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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Outline Sample Choices Part One

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

This week and next I’m going to share from an Excerpt From Write Your Novel Now Workshop that I gave a few years ago. This particular workshop focused on fiction but I have found that the basic concepts of outlines apply to nonfiction as well. So I’ll be adding a few comments as well. Think of it as a metaphor journey with a roadmap. I’ll indent the comments for nonfiction.

Whether we outline before we begin a project, or as we go, or wait until after the first draft, at some point we need to process the narrative flow. And even though one form may work well for one project, the next may require a whole new way of thinking. So here are five possible basic forms to consider. Not only are there many more possibilities but each of these is adaptable too. That’s the beauty of outlines. They are tools we can specialize and not formulas we must adhere to.

Outlines? Everyone Does

There is a broad spectrum of opinion on whether to outline or not, and so first of all, I want to mention that my personal system is a hybrid, which I’ll explain, but not from my own first choice writing preference. Instead I now choose whether to outline and how to outline according to the story’s needs. Some of which I obviously won’t know until I get the story down. If pressed for a position, I’ll say I’m an “organic write as I go” person, who has discovered how much an outline can steer me, and my clients, in the right direction creatively. And make sure I finish my novel. (Or nonfiction projects)


Regardless of whether we write down a detailed outline or think it through in our minds, we all plan. There are several metaphors for outlining and plotting, and for now I’m going with route destination or map potentials as an approach .

1) Simple: I’m traveling from San Francisco to New York City.
Write a sentence that describes from here to there. Takes the story question and use it as a launch point. No real details at least until after the first draft.

            Nonfiction: This works well for early brainstorming of your topic in general.

2) Detailed: A specific itinerary.
Has itemized details for every stage, every potential situation, with matching expenses, papers, maps, and phone numbers.

            Nonfiction: Works well for an ongoing pattern for an extended subject, especially for articles and essays, with the potential for a book.

3) Planned Stops: A General Aim
While en route there are a few places considered a must visit, but otherwise will make other choices when appropriate, or intrigued.

            Nonfiction: Good preliminary general outline with an open area to insert a variety of examples from different sources or subjects. Also can include an example or information you might only use occasionally.

4) Easy-going: Whichever route grabs interest each day.
As long as I’m headed in the right direction, I’m open to explore.

            Nonfiction: Gives you the freedom to work out of order, especially if you have to wait on some material. Or if you’re stuck in one section, switch to another so you re not losing writing time. Or take a break and do research for fun.

5) Full-Scale Travel Journal: A suitcase full of travel books for each major stop.
Read along the way to decide possibilities according to information on lodging, restaurants, history, landmarks and cultural interest.

            Nonfiction: This is the heavy-duty version for a full book. For a memoir it might involve tracking several threads throughout the narrative. For science or history or techniques it can involve specific steps, extra research, definitions, and precise references.

Next week we’ll look at some examples from finished book projects.

Action Steps:            

1.     Which of these feels the closest to your brainstorming process. What do you think its strength might be for your topic?

2.     Choose which process feels the most opposite to your preliminary outline? Rewrite your outline in that format. What is different?

Share: Was there any detail missing from either outline that you needed to add?

Read deep, marcy


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"The Seeker" Rachel Marks | Content Copyright Marcy Weydemuller | Site by Eagle Designs
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