My Outlining Process

I’ve been trying to pin down my process for outlining a novel. There are many,  many different methods out there, and the method that’s best is the one that works for you, not the one that works for everyone else. Unfortunately, when you’re just starting out, this means the process involves a certain amount of trial and error.

You may wonder if I even need to have a set outline process. Probably not. But I’m one of those people who loves finding the most efficient way of doing something.

However, I’m also one of those people who can often spend more time finding the most efficient way of doing something than actually doing it. When I did exams at school, I was the kid who spent three days making a beautiful colour-coded revision timetable as a way of putting off doing the revision. I love planning and making lists and redoing the lists. Doing the stuff on them – not so much!

Anyway, while I’ve been researching outlining I came across a method that seemed to describe the process I’d effectively been working to when finishing the first draft of my novel. I don’t think the name is an official one, but this person called it Flashlight Outlining.

Flashlight Outlining is like shining a torch out into your mind. (I suppose I should call my version Torch Outlining but I don’t think that sounds as good!) The first few chapters you can see in your head in clear detail and you can write a paragraph summary on each. The middle and later chapters, you know what’s out there and can catch a glimpse of it, but you can’t see the detail. So you can write a one line summary of them, or a paragraph that incorporates a whole chunk of chapters.

As you progress through the draft, the torch moves with you. The detail becomes clearer, and you can expand on those one line summaries as you approach the chapters and realise what needs to happen.

That said, here is my current process. I’m intending for my two current works in progress (one being the novel that is developing from the work I did on this blog – The Lannerain Chronicles) to each be a series. And so for subsequent books in the series I can build on some of the planning work, particularly world building, that’s already been done.


1. Worldbuilding
My world is the beginning of my process. I need a setting in which I can place my characters before I can determine who those characters are. Worldbuilding continues throughout the process as and when it becomes necessary.

Examples here


2. Character Development
I decide who my main characters are and have a think about what their goals are, and what roles they fulfil in the fantasy world.

Examples here


3. Three Act Structure
I pin down the basics of the plot by producing a three act structure for each main character.

Summary here


4. Flashlight Outlining
I write the first draft using flashlight outlining as described above. The three act structure is the bare bones of the initial flashlight beam. Further worldbuilding and secondary characters are developed as the story calls for them.


5. Revise ad nauseum … and I haven’t got past this part yet!


So, at the moment, this is feeling like the most helpful method for me. Anyone else use any other specific outlining methods?


  1. I agree with you about making beautiful to-do lists/planner thingys and then not doing any of them. This is something I’m currently trying to improve in my own life.

    I used both the 3 Act Structure and the 8 Point Structure AFTER I had pantsed out a first draft. This allowed me to see which areas needed lots of work and word count additions. I’m still figuring all this out too, and I’m probably going to plot a lot more before writing my next novel. I plan to worldbuild too, which is something I haven’t done with the novel I’m working on now.

  2. This is amazing I do Flashlight Outlining too, but in a different order.
    What I did is:
    1) Character Development
    2) World Building
    3) Flashlight Outlining
    4) I don’t know what it’s called, but it follows the 3-Act-Structure. Instead, I write four sentences for each act. I got this from my Screenwriting manual.
    5) Revise ad nauseum

    For a moment, I wondered if I shouldn’t plot, but I realized that plotting works for me and I don’t mind adding or deleting something in my outline. It could get messy and it’s a lot of work to the others, but I love it and it helps me finish something.

Leave a Comment Below!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.