of them did more or less the same things.

Same steps, but different ways of doing them.

If that makes any sense.

So, that’s how I finally decided that to have some semblance of order in my mind, I’d stick to some system I could use again and again with any story I decided to write.


So what IS this system you keep blabbering on about?

We solve the puzzle, writer friend!

1. Figure out what you have 

2. Arrange your pieces

3. The bigger picture


Confession: You have probably already done one, or all of these

Out of instinct, or because you learned it through experience and research, you have tried outlining in so many different ways. And so have I. But the thing I realized is, we should do all the things!

Some people just use notes about their story to be their guide, others rely on detailed lists of what they want to happen. Other outlines could be books in themselves!

I know I’ve done all of these things. Each came with its own benefits and downsides. But they all had to be done because each gave me an insight into my story that the others did not.




I’m so, so happy to finally be able to share this with you. Outlines are no longer a source of stress for me. I can finally focus on writing (or because I’m lazy -not writing-) my story.

Next post I’ll dive right into Step 1: Figuring out what you have


Do you have an outlining system you follow? Or is it different for each of your stories?

Hi, I’m Pamela, your curly-haired bookdragon friend, here to talk about books, writing, introversion, and everything creativity! I also teach creative writing through workshops and online courses to spanish-speaking writers.

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4 responses to “The Best Strategy for Outlining a Story

  1. Such a great post, Pamela! I love reading your insight on writing, it’s always SO interesting. I’m trying to outline as much as I can, I pretty much have an idea of where things should be going, what the bigger picture is like and, as I write, I figure out all the details and each chapters 🙂

    • Yay! Happy! Yes, I definitely support going from the general to the particular where stories are concerned. I tried getting really particular with scenes, but I don’t think that works for me, so I’m trying to keep it flexible because the pantser in me rebels XD I can’t wait for all the bloggers I know to get their books out someday!

  2. With this last Nano Camp I finally realized the outlining is VERY VERY VERY important. My WIP progressed more in the two weeks I focused in outlining more than it did in years of pantsing 🙂 Oh well. That’s just me always clueless and discovering things that have been around forever 😉 and YES outlining it’s a lot like solving a puzzle. Thanks for sharing! Great post!

    • I had that major realization too when I stopped pantsing. I loved sharing this and thank you so much for stopping by! -How are you doing with that story by the way? Did you finish it? I couldn’t participate but I hope you did great!