November 18, 2012

A Pantser Climbs the Outline Mountain By Charlotte Henley Babb

Maven and I have been together for nearly 20 years, and much of her story has not been told. I have many folders of outtakes, random scenes, and character notes. But the time has come, now that I am looking at retirement in 4 or 5 years, to get this stuff organized and written.

I’m learning to outline. Outlining “ain’t no crystal stair” as Langston Hughes wrote, but I’ve got my rope, and my pitons, my hammer and just in case, a vial of fairy dust and a magic wand in my climbing boots. I'm facing a sheer cliff of unknown story, with only a promise of what lies beyond.

My pitons are those 3x5 cards I have hated since that disaster of my first research paper in eleventh grade—I think it was about Odgen Nash. But I have a secret weapon: Larry Brook’s story architecture ( I can write down my random notes and thoughts on my cards and then organize them as I figure out the plot points and pinch points. I’ve tried spreadsheets (Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method and Ywriter) and various other tools, but the paper cards lend themselves to being carried in my purse and then typed into Scrivener, and from there, turning into scenes.

What started out as the beginning of my debut novel will now likely be the beginning of book four, which has no working title as yet. Stuff happens after the end of Through the Veil, and I’m still working out when it happens and to whom. But forcing myself to make an outline for book two, working title That Darn Maven, has allowed me to get some parameters established and make some rules to corral if not herd these cat-like story bits. Another working title is After Midnight, where I’ll be exploring some of Fiona’s point of view instead of always following Maven.

What I’m learning along the way is that I don’t have to know every detail of every sub-plot to make an outline. Many spots along the unmarked way have places of surprising insights and spectacular views that only show up as I trod and climb from one spot on the map to the next.

The map is not the territory, and I can still enjoy starting on a scene with only the vaguest idea of where it should end up, keeping my mind open for that new spark, that rush of inspiration that comes only when I start typing. I’ve learned a lot of writing along the way, but the most important thing is to have some kind of a plan so that climbing the mountain is not turning into a mountaineer hermit lost without a path and wandering aimlessly.

It is hard to change mindset, to understand that being a bit more organized is better than being completely organic—look at kudzu for an example. It grows a lot, but it kills whatever it grows over, and it has little to show for its effort. That's not what I want for my scant writing time.

Now the next trick is to learn to be consistent, writing at least a little every day, between work and teaching and grading papers.

About the Author:

Charlotte Henley Babb is the author of Maven Fairy Godmother: Through the Veil, available from Muse It Up Publishing (, Smashwords, Amazon and B&N. Her websites are and


  1. I don't do much outlining myself, so it's good to see how others handle it.

  2. Thanks for hosting my post, Billy. Sorry to be so slow to come by and say so.

    Louisa, the problem with outlining is that I know that here something has to happen so that here something else happens, but I don't know what. The outlining does help with character development, but it also leads to the research rabbit hole.


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