Creating a Complete Outline

During my Create a Story Bible series, the discussion came up between the difference between my story bible and my complete outline. My Complete Outline is all of the novel specific  information that is used. It includes things like “Characters in a Scene”, “Scene Details”, “Conflict and Tension sources”, and “Plot events” in each scene. My Complete Outline is written on a scene by scene level.

Before anyone goes to get their rifles to take me out back to shoot me for the various blasphemies held within this blog post, this is my way of doing it.

Rabid Badger says, “You are not RJ!”

Note: This is not a guide to creating a pre-draft outline. I use a different method if I'm plotting events and character arcs prior to drafting.

Part of a being a writer is finding your own method through research and experimentation. This isn't the right way, this is just a way.

Some people keep their outline work with their story bible. Some people create their outlines as they draft. Some create their outlines before they draft, and some create their outlines after they've edited.

I have done it all ways, and I prefer to outline after I've edited.

For my new serial, I will be outlining at the same time as I draft, as the draft version is the final version. This is a lesson in writing in the making: Just because you write one book in a certain fashion doesn't mean you'll use the same method on the next book.

I accepted that a long time ago, fortunately, so I've developed the ability to be flexible. This has been one of the best things I've ever done for myself.

I will begin with a photograph of an outline in action.

Complete Outline 001
The image isn't very clear or easy to read. The reason for this is pretty simple: I write in pencil in case I have to change something.

If you are going to try my method, there are a few things that you should keep in mind:

  1. I have a really strong memory for details about my world. Some tidbits don't make it in if they're extremely obvious to me.
  2. I format each outline for each scene the exact same way. Being consistent is important for me.
  3. I include information I believe will be needed later.

I use one sheet for each scene in the book, regardless of length. Not Chapter. Scene. If I use a line break and a scene separator, it gets a sheet in the journal.

Page One:

  • Location
  • Characters
  • Mentioned
  • Important Details
  • Plot Outline
  • Conflict Notes (IE: Conflict and Tension Sources.)


This is the ‘where and when' information. Usually it is a one liner with the location. If there is a time lapse, I mention it in Location and in Plot Outline.


This is a list of all characters that are in the scene. Unnamed ‘scenery' characters are listed as a number.


These are characters, horses, places, etc that have been mentioned by the characters in the scene. (This helps me find when characters have been talking about other characters. Those gossips!)

Important Details

Ever lose that scene you mentioned the golden idol of a certain Goddess? This is where you'd list the item. This lets me make notations about said item (or person, or place, or thing, or concept) and find it without having to re-read the entire book.

Plot Outline

These are the main points and events that take place in the scene. It can be motivations, actual events, arguments — anything that the characters say, do, or hear that are of importance.

Conflict Notes (Conflict and Tension Sources)

These are the conflicts present that are driving the characters and events in the scene. This can also be a reference to another scene if the conflict carries over.

This part of my Complete Outline serves two functions: First, it lets me ‘recap' each scene of the book for when I'm deeper into the series and don't have time to search the entire thing. Second, it lets me get out the key points without needing to re-read the book. It doesn't 100% prevent having to read through old scenes, but it significantly cuts out the amount of hoof work I must do.

Page Two

  • The Details

The Details

This ties to the ‘Important Details' from the first page. However, it can also be details about conflict / tension sources if I didn't have space for it on the first page, or additional pace for particularly complex scenes. Usually, this is where I keep the “important details' for easy access.

The Purpose

When you build a complete outline of your own, remember its primary purpose: It is to track the actual plot you use in your story.

It is not to form as a guideline when drafting. It needs to be what is actually used, or you have wasted all of your time.

If your outline doesn't match what is in the book, then it isn't a tool you can benefit from. My complete outline is a tool I use to track a series. I use a different plot method to create a pre-draft outline, which is a post for another day.

I hope this shines a little light on my writing process.

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1 comment
Natasha says February 18, 2013

This, right here, is going to help me keep track of everything going on in my serial. 🙂 Thanks so much!

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