In the Mind of an Outliner – Plot Points

This is the second post in my outlining series. For the first, click here.

Several years ago, I blogged about the brilliance that is Save the Cat, specifically the beat sheet, or in my case, the beat board. I took to heart the idea of a three act structure and considering each aspect of the story.

In the time that I have been both teaching and participating in the writing process, the clear cut idea has changed a bit for me. I know without question that I am an outliner. I like things that are planned and organized, things that arrive with something resembling forethought.

But I also know that there is a time when outlining needs to serve more as a point in a dot to dot drawing. It needs to be a place holder but the events that lead up to that point may push it back or require that it comes forward. I know that leaving space in my outline will give my creative side the parameters in which it can frolic without going way off track.

Because of the nature of what I write, the main component of the story is character development. But this development is manifested not only in the main character (or two) but a bit in the side characters too. Soon, after thinking about arcs and wants and wishes and fears of all these characters, they have a tendency to become jumbled, which usually means the same for my mind.

You will notice from my post about beat boards that the characters each were assigned a color of a sticky note. By the time I assign a color, they have been hanging out in my head long enough, have started to manifest in a way that I know their personality. The color is picked accordingly.

For the most recent book I started, I sat down at my dining room table one day, threatened everyone in my family the most horrible things if they touched the papers, and I started with the first character that shows up. I already had the notebooks where I worked through characterization, and in my case, a little bit of magic, I knew some of the laws for their magic (see Sanderson’s Laws of Magic), researched in depth the nuances of their interests, and considered how the journey I devised would make them change.

And I plotted.

But sticky notes aren’t forever, and a family only has so much ability to stay away, besides the fact that we like to eat.

That is where the word document comes in.

What steps do you take when considering where a story should start? Have you found outlining techniques (to whatever degree) that work when you are starting a story?


Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher. Her days involve running kids around town, Diet Coke, small amounts of chocolate (more when necessary) and conversations with herself. She writes Women’s Fiction, listens to lots of classical music and is an editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.

One thought on “In the Mind of an Outliner – Plot Points

  1. I think I need a second dining room. Then I could crowd one table with my stuff and we could eat on the other. Or….I could get a massive desk that I actually kept clean.

    I'm loving this series! I am an outliner, too. And I need all the help I can get!


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