On Outlining

I have learned that part of having a multi-book contract with a publisher is the requirement to provide them with an outline of the second book. My publisher (Kensington Publishing) is also the publisher for several other SINC-NE members, Liz Mugavero and our chapter president, Barb Ross.

For us, the outline is due two months after we submit the manuscript for the first book (which for me is the Imageperiod when my first book under my pen name of Tace Baker comes out, the period requiring LOTS of promotional activities). Once the outline is in, the manuscript for the second book is due seven months later, which will fall a month after the publication date for the first book. Rinse and repeat. It’s quite a schedule.

What do you think of when you hear outline?

A. Chapter One

1. Farm-to-Table dinner.

2. Get to know new characters.

a. Unliked community member.

b. Person with reason to kill a.

c. …

Right? I was not looking forward to this experience. I write my by the seat of my pants, or into the path of my headlights, which move forward with me. I suppose outlining the whole book would help me get it written more efficiently, but would it also start to bore me if I knew what happened ahead of time?

Or if they wanted a detailed synopsis, that would involve describing pretty much every scene. Again, might as well just write the book!

Luckily, when I queried the editor, he said something to the effect of, “Beginning, middle, end. Who, what, where, when, why. Doesn’t have to be super long.” Whew! That I think I can do. And if the end changes while I’m writing it, I think that will be acceptable. After all, with the first book, they didn’t ask about the end (or the middle) and I didn’t know it ahead of time, either.

Do you write to an outline? Have you had to write a detailed synopsis?


About Edith Maxwell

Agatha- and Macavity-nominated and national bestsetlling author Edith Maxwell writes the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries (Midnight Ink) and the Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing). As Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries series and the new Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries (both from Kensington Publishing). Edith has also published award-winning short crime fiction. She lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and two cats.
This entry was posted in Barbara Ross, Craft, SinCNE, Writers, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to On Outlining

  1. i loveoutlining – it gives me an idea of what I need to accomplish in each chapter. I also love changing the outline as the story progresses. No point in being slavishly loyal to a story that’s taken a different turn!

  2. I hate outlines. Luckily none of my editors has insisted on one. What I do have is rambling conversations with myself on paper about where I think the story is going. I’m usually wrong. But you’re allowed to change the outline.

  3. Nancy Gardner says:

    Really interesting, Edith. I tried the pantser route and got lost. Now I’m doing more pre-prep work and it seems better for me.

  4. I like this question, Edith, as well as your concern about getting bored — that’s why I rarely give details of a scene in advance, even to myself, because I love the way the details add up and surprise me. However, I always write the entire first chapter when I get a book idea, because somehow the protagonist’s parallel “issue” tends to pop up as I write out the first movement into the action. Then I can do a lean outline of the rest of the book — not by chapter (tried that once; never again!) but by main scenes and “who dunnit.” I’m increasingly using photos and postcards in my outlines, too! I’ll be very interested in how your outline affects your next project!

  5. Steve Liskow says:

    My outline is more a story board a la film with a one-sentence description of the scenes in the order I think they belong. It takes me about two months to come up with the sequence, and as soon as I start writing, everything changes. Some scenes get cut, others move, still others change POV, and I always find that I’ve left a few out. But that outline/scene list helps me sit down at the desk every day with a definite goal, the scene I THINK I’m writing next. The whole purpose of the first draft is to find out if the story moves somewhat coherently from beginning to end, and if it does, revision will make it much better (and more coherent). My outlines are FAR from sacred, though. By the time I finish a first draft, I’m usually on at least the fifteenth version of the outline, too.

  6. thelma straw says:

    I’m with Sheila on this topic. My whole being gets horrid when I try to outline! I do know the final end when I write page 1, then drive in the lovely mountain fog … til… I hit that obstacle in the middle of the road… THEN … I tiptoe into a kinda- kinda-maybe-okaaaay outline. Muttering all the time, ” dirty word.” Then when I’m near the ending I jot down a final set of words that anyone else would label OUTLINE. Thelma Straw in Manhattan … whereitscoolertodaythankyougod!!!!!

  7. Terry Shames says:

    Beth Anderson has a wonderful synopsis/outline technique that I use. I started using it after writing about 3 books in which I “let the book take me where it would,” and ended up in a muddle at the end. I sometimes laugh when I look back to the outline and see where I have veered away, but at least it gives me a direction and a feel for the pieces I need to fit into it along the way.

  8. edithmaxwell says:

    Member Pat Grasso wants to add this comment:

    I tried to get on the blog to leave comment but couldn’t figure out how to do it. I published 10 books with John Scognamiglio at Kensington. What you wrote for outline is not actually what he wants for fiction. He wants a 5 or 6 page synopsis which covers major plot points, the main character, etc. Once you write a few books for him, he’ll tell you to just send him a paragraph. He always told me to write a paragraph, but I actually needed to write the 5 page synopsis. I ALWAYS write synopsis before starting actual manuscript. I’m a master at synopsis writing, even if I do say so myself. If anyone needs help or pointers they can contact me. You should not dread the synopsis…. That’s the fun and easy part a long with revisions which I LOVE. Revisions are my first love.

    Pat Grasso

  9. Judy C says:

    Outlining! Yech. I know the beginning, the ending, and a few key plot points before I start to write. Stuff changes, Characters emerge, recede, and I am free to follow my whimsey, which is not to say that scenes don’t get cut if they fail to serve the plot. Of course if I had a contract, I would toe the line, however reluctantly.

  10. Late to this thread, Edith, but wanted to chime in. I start with the outline of the beginning chapters and know the ultimate ending: who did it and why. Then I fill in the subplots and bang away. I often will think of a scene I know I’ll need to put in somewhere and jot notes about it for future use. But I like the idea of being able to make sharp turns and I suspect your outline will find you not sticking firmly to it, anyway~

  11. jennymilch says:

    In addition to any thoughts on outlining, I have to say congrats on your multi-book deal!!

  12. Pingback: Workflowy: A Great Tool for Outlining | Pen, Ink, and Crimes

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