In Your Corner: The Art of the Outline (III)

Two posts ago, I introduced the concept of outlining as a function of planning your next book, and in my last post, I began to present you with a buffet of possibilities you might mix and match between, with the idea that you could research further into the one or few that appeal to you. As it turned out, I had rather too much to say about too many possible options to put into just one post, so I had to break off about halfway through with the promise to finish in this, my latest post.

If you missed the previous methods of outlining, we covered the Bullet Point, Sticky Note, and Index Card methods, some of the apps and software available, and the Hero’s Journey, an organizational metaphor which might just provide a structure upon which to hang one’s outline. [You can read that post here.]

This week, I have four more outline options for you to consider.


If this method sounds a little biblical in nature, don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you carve anything onto stone tablets (unless you actually enjoy that–in which case, I admire you and your wrist strength very much). It is perhaps appropriate that the Five Commandments method would evoke visions of bygone days, given that it’s a well-respected outlining practice with a long legacy of usage. As with my last post’s description of the Hero’s Journey, this is an outlining practice distilled from an organizational metaphor. This one, as we’ve already noted, evokes the sense of a sacred text, but what it describes is the standard five-point plan often taught in high school and college classrooms to creative writing students. The points are:

  1. Inciting Incident
  2. Complications
  3. Crisis
  4. Climax
  5. Resolution

The general idea is for the writer to use these “five essentials of a good story” (as one of my professors once put it) as a starting point, or as a framework upon which to hang the coat of one’s entire book. Functionally one can make that outline as simple or as complicated as is useful–simple phrases or entire paragraphs answering to the implicit questions posed by each point. I absolutely must recommend checking out Joslyn Chase’s “How to Write a Book Using an Outline,” which covers both the Five Commandments method in detail as well as the next one I’m going to summarize here: the Nine Checkpoints. (She also points to some additional resources to flesh out your understanding of outlines, which is always nice.)


The Nine Checkpoints method sounds a bit more bureaucratic than biblical, which can be either freeing or somewhat discouraging in the way of standing in lines at the DMV. In reality, it’s simply an unpacked version of the previously described commandments, only instead of five points around which to cluster one’s ideas, there are nine:

  1. Hook
  2. Backstory
  3. Trigger
  4. Crisis
  5. Struggle
  6. Epiphany
  7. Plan
  8. Climax
  9. Resolution

In this outline method, one can look at the hook, backstory, and trigger sections as equating roughly with the Five Commandments’ “Inciting Incident” point, with the crisis, climax, and resolution sections all have exact correspondence. The only loose points remaining, then, are the struggle, epiphany, and plan sections. It’s easy to see the correlations and divergences between the two methods; what’s less easy to see is the organizational metaphor behind this outlining method. In my mind, each checkpoint in a line of checkpoints carries equal weight and priority, which may or may not reflect how I actually feel about the work I’m writing. Perhaps I know with absolute certainty what I want for one or three or eight of the points, and the others are able to flex and be sculpted around those certain ones. Perhaps I don’t. It all depends on the specific demands of the work in progress.


Before this last month, I would have ended my list of suggested outlining methods there, with a Cold War or Man From U.N.C.L.E. reference regarding checkpoints. But then, while researching additional resources to point you to, I stumbled across this excellent piece on Sharon Watson’s blog, “Fun with Outlines. No, Really.” (Putting a positive spin on things is one sure way to always hook my attention!) Watson’s post on outlining introduced me to the idea of the Grocery Store method, as well as the final one I’ll summarize, the Restaurant method. What I love most about these methods is that they flow naturally out of a more intuitive writing process, and they flex in exactly the way that I hinted at earlier. This is not to discount the value of a more evenly-weighted lists or principles around which to circle an outline, which I feel have significant benefits in ensuring even pacing and a sense of “completeness,” particularly if one is drafting a work of creative nonfiction or memoir. That said, I might just love the intuitive means of the Grocery Store method best.

Grocery stores are easy to picture in the mind’s eye. They’re organized in intuitive ways, with snacks near drinks since they tend to be consumed together, and household cleaning supplies near pet supplies since, well, half of caring for a pet is cleaning up after her. (I’m putting off vacuuming right now. Why do cats have to have so much fur?) It’s also easy to put yourself in the mindset of a shopper in a grocery store: you go in with a few items you have to get on your list, but a couple of other things catch your eye as you walk up and down the aisles. This is where you need to be in order to use the Grocery Store method to outline your next book. Then, all you have to do is picture the contents of your work in progress as the produce filling the aisles. You can reflect this structure in a bullet point list (taking us alllll the way back to my first recommendation in respect to outlining!), or you can mock up a visual outline more along the lines of the Sticky Note method: sketch some aisles, and fill them with all the information you feel is important going into your book, leaving room for extra items to fill out the shelves as you get underway.


Last but certainly not least, the restaurant method is another outlining option I first read about in Sharon Watson’s outline post. This one is a little harder to visualize mentally, since Watson is sharing tips as an educator with other educators in mind, and her worksheets are designed with high schoolers in mind. The challenge she issues to her students is to picture the variety of restaurants and how they’re arranged, from a fast food restaurant to a buffet to a sit-down gourmet restaurant. In a sense, I can see this as a useful starting point in the quest to outlining your next book, as it may present you with a range of organizational metaphors from which you need only pick one to develop further using one of the other methods I’ve described over the last two of my own posts. I did think it worth including, however, simply because of its novelty; we’ve all heard of sticky notes and bullet points before, but have you thought of using a restaurant to outline your work before? Chances are there are some seeds of possibility there.

Looking for yet more information on outlining, and how to make it work for you? I’ll be back in two weeks to close out this series and to answer any questions you might have.

Thinking of you always. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: The Art of the Outline (II)

My last post introduced the concept of outlining as a function of planning your next book. We got so far as to be ready to start looking at specific ways of doing so. My goal isn’t to recommend any specific way, but to present you with a buffet of possibilities you can mix and match between, should you like, or that you can research further into the one or few that appeal to you.


In this section of today’s post, I’m going to highlight some methods that have been thoroughly described elsewhere, with a brief summary description. I highly recommend following the hyperlinks to read the beautiful words and details put together by these phenomenal author advocates!


This is probably the simplest and most straightforward possibilities out there, and a great place to start if you’ve never or rarely ever created an outline, and are just dipping your toe into the process. Bullet points are one of the most motivating kinds of information organization systems out there, as there is a great deal of emphasis on streamlining things down to the bare minimum of crucial points. (In that way it is similar to the sticky-note and index card methods, which I get into later on.) Whether you’re working in print and doing a lot of the editing before you even put pen to paper, or if you’re using some kind of word processor that allows for constant reorganization and editing after the fact, there are huge benefits to this system of outlining. It forces an author to focus on the fundamentals: characters, plot architecture, inciting actions, and the basic scaffolding of the book. Whenever I’ve used this method myself (mostly back in my college days, to be honest) I discovered connections and related ideas as I typed them up, and used the COPY + PASTE functions on my laptop frequently to regroup these ideas into clumps that felt right together. The Australian literary magazine Writer’s Edit has broken its recommended “clumps” (my imperfect word, not theirs) to a series of eleven, including timeline and character design and arcs, voice, chapter organization (and reorganization), and how to survive the dreaded “middle.” The article was written by Kyla Bagnall, and is worth tucking away among your many drafting resources.


To echo what I said earlier in the “Bullet Points” description, keeping things simple has enoooormous benefits to many authors–whether it’s because of your own editing within a word processor or the repeatedly limited space provided by a sticky note pad (and I’m resisting the urge to recommend buying those fantastically huge, easel-sized sticky notes that are used for workshops and breakout activities in professional settings). The physical constraints of sticky notes (and index cards, too, as I discuss below) force an author to slow down and think very deliberately about what to include–and there’s the added benefit that you can essentially rearrange the sticky notes as you discover connections between them, whenever you want (although keep a water-soluble temporary adhesive glue stick with you as you go, since some sticky note pads aren’t exactly known for … sticking). You can even follow the same loose pattern as you would in a bullet point list (or turn a bullet point document into a sticky note outline, if you like to edit down digitally but arrange the points visually).

I have only used this process once, but I loved the flexibility of trying out different visual arrangements: information trees and hierarchies, venn diagrams, and loosely clusters of notes that would break up and reform as the drafting process continued. Any available wall or window will do for your workspace, which makes things quite fun for everyone except for the poor person on window-cleaning duties afterward! On the Writing With Sharon Watson blog, Sharon has included some additional ideas for a sticky note method, and there are plenty of beautiful pictures of people at work using it, as with the image at the top of this post. Sharon comes at the subject as an educator tasked with motivating students and teachers alike to tackle creative outlining styles, which I find really interesting.


The Index Card Method can indeed be looked at as a slightly less-fun alternative to sticky notes (especially if no walls or windows are available for outlining), lacking both the adhesive backing and the array of bright colors available that can provide useful color-coding (but here’s a secret … colored index cards exist too! Google them if you haven’t seen them before). A definite benefit to using the cards is that you can easily pack a lot more information on the one piece of heavy paper. (Think of how much information old-school library card catalogs managed to pack onto each Dewey reference card!) I could easily see using a phase-by-phase approach with the bullet point section coming first, full of rough and unrefined ideas, followed by the sticky note rearrangement method, which allows for more intuitive clusters of information to just … fall together. And once an author has nailed down exactly the order and shape of things, it might prove useful to rewrite the sticky note information (and expound on it) onto index cards that can be numbered and ordered in sequence. This saves a lot on storage space–you only have one little stack instead of a huge swathe of your room covered in sticky notes–and also keeps everything close to hand and easy to access when beginning the first draft. You’ll never forget what plot point needs to come next according to your grand scheme of things, because you’ll already have sequenced everything while converting the sticky notes into index cards.

Even if you skip the bullet point document and the sticky note method, index cards can prove mighty useful in the drafting process. I have been invited to guest judge several small-town high school speech and debate tournaments over the years, and it has to be said that the speakers who come with sequenced index cards in hand never seem to waste time trying to dredge up information before their presentation time expires. (I prefer spontaneous speeches for other reasons, but that’s beside the point.) And the point here is that outlining and sequencing your work, whether book or public speech, helps prevent veering off course and rambling. In high school, the suggested outlining structure is incredibly simple:

  • Introduction
  • Transition
  • Point/example 1
  • Point/example 2
  • Point/example 3
  • Transition 2
  • Conclusion

… and that’s really about it. Your book is unlikely to be structured as simply as a time-restricted speech or an essay on assigned reading, but you get the idea. And if your structure gets overwhelmingly complicated to the point where you seem to lose your place, you might consider going back to the initial bullet point section and the article I reference there. If things seem just impossible to streamline and you’re feeling panicked, it might also be time to look into those apps and computer programs, including the famous Scribner, that lead you through a step-by-step process of converting your outline into something that looks and feels like it makes sense. More on that next.


I don’t like picking and choosing programs and apps to recommend based on personal preference (favoritism!), but Scrivener is probably the most widely-heard-of example of what’s out there, although it is now facing increasing competition from apps available for mobile devices and app-based operating systems. First figure out what device or devices you want to be using for the outlining process, because that will in large part determine which specific one you pick. Will you need to go to the Apple App Store, or the Android or Google Play app stores for other devices? Some apps are not built to work across both sides of the Apple vs. Android system divide, so you need to know what you’re going to use going in. And don’t be afraid to look up tutorials on using the platform you’re looking into, on YouTube and elsewhere. YouTube helped me disassemble my bread machine in order to replace the drive belt, so a bit of system description and such will most definitely be present on the great and mighty Internet. Here is a great example of a YouTube tutorial on Scrivener by Literature and Latte that visually explains how to use the software’s outlining function. (Scrivener is often offered at a steep discount during or after National Novel Writing Month, so if you’re interested, definitely keep an eye out for good deals like that.) The video may be four years old as of the date of this post, but it hasn’t changed very much in that time. Don’t be shy about trying your hand out with different app or software trial periods, either! Sometimes you don’t know what will truly help until you’ve spent some quality time with it.


Well, I’m several essays into this one post and I still have five more outlining methods that I’m excited to talk about–so I’ve decided to save the final four for my next post (on March 25th) and close out today by briefly mentioning the Hero’s Journey method.

What is the Hero’s Journey? It’s a sort of organizational metaphor originally put forth by the Great and Mighty AKA “appears in loads of composition textbooks” Joseph Campbell. I can’t even touch all the finer points of his epic (bad pun alert!) analysis, which took up much of his professional life, but suffice it to say this is the kind of organizational structure (or “monomyth”) that underlies many (if not most) great stories in the Western canon. Many of you will have probably heard some of his terminology before, so I won’t go into too much detail–and besides, Scott Jeffrey of CEOsage has created a wonderful guide to the Hero’s Journey monomyth and how one can apply it to daily life. If you extrapolate out just a little bit, you can easily see how an author might choose to use the outline of the Hero’s Journey as a kind of template for outlining their own! An author might keep it simple and make use of the three (3) stages of the journey (departure, initiation, and return) or go absolutely wild with the ten (10) more detailed steps that underlie the big three, swapping out the monomyth’s basic steps with the relevant or related bits of your own work in progress. You can get into the weeds of composition and literary theory if you want to by checking out out every book on Campbell from your local library, or you can just start with the basics as described by Jeffrey. You’ll start to see an outline develop before you even know it!

More fun options next time, I promise!

Thinking of you always. ♣︎

Daylight Savings is this Sunday!
Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Self-Publishing News: 8.5.2020

On-trend 2020 calendar page for the month of August modern flat lay.

And now for the news.

Highlights from this month in the world of self-publishing:

That’s more like it! Last week might have been a slow news week for self-publishing, but this week has more than made up for it. We’ll start with Rob Price’s opinion piece on earlier this week, a piece which sets out to explain why it is that self-publishing is where it is right now, poised to take huge chunks of the publishing market share with the advent of COVID-19 and a big turn towards reliance on e-books. And Price should know what he’s talking about, since he’s the president of Gatekeeper Press as well as a former chairman of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA). He himself has sold 200,000 copies of his self-published books, so he’s writing as both an industry professional and an author who has achieved incredible success. Price, who founded Gatekeeper Press in 2015, writes that “When the coronavirus pandemic hit five months ago, something big happened: Author consultations and publishing services skyrocketed.” (This confirms what we’ve suspected for a while, and we’re very much looking forward to retrospectives once the full year’s book data comes in.) But why? Price points to authors having more free time as a result of the pandemic, as well as the society-wide emphasis on storytelling during both the pandemic and the  BLM protest movement. This is also a time of fast-moving news headlines and struggle, so the timeliness and turnaround speed of self-publishing is a major asset, getting books into peoples’ hands before public attention moves on. He’s also certain that in a time of great disconnect and distancing, the personal assistance a small press or self-publishing can provide is critical to the forward momentum of new and inexperienced authors. We recommend taking a look at all of his points in more detail!

This week on Entrepreneur, contributor Ken Dunn brings us an interview with bestselling author Jack Canfield, who co-created the “Chicken Soup” series that has become one of the world’s top-selling nonfiction series of all time. (His founding partner was Mark Victor Hansen.) Writes Dunn, “Jack’s books have sold over 500 million copies around the world. Although there is no way to confirm this definitively, Jack Canfield is likely one of the top non-fiction authors of all time.” That’s quite a resume. What Canfield goes on to tell Dunn amounts to a rousing top five suggestions for authors looking to break into self-publishing, and they include knowing who you’re writing for, and how you want to help them; finding a competent editor before publication; embracing persistence in an industry that requires both lots of attempts and lots of legwork; taking advantage of free media opportunities like podcast interviews to boost public awareness of your book; and lastly, following the “rule of five.” Says Canfield, this “rule” requires self-published authors to “Do five things a day toward the achievement of your breakthrough goal. Our breakthrough goal was to get this book to be a bestseller.” And eventually he and Hansen achieved that goal––but it wasn’t by way of immediate breakout success. After fourteen months of work, they hit their first bestseller list, and after a slow ascent it stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for three years. This success depended on the authors’ dedication to that rule, Dunn implies. You absolutely must check out the full article.

Our final must-read news item for the week comes from Forbes, which has over the last couple of years made a point of regularly publishing articles on self-publishing by various contributors. This week’s contributor is Serenity Gibbons, whose work centers on entrepreneurs and how they achieve success. Despite the quick uptick in e-book sales as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown, Gibbons answers the question “Has digital content demolished print books?” with the answer: “No more than elevators replaced stairs, points out British comedian Stephen Fry.” She goes on to make note of the fact that over the last few years, print sales have been slowly increasing their market share, not decreasing in the way that many expected after the first advent of e-books and their sharp rise in sales. She also notes that many wealthy readers consider print books “because they view this material as more meaningful than what they read online.”  Gibbons draws upon conversations with a number of authors to lay out her ten recommendations, which run the gamut from purpose to planning to researching the competition to cultivating feedback and partnership and creating a “circle” of personal influencers. We highly recommend reading up on all ten of her tips!


As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

Self-Publishing News: 3.3.2020

Word MARCH. Vector decorative unusual object

And now for the news.

Highlights from this month in the world of self-publishing:

Medium has become a welcome home for many excellent long-form articles unaffiliated with major news companies in recent years, and this article from Sumbo Bello of EDGY Labs–a “trend forecaster and SEO incubator providing guidance and end-to-end Enterprise level SEO solutions for Fortune 500 brands” according to its ‘about’ page–is representative of the kind of exciting material you can now find on Medium and other long-form-friendly web platforms. Where better to find a quality article describing some of the best content-creation tools out there for writers than a web platform that is itself a content-creation tool? Meta. “The best writing apps are those that help content creators attain a crucial goal, and that’s efficient writing,” Bello writes in the opening line of this piece, citing deadlines both internal and external as one of the main drivers behind the decision of which tool to use. Bello also notes that “Arguably, some of the most efficient writing tools are those that help optimize language mechanics and still cover SEO components like keyword density and relevancy.” (emphasis his) We were delighted to find this summary description list of platforms including the usual heavyweights of Google Docs, Apple Pages, and Microsoft Word–as well as several we are less familiar with, including FocusWriter, Scriviner, Final Draft, and Vellum (but his list goes on). We should note that we do not advocate for any one specific tool among these, especially given that many are paid services, but the information Bello includes is detailed and rich enough to hopefully help you make a decision if you are yourself on the hunt for a new tool, paid or free.

Once again we return to one of our all-time favorite topics in the news section of Self Publishing Advisor: the Zine! This early but time-honored form of self-publishing was absolutely critical to the development of interest in as well as tools to produce later self-publishing options such as on-demand print capabilities and responsive, timely turnaround from writing to publication. Zines were mostly locally distributed (but with some key exceptions) and were mostly individual projects (ditto) and focused around some niche or highly specific area of interest (ditto) … but they have proved an enduring form of what can only be described as a hybrid of art and print publication. Which is why we are so excited to see this article by Jeff Oloizia in Encore celebrating a recent zine exhibition at UNCW. “The best zines,” writes Oloizia, “are transgressive in their activism, born of any number of underground subcultures, and fly in the face of mainstream art and publishing norms.” They’re also, as the exhibition demands audiences to consider, a form of public artistry and worth enjoying and respecting as such. The exhibit described here by Oloiza will remain on display until April 3rd, but zines, as always, will live on indefinitely.


As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.



Conversations: 12/8/2017


Have you ever had the feeling, just as you’re finishing a novel, that the whole premise is collapsing? Be assured you are not the first writer to experience this, nor will you be the last. I firmly believe that this excruciating moment in every author’s life is qusteel outriggerite simply just part of the process of creating an excellent novel. So, how can we avoid that moment? Here we are in the 2nd week of December and the holiday activities are increasing. However, I’ve set aside two days (well, a day and a half) prepare the foundation for my work in the coming year. I call it my scaffolding agenda.

I’ve been listening to so many ideas floating in my head that will eventually fit into my actual story. But it’s the premise—the very core concept (or “take-away”) that I hope my Readers will discover, that will be my basis and to secure that solid foundation I must ask myself two important questions.

  • WHY do I want to write this story?
  • Why will Readers buy this book?

My answers will lead to the Theme (premise) of the story which I’ve learned to write out in one sentence (even if it’s a paragraph long) and post it on the wall next to my desk. Then, later, I re-write that Theme Statement from the perspective of each of my characters and, again, tape those to the wall. These two steps keep me grounded throughout every stage of writing the novel.

Now, back to the scaffolding illustration. If you’ve ever noticed the scaffolding beside new buildings, or the steelwork of a bridge you’ve probably seen the individual triangle shapes utilized throughout. From the base of scaffolds (called steel outriggers), to the steel supports in raised bridges, these triangle shapes have been selected because of their extreme strength due to the rigidity of its sides which allows them to transfer force more evenly through their sides—or “balance” the pressure.

I don’t believe it is a coincidence that Plot Outlines are often illustrated as triangles because their foundation begins with a specific character or problem (with the world) that must be resolved. Upon the shoulders of this character and the challenge he/she faces rests every other element of the story.

plot diagram

Here are the quick and easy steps I’m taking to lay the foundation for the new novel I’ll start—and finish—in 2018.

  • When I answered the “Why do I want to write this story?” question I discovered that one rather unusual character has been telling me his story—so he will be my main character and the basis for this story’s foundation. My goal during this week will be:
    • Discover his name.
    • Describe his general physical appearance/condition,
    • Write one short paragraph about his back-story.
  • Answering the question, “Why will Readers buy this book?” provided me with the problem this character faces—which will resonate with a large portion of the Reading world. My additional task for this week is to: r
    • Do a quick Internet search to learn more about this challenge in people’s lives and…
    • Start a list of the resources I’ve discovered.

Accomplishing these tasks will, I know, tweak my need to write until sunrise. However, I will remind myself that I have permission to rest—more than I work—and relax (and reconnect) with my family and friends. THIS is the Season to regenerate and let Love and Laughter Ring! ⚓︎


ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene has been writing something since before kindergarten days and continues to love the process. Through her small business—DOYLE WRITING SERVICES—she brings more than 40 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their projects. This is a nice fit as she develops these blogs for Outskirts Press (OP) a leading self-publisher, and occasionally accepts a ghostwriting project from one of their clients. Her recent book release (with OP) titled FIREPROOF PROVERBS, A Writer’s Study of Words, is already receiving excellent reviews including several professional writer’s endorsements given on the book’s back cover.
Royalene’s writing experience grew through a wide variety of positions from Office Manager and Administrative Assistant to Teacher of Literature and Advanced Writing courses and editor/writer for an International Christian ministry. Her willingness to listen to struggling authors, learn their goals and expectations and discern their writing voice has brought many manuscripts into the published books arena. This is Royalene’s last month writing for Self Publishing Advisor.