Navigation menu

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Outlines, Beats, and Book Maps!

Writers are a quirky bunch, aren’t they? We all have our own way of making the magic, whether writing a novel, or a short story, or even an article. 

Some of us swear by outlines, some of us use a sticky note or index card system, and some of us sort it all with some form of a book map. I’ve used each of the above methods when writing novels, but sometimes, I mash them up and use ALL the sparkly stuff. Like this time around, when I pulled out all my techniques to use at different stages of the work. Here’s a walk-through of my latest novel and maybe you’ll find something that will help you at whatever stage you’re in: 

You may have heard about J. K. Rowling and her famous outlining for the Harry Potter books. I’ve used a (much less detailed) chapter outline in the beginning stage for a novel but this time around, I didn’t have the story quite nailed down; I had an idea. So I started with LOTS of notes about the concept and the characters and a general outline began to evolve. In my head, that is.

So next, I pulled out my Save the Cat Writes a Novel because I wanted to take everything in my head (and in my notes) and put it into beats. I wasn’t trying to create a chapter outline, but that’s more or less what happened, a sort of beats/outline. So in my sparkly notebook, I had all my characters, lots of ideas, and the beats worked out up to about the mid-novel point. And I actually would check my beat notes before I started writing each day. Yay me! 

Now, I know you’re wondering about that “about to mid-novel point” bit. See, I hadn’t quite worked out every little plot point in the several arcs but I knew where/how I wanted each arc to end (that was info in my notes). So with less structure in the middle, I was able to “jump off” into some very interesting "fun 'n games" threads. Or maybe I just got tired of beat notes and felt like I could wing it. Either way, it worked! 

Finally finished, I needed whole-novel editing and I made a book map template. I wanted to make sure that each chapter had an arc and carried the plot(s) forward; I needed to make sure that the characters (an ensemble group) had a mostly equal share in the spotlight. And I needed page numbers for quickly going back to make corrections or additions in plotting (or spelling of names or hair color changes or dogs’ comings and goings). I am not going to lie, y’all, this book map has been worth every minute of the work. My novel may not be as complicated as Rowling’s series, but with a couple mysteries and romance or two, one can get caught up in the weeds. The book map pulled me out of the weeds and into the clear every time. Whew! 

I’m almost to the end of editing/mapping and I have one more step. But that’s a quirky tip for next time, y’all, so stay tuned! And if you have a quirky step in your novel-writing, share! I mean, where do you think I came up with my steps?


  1. For me, every project is different and comes together in a slightly different way. Interesting to hear how you used different tools at different points. It really is all about using what works for you right this moment.

  2. Love reading about your method, Cathy! I never thought about it, but I do something different with each piece I create. For my podcast, I'll get a general idea, do all my research, and then outline different sections into my template. For articles I usually just look over my notes and type out a general outline to fill in. For my last NaNoWriMo project, I used the "Save the Cat Writes a Novel" method with post-it notes on the wall. I'll never go back. It made the process so much easier!

  3. I took Chelsey Clammer's workshop, Writing is Revising: How to Become a Better Editor, and the last assignment was to create an "order of operations" manual. It was supposed to be for editing, but I made a soup to nuts process for essay/short story writing, starting from a narrator/protagonist questionnaire that finds the heart/theme and arc of the piece to brainstorming and writing exercises and finally to several different developmental and technical editing drafts. I'm trying it out on new pieces. But similar to your process, Cath, I took bits and pieces from various authors and workshops and mashed them into my own sparkly process. :) I plan on creating a class from it after I try it out a few times and have others try it out with success.

  4. Angela,
    That will be an amazing class! I like the sound of Chelsey's class too.


We love to hear from readers! Please leave a comment. :)