Outlines and Orphans

I love: outlines.

Not those things you did in school with the Roman numerals and the ABC sections, although to this day I still take notes in classes that way.  An outline of a book is a list that touches on the major action or ideas.  It’s a great way to organize it.

You can do it either by chapter, by scenes or make it more general.  I like to do it by chapters and then the scenes that are in the chapters.   I can see how long my chapters are that way.   It’s almost like a written storyboard.

Here’s a bit of my 2009 outline for Rose’s Hostage.


Chapter 1

Scene 1- Wednesday, July 2. 1:42 pm.

Libby is in the bank and it is robbed by the Black Bandit.  She recognizes this from the TV news.  She and Sheila are taken from the bank and put in a car.  While they are driving, the Bandit goes through her purse and we learn that her mom is dead, and she likes plants. Her thoughts are full of her friends, her only family, and their reaction to her abduction. They are taken to a house, where they are chained in the basement.  Libby tries to comfort Sheila but is unsuccessful and doesn’t feel much comfort herself. POV: Libby

Chapter 2

Scene 1 – Same day, no time.

Detective Stephen Pierce and Art Rossberger come to the scene and meet Quentin Caruthers, the FBI agent.  There is a bit of conversation and they get going on the investigation.  This scene establishes who they are and what their roles are in the investigation.  POV: Pierce

Scene 2 – Later that night, no time.

A forty-something man, Earl, is in a motel room with a hooker named Melissa.  After a bit of back-and-forth and a line or two of coke, they get down to it.  Just as Earl reaches his climax, the door bursts open and a man in a black trench coat, black hat and a black bandanna tied over his face enters.  He shoots the hooker and then kills Earl.  We have just met the Motel Shooter.  POV: Earl, until he dies and then omniscient.

I can mix and match scenes, and cut and paste.  The notes keep me on track.  Sometimes I make this outline before I start, especially if I already know what happens.  Other times I don’t write it until the story starts to come together.   It’s usually pretty sketchy at that stage, with just POV, an couple of random notes, and a bit of setting.

During my abbreviated stint in grad school, my Technology in the Classroom course had us do software reviews.  I found a cool graphic organizer and concept map maker called Inspiration®.

It runs between $50 and $70 for an individual license, which might be too steep for some.  If you want to try it, the company offers free 30-day trials.  Any graphics software that allows you to make flowcharts will suffice.

If you’ve tried any of these or have any suggestions for readers, feel free to share them in the comments.  Or if you have an outlining technique that works for you, whether it’s for a novel, a business project,  or homeschooling, let us know!


I hate: orphans.

For those who don’t know what I mean, orphans are short lines that begin a paragraph at the bottom of a manuscript page.  They are separated from the rest of the paragraph by a page break.  An orphan looks like this:


Screenshot by Elizabeth West

I’ve indicated it with an arrow.   A widow is the same thing, except it’s at the end of the paragraph and appears at the top of the next page.  (Off topic–I just discovered the Snipping Tool in Windows 7.  Whee!  Expect more screenshots!)

Yes, I know.  In Word, you can set your paragraph formatting under Line and Page Breaks so that doesn’t happen.  Widow/orphan control is your friend.   Set it in defaults, and you never have to worry about it again.  Before I figured this out, I went nuts trying to get rid of them.

I still hate them, especially when the formatting goes wonky and you end up with a huge space at the end of a page.   Grrr.



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