Behind the Scenes: Outlines

Let’s have a little peek behind the scenes this time. I’m going to show a few images and talk about my outlining process. I know I’ve discussed this previously, because I fall squarely in the “plotter” camp on the “plotter v pantser” debate. And I think I’ve mentioned that I use Plottr during the brainstorming and structuring phases of writing. For those who don’t know, Plottr is a software application that allows writers to structure stories, create outlines, view the progression of multiple story arcs across chapters, and store information on characters and locations for an entire series. It’s super helpful and not terribly expensive.

Carmilla’s Ghost

Screenshot of my timeline for Carmilla’s Ghost

This is my novel timeline for the first nine chapters of Carmilla’s Ghost. At the time, I titled it Violets in the Snowstorm, because I wanted a title that was symbolic and abstract. I imagined the cover showing two violets trying to survive and connect amidst falling snow. The idea still fits with the finished novel, but I felt the title might be confusing.

That said, you can see how I really didn’t think about story arcs and arcs within arcs. Well, I did think about them, because I had two plot lines running concurrently: the murder mystery that needs solving and the gothic romance between Sam and Carmilla that may/may not emerge. I kept it simple and straightforward this time, as opposed to the complexity of Liam’s Doom. I was also figuring the software out and being impatient with myself.

N.B. Always be patient with yourselves!

Crossroad Blues

Now, this is the timeline for the book I’m currently drafting, Crossroad Blues. As you can see, I’m separating the scenes into focused arcs as we move through the chapters. At the top, we see the main progression of the story, the “Crossroads Encounter” plot line. I have “Exposition & Worldbuilding” as a separate “plot,” because I wanted to tag scenes that, while they intersect with the main plot, their function is less to progress the narrative but to flesh out the world and its characters. I have an arc for Sam & Carmilla’s relationship, whether it be friendship, romance, or something in between because both are too stubborn to admit certain things. And lastly, there’s Destiny’s arc, which focuses on her confronting and moving beyond what happened in Berlin that caused her to quit working for The Grimms.

Now, these are timelines. I like them, because they help me see how I’ve spaced progression in my work. I also like the color-coding. Plottr does have an outline feature that allows me to move scenes around in the outline. This is important, because I may have 2-3 scenes from a single arc in a given chapter, but not every chapter moves chronologically from top to bottom. Sometimes I want certain scenes first, because they work better when told in first person from Sam’s point of view. Sometimes a certain scene needs to end the chapter to either create a compelling mood shift or to present a cliffhanger. Plottr is great, because it lets me play around with structure without wasting paper.

So, how do you structure your writing? How much detail do you put in your outlines or planning? If you’re a pantser who writes as they go, how do you keep things organized?


My debut novel, Liam’s Doom, is on sale at all major and minor retail outlets from Amazon to Barnes & Noble to I request that you support, as their site supports local and independent bookstores. The eBook is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and through my webstore.

The paperback version of Carmilla’s Ghost can be preordered at Amazon, and at Barnes & Noble. Currently, eBook preorders are only available at Amazon and through my webstore.