How to outline a Work in Progress (WIP)

I was asked today how to outline a work in progress by one of our new mamawriters. With NaNoWriMo on the way, no time like the present to take a time out and discuss the benefits of plotting, and adhering to an outline.

This is not a formula, per se… but some things you can think on. I don’t think in terms of outline. I do think in terms of prose — so for me, writing a full synopsis from the get go is the best way to find out what happens along the way to the end.

  • Identify theme of story (Man vs.  man, Man vs. nature, Man vs. self).
  • Put your whole story synopsis into a 3-5 page, single spaced tale. Hit the high notes. Think five paragraph essay – introduce your H/H in first paragraph. Introduce their wants. (Hero wants X, Heroine wants Y, Antagonist wants Z).  Make notations as to first glance, first kiss, first *ahem* depending on your book… first cup of coffee or first date or first night together (in mine, it leads up to the ultimate statement of true love… a marriage proposal, whatever – I write inspy, I’m allowed to be coy. My fellow romance writers can explain the differences on importance of other encounters. *ahem*
  • Make sure each paragraph has conflict, and that the conflict builds on something that happens previously, and leads toward the ultimate climax.  Make sure that you’re dropping clues toward your h/h’s journey along the way, how they’re getting what they wanted in the beginning, & what they want in the middle.
  • Toward the end, you’ll have your climactic scene, where the H/H win, they receive what they ultimately desire, and then your denouement, when all settles into a HEA.

NOW, separate your synopsis into a word doc, where each paragraph is a note toward your plot progression. Give each one a Chapter #, and off you go! You should have about 30-40 or so chapters using this method. You can give yourself wordcount goals, or what have you — and if your plot goes pear shaped, you can figure out how to rein your characters back, or revise the remaining paragraphs later. The best part is, each paragraph is a prompt for the next time you pick up the WIP.

Oh, and do your best not to edit along the way. Use the 5 minute editing rule! I’m digging that one, discussed today on

Good luck, and happy writing! 🙂


About Ashley Ludwig

Ashley Ludwig is an Editor for Patch News, Orange County and Los Angeles. She is also an inspirational romantic suspense author.

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