Tag Archives: outline

Great Outlining Strategies for Plotters and Pantsers

Great outlining Strategies for Plotters and Pantsers

“Great Outlining Strategies for Plotters and Pantsers”  by Joan Y. Edwards

Outliner or Pantser…which are you and are you willing to change?

Is the grass really greener on the outlining side of the fence? Perhaps you are like me. and you have the idea that outlining isn’t a good fit for you. You like to write first and get those creative juices flowing on a journey with your characters. 

Or perhaps you believe the grass is greener on the outlining side of this argument. You know where the story is going. You’re happy with the outcome.

If you’re a pantser, perhaps you’ve got the outlining thing all wrong. If you could find a way to outline that seemed clear and meaningful to use in my mind, as a friendly way to outline. One that didn’t overwhelm you.  Then you’d be able to do it and it would enhance your writing experience.

I watched Michael La Ronn’s video, “How to Outline a Novel in 10 Different Ways:” https://youtu.be/BhjRZ18JwpY/

It contains lots of food for thought.  I also found other blog posts with ways to outline a novel.  All these methods to outline sent my head in a spin, but they held information that I think you and I could use as great strategies to outline our stories. 

Please be open and look at these methods of outlining. They might work for you. Then you can sit down and write your prize winning novel on the seat of your pants!

Here are two ways to outline as you are writing your novel, play, or screenplay. 

(What did you say?) I said, Here are two ways to outline as you are writing.

I think many of you pantsers do this without even knowing you’re doing it. But you’re doing it in your brain rather than on paper.

These two outlining methods to use after you write or while you are writing are Flashlight and Writing into the Dark:

Flashlight –  Write first. Afterwards, outline what you’ve written and as much of the story as you can see right then. As you write more, you add more.

Writing into the Dark. No outlining before you write. Build your outline as you write your story.

Writing into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith

Here are a few tips if you outline before you write or if you want to refine the outline you’ve been using as your story template.

Outline First Plans

1.  Beats and Pre-Production

Beats are the smallest unit in a novel, play, or screenplay.

Act, Scene, beat.

Action Beats of the Story: list every action in your story.


Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet

Write story in paragraphs for beats. They add names and pictures of people they want to play roles. They add photos of places and things in the story.

  • Action Beats – The small action/reaction units of a scene. A beat is the timing and movement in a film, play, or novel. It is an event, decision, or discovery that alters the way the protagonist pursues his or her goal.  Beats are bubbles of action, of thought, of mood of characters, which add to character or plot.. An indication of a beat might be when image changes on screen. That’s a different beat.
      • When a character realizes something
      • To reveal a twist
      • When a character is “backstabbed”
      • grabbing keys
      • walking out of room
  • Plot Beats – The 8 plot points or 15 if you want to get technical as listed in “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder. A plot beat is an occurrence that changes something.

Opening Image
The Inciting Incident
Break Into Two… Act Two, that is.

B Story
Fun & Games
Bad Guys Close In
All Is Lost
Dark Night of the Soul
Break Into Three Third Act
Final Image

Write. Publish. Repeat by Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt: Amazon 

2. Chapters Outline with Scenes and Sequels

Context for each chapter  Outline location, weather, time, Clothing of each character if noted.

Each chapter contains a scene and sequel.

What’s the difference between a scene and a sequel?

A scene contains action of the main character.  The sequel shows his reaction to what happened and his inner feelings and possible action he can take, and his choice. This choice is goal of next chapter.

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight B. Swain hero action/hero reaction

Mike Klaasen Scenes and Sequels: How to Write Page-Turning Fiction: https://www.amazon.com/Scenes-Sequels-Write-Page-Turning-Fiction/dp/1682229076

3. Characters First

Before you write, and while you are writing, it will help you to know big things and little things that might trigger each character to action or to freeze them in terror.

Here are a few articles  to help you discover the nitty-gritty about your main characters for your novel, stage play, or screenplay.

4. Dent’s Master Plot Formula

Lester Dent Formula – Everything2.com

Divide the total number of words into 4 equal parts with plot twists at the end of each section. Dent’s Master Plot is good for mysteries, detective stories, westerns, etc. Den’t’s master plot was based on short story of 6,000 words.

    • First 1500 words
      Introduce the cast
      End with a twist (25%)
    • Second 1500 words
      Double the Trouble
      End with a twist (50%)
    • Third 1500 words
      Hero Makes Progress
      End with a twist (75%)
    • Fourth 1500 words
      All seems lost
      Hero triumphs
      End with a twist (100%)

A plot twist is similar to setup and  payoff.

Your outline should mention the setups and payoffs for your story.   Setup and payoff is form of foreshadowing, whereby a line of dialogue, an action, a gesture or prop is planted early in the story.  Its importance is shown later in the story.

The setup could be a special thing that will help your main character reach his goal or hinder him hinted at early in the story.  Readers will wonder what is going to happen. That heightens the tension and holds their interest in the story. If it doesn’t happen as the reader thinks it will, it will be a surprise to the reader.  

K. M. Weiland. “Setup and Payoff the Two Equally Important Halves of Story Foreshadowing:” https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/setup-and-payoff-the-two-equally-important-halves-of-story-foreshadowing/

Lisa Kron. “Writing the Craft of Story/example-Setups-Payoffs and the Clues in Between https://www.linkedin.com/learning/writing-the-craft-of-story/example-setups-payoffs-and-the-clues-in-between-2

Sheri Sheridan. “Writing A Great Script Fast: Step 16 Setups & Payoffs – YouTube” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1pa9Vr2EUU

What is a plot twist?

  • A plot twist is a radical  or shocking change in the direction or expected outcome of the plot in a work of fiction.  Readers love stories with surprise endings.

Readers believe the killer was an acquaintance but he was a total stranger which is a surprise twist to the story.

Did they murder the wrong person? Was it a case of mistaken identity?

Did the murderer think he had the perfect alibi, but the detective figures out that they killed by remote control.

“70+ Plot Twist Ideas/Examples”  https://blog.reedsy.com/plot-twist-ideas-examples/

Storyplanner.com. “The Lester Dent Pulp Fiction Plot Formula:” https://www.storyplanner.com/story/plan/the-lester-dent-pulp-fiction-

Jane Kalmes – Fiction Technician. “How to Plot a Mystery Plot Twist:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92P4dflDYW

6. Hero’s Journey  or  Heroine’s Journey based on Joseph Campbell’s ideas.

Different people have interpreted the steps with different names. Find the one that you understand best at a glance to use. Make up your own names of the steps.

  1. The Ordinary World
  2. Call to Adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call
  4. Supernatural Aid, Meeting the Mentor
  5. Crossing the Threshold (Accepting the Call    Entering the Unknown)
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  7. Belly of the Whale (approach to inmost cave)
  8. The Ordeal (The Road of Trials)
  9. The Reward
  10. The Road Back
  11. The Resurrection
  12. The Return with the Elixir

7. Mind Map 

Mind map example
Thank you, Pixabay

A Mind Map is a drawing of the scenes in a book as they relate to each other. 

Chelle Stein. “How to Mind Map a Novel Plot;” https://thinkwritten.com/mind-map-your-novel/

Magnetic Memory Method.
“What is Mind-Mapping?”   https://www.magneticmemorymethod.com/what-is-mind-mapping/

Self-Publishing.com. “How to MindMap a Book Step-by-Step https://self-publishingschool.com/mindmap-a-book/

Our Little Books. “How to Use Mind Mapping to Outline A Book:”  http://www.ourlittlebooks.com/blog/2010/6/22/how-to-use-mind-mapping-to-outline-a-book.html

8. Mirror Moment

Start writing your story from the middle of your book. Start where the hero looks at himself in the mirror and decides to change.

James Scott Bell  Write Your Story from the Middle  and Super Structure

9. Plot Point Theory (Character Driven, based on 3-Act Plot)

Inciting Incident – First plot point – First pinch point (reminder of power of antagonist to thwart the protagonist)  Midpoint – Second Pinch point (reminder of power of antagonist to thwart the protagonist) – second plot point – darkest moment third plot point Final Battle (climax )- resolution
Based on 3 acts.
  • 25% Act I – Setup: Exposition, Inciting Incident, Plot Point One. End of Act 1 25%
  • 50% Act II – Confrontation: Rising Action, Midpoint, Plot Point Two. End of Act II. 50%
  • 75%Act III – Resolution:  Pre Climax, Climax (final life versus death battle, Denouement the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved. Leaves the protagonist and other characters with a new sense of who they really are. 
  • 100% End

Wikipedia: “Three-Act Structure:”   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-act_structure

K.W. Weiland. “The Secrets of Story Structure: Helping Writers Become Authors:” https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/secrets-story-structure-complete-series/
K.W. Weiland. “What are pinch points and how can they make your book easier to write?”
    • Syd Field’s The Foundations of Screenplay
    • Larry Brooks Story Engineering
    • K.M. Weiland Structuring Your Novel

10. Synopsis – Summary

Kristen Kieffer explains  on Well-Storied.com that a one to two page synopsis includes all of a story’s major beats — the hook, inciting incident, major plot points, midpoint, climactic sequence, and resolution without going into so much depth.

How to Write a Book Now.com. “How to Write a Synopsis:” https://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/how-to-write-a-synopsis.html#

Other Resources

Michael La Ronn. “How to Outline a Novel in 10 Different Ways:” https://youtu.be/BhjRZ18JwpY

Sacha Black.co.uk. “Master the Outline. 12 Methods for Plotters and Pantsers, Part I:” https://sachablack.co.uk/2016/09/05/master-the-outline-12-methods-for-plotter-and-pantsers-part-1/

Sacha Black.co.uk. “Master the Outline. 12 Methods for Plotters and Pantsers, Part II.” https://sachablack.co.uk/2016/09/12/master-the-outline-12-methods-for-plotters-and-pantsers-part-ii

Brian Tracy has a great outline for a non-fiction novel.

Christopher Mart. Writing 101. “How to Write an Outline and First Lines:” https://writingcooperative.com/writing-101-how-to-write-an-outline-and-first-lines-4d8be57f96ee

“How to Outline a Book:” https://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-outline-a-book/

Jane Friedman. “Writing Scenes: Crafting the Setup and the Payoff:” https://www.janefriedman.com/writing-scenes-setup-payoff/

Jerry Jenkins. “How to Outline a Novel:” https://jerryjenkins.com/how-to-outline-a-novel/

KindlePreneur.com. “Best Outline Software:” https://kindlepreneur.com/review/best-outline-software/

Short Story Prompts

Servicescape.com. “301 Short Story Ideas Guaranteed to Kick Your Writing into High Gear:” https://www.servicescape.com/blog/301-short-story-ideas-guaranteed-to-kick-your-writing-into-high-gear 


Thank you for reading my blog. Please leave a comment and tell me what outlining strategy you use for writing and if you outline before your write or after you’ve written each chapter.  Feel free to share with others you believe would enjoy reading this article. 

Believe in you and your writing!
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards, Author
Copyright © 2009-2021 Joan Y. Edwards

Firebird Book Award Winner Flip Flap Floodle Will this little duck’s song save him from Mr. Fox?

Subscribe to Joan’s blog for new articles of inspiration, information, and humor. Receive free gifts. Join over 234 subscribers and over 1,154,969 visitors. Thank you.



Paul Peditto, Award-Winning Screenwriter and Playwright Shares Ways to Improve Writing

Paul Peditto, Award-Winning Screenwriter and Playwright
Paul Peditto, Award-Winning Screenwriter and Playwright

I took a playwriting course with Script University in November 2020 with Paul Peditto, award-winning screenwriter, playwright, and director. I learned a lot. He has a way of making you feel great about your writing and showing you ways to make it even better.

I am very honored that he agreed to let me interview him on my blog!!! Feel free to ask questions or leave comments for him.

Welcome, Paul. Thanks for letting me interview you today. My readers and I are excited you are here.

You’re welcome, Joan. I’m glad to be here with all of you. Let’s get started.

1. Where were you born? Where do you live now? Where would you like to travel and why?

Born in Ithaca, New York. Living in Chicago since 1988. I would SO love to travel right now, but there’s the little matter of COVID. When I get two shots in my arms, it’ll be wings up. Europe? South America?

I almost don’t care, so long as it’s out of this Twilight Zone episode of a cage I’ve been living in since March.

Travel, yes!

2. How did you get interested in writing screenplays?

I wasn’t school trained. I wrote a play about my drug-addicted girlfriend who died. That was well-received in Chicago and elsewhere. My brother, Christopher, wanted to make it into a movie(with him in the lead role, of course!) so I was tasked with writing a screenplay for the play. There were no computers then so I counted out the spacing on a screenplay and made those scene, action, character tabs on my manual typewriter to adapt the play in screenplay form. It got made years later with Calista Flockhart in the lead role. She got famous with Ally McBeal shortly after and our little movie–which started out in our tiny theater in Chicago–ended up on Entertainment Tonight. Made over 2 million though we never saw that money. That’s another story!

3. Who helped you believe in yourself as a writer?

My brother, Christopher, ran Igloo theater in Chicago so the instant I wrote a new play he put it up. Without him, I would have had no idea if the plays were any good. Seeing the effect your writing has on an audience is an incredible experience and one of the true joys of being a playwright. Every night, it’s new. So yes, that helped me develop my own style and compass. If you don’t have faith in your own stuff, who else will?

4. What are you writing now?

Not much. COVID era, very little getting made. No theaters are open here in Chicago. I made some Xtranormal movies (animated) on YouTube this summer. Check ’em out on my Youtube page.

5. Which is your favorite genre and film?

Don’t have a fav genre but TAXI DRIVER is my fav movie. And that says everything you need to know about me!

6. What is your favorite screenplay you wrote and why?

CROSSROADERS was the most complete script. This was about casino thieves. Although it never got made, it won semis at Nicholl Fellowship and was optioned by Haft Entertainment–makers of Dead Poets Society. it came very close to being made. There was a budget and a director attached to it.  It looked good to go. Unfortunately, ROUNDERS came out just before it and the producer got cold feet. Now it makes a really effective door stop.

Just shows you with Hollywood, how close you can come and it still not happen. This goes back to the writer’s compass I was talking about.

I know that’s a good script and if it was cast with name talent it could and probably would win awards. But without an agent to push it and needing millions, it sits on the shelf. It’s what drove me crazy about the L.A. movie scene and why I eventually moved into writing micro-budget stuff like CHAT, the last movie I made in 2015. There comes a point where as a writer you just want to make SOMETHING without needing the money or approval of others. So you write a play you can produce yourself or a micro-budget film you can make for low money.

7. What is the difference between a novel, a stage play, and a screenplay?

This isn’t a question that can be answered in a nifty short paragraph. maybe the better question is the difference in how these formats communicate.

Film is a VISUAL medium. Juxtaposing images for emotional impact. The Novel has INNER MEANING and MONOLOGUES that film can’t have(not without voice over, anyhow) so all that has to be turned into images if you write for the screen. For instance, a 30-page passage in AMERICAN PSYCHO about business cards plays as TWO pages, two minutes in the screenplay.

Stage plays are about the WORD. You suspend disbelief. We’re not in China like a movie, we’re just implying it. But all that stagecraft is to support the words of the playwright. 

Playwright, for me, has always been higher on the priority pyramid than screenwriters. Screenwriters drive up in clown cars. Tennessee Williams will forever be Tennessee Williams.

8. What questions do you ask when deciding which screenplay contest to enter?

I concentrate on major contests. Nicholl Fellowship, Sundance Lab, Austin, maybe Page awards. Go to moviebytes.com to see a master list of all the contests.

Nicholl Fellowship is the Academy Awards of screenwriting contests. Easily the most important.

When I got semis at Nicholl (which means your script is down to 150 out of 10,000+) I had 25 producers, managers and agents email me the next day. They hawk the Nicholl list. This is how it works in the usual L.A. system. Get the agent, get the manager, get assignments, etc.

Screenplay contests are good because you don’t need an agent to apply. Anything you can do proactively, without permission from L.A. is a good thing.

9. How do you decide to write a new screenplay?

I am THEME driven.  I write a script because the subject matter means something to me. Someone near me was arrested recently for marijuana. (Yes, can you imagine that in this day and age?) They’re trading weed stocks on Wall Street and people are rotting in jail for growing marijuana. This bothered me enough that I spent 5 months writing a screenplay about it. This is my sole concern when organizing characters and story. It’s the only way I can justify spending months on a project because it means something to me. And hopefully, it means something to the audience. That universality–that it impacted me and, therefore, will impact the audience is really the key for new screenwriters and playwrights to consider.

10. What three craft books do you recommend screenwriters study?

SAVE THE CAT, Blake Snyder, is the big structure book these days

SCREENWRITERS BIBLE, Dave Trottier, is the format book.

ONLINE RESOURCES, nofilmschool.com, indiewire.com, johnaugust.com

11. What are the steps to writing a screenplay?

To answer this would take 15 weeks of a 3-hour per week class. The cute fast answer would be to read as many screenplays as possible on IMSDB.COM, learn the craft. Also, understand that it’s never done, even when they’re paying you. There will always be rewrites, even when they’re shooting the movie!

12. How is writing a screenplay different than writing a novel?

I’ve only written one novel so I’m not qualified to answer this. This goes back to what i said before about film being a VISUAL medium and a novel being a place of WORDS and INNER THOUGHT. 

13. How many sentences is too many for a line of dialogue in a screenplay?

This question reminds of that scene in AMADEUS when the King tells him his opera had “too many notes.” And Mozart responds there were exactly as many notes as was necessary to finish the opera. There’s no one model for creativity. If it works, it works. You know it, too. Sure, you have to concern yourself with length more in a screenplay–how many four-hour movies did you see lately? While with a novel, it’s a novel at 300 pages or 1300? There are no 1300 page screenplays.

14. What writing exercise do you use to to help you write a scene ?

I outline my screenplays extensively. It might take weeks, but I figure out the story beats ahead of time, and get them down on paper.

When I start writing I’ve basically already written it in my head. If I get stuck anywhere, I can move to the next scene in the outline. While I’d recommend outlining, that’s my process. Writers have to do what’s natural for them so outlining might not be right for some. You could argue that you want more spontaneity, You want your characters to speak to you organically. And that’s fine…as long as they keep speaking to you! Nothing worse than getting to page 23 and they stop speaking to you!

15. Different screenwriting books talk about beats. I get confused. Would you please explain what a beat is and how it is helpful.

The definition of a beat is the smallest actable unit in a scene.  There could be multiple beats–which means which character is driving the scene, dominating it. So, beats within a scene, scenes within a sequence, sequences within an act, acts within the screenplay. These are structural units. like Russian nesting dolls.

16, What is subtext and how can writers use it to deepen the impact of their writing?

Subtext is saying it without saying it. it’s saying everything BUT the thing. it’s the opposite of exposition where you tell the audience exactly what the character is thinking. 

17. What does it mean when they say the writing is on the nose?

It means exposition. Means it’s too on the head, too obvious, too stated and predictable. Always try to surprise your audience.

18. If screenwriters would like for you to critique a screenplay, what questions do you ask yourself to help you evaluate it? 

Every script has different upsides and down. Some scripts are genre-based, meaning bigger budget thriller, action, etc. Some are character-driven–more Art House, movies you’d see at Sundance, smaller stories told in a drama, dramedy or comedy.

Commerciality matters, of course, but a good story rules the day in the end. Characters too, gotta “give a shit” and care about the journey, have an emotional investment or just plain fascination. Originality by definition means I’ve never seen it before. That’s rare indeed. in the end writers should NOT be worrying about what others are going to say about their work. They should be writing down to the core of what matters to them. You can’t go wrong if you stay close to that honesty.

Paul, thank you very much for answering my questions. My readers will be very excited to meet you and learn from you.

Links to Paul Peditto’s movies and book

Chat https://www.amazon.com/Chat-Rush-Pearson/dp/B076D1YJZW

Chat https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/chat/id1046842034

Jane Doe https://www.amazon.com/Jane-Doe-Calista-Flockhart/dp/B00000JWVX

cover of The DIY Filmmaker - Life Lessons for Surviving Outside Hollywood by Paul Peditto
The DIY Filmmaker – Life Lessons for Surviving Outside Hollywood

Paul Peditto and Boris Wexler’s book: The DIY Filmmaker: Life Lessons for Surviving Outside Hollywood

How to Find Paul on the internet

Paul Peditto’s Website https://www.scriptgodsmustdie.com/

Interested in getting Paul to evaluate your screenplay?  Check out his Consulting Services https://www.scriptgodsmustdie.com/screenwriting-services/

Contact Paul Peditto: https://www.scriptgodsmustdie.com/contact-us/

Articles about Scriptwriting by Paul Peditto https://scriptmag.com/script-gods

Youtube https://www.youtube.com/user/paulyvegas/featured

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Script-Gods-Must-Die-115364311814682/

Linked-In https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-peditto-94236930/


Paul Peditto is an award-winning screenwriter and director.
His low-budget film Jane Doe starring Calista Flockhart won Best Feature at the New York Independent Film & Video Festival. Six of his screenplays have been optioned including Crossroaders to Haft Entertainment (Emma, Dead Poets Society). He recently wrote and produced the micro-budget feature Chat, currently distributed on iTunes, VUDU, YouTube, and Dish Network by Gravitas Ventures.


Over the past decade, Mr. Peditto has consulted with over 1,000 screenwriting students around the world. He has been Featured Speaker at Chicago Screenwriters Network, Meetup.com, Second City, and Chicago Filmmakers. He has appeared on National Public Radio and WGN radio, and reviewed in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, L.A. Times, and the New York Times.


Peditto is an adjunct professor of screenwriting at Columbia College. Under his guidance his students have written and produced films that have appeared in major film festivals, have semifinal placings at Nicholl Fellowship, and have won awards and screened at film festivals around the country.  His new book, The D.I.Y. Filmmaker is available through Self-Counsel Press on Amazon.


Thank you for reading my interview with Paul Peditto.  He is willing to answer your questions, so please leave your comments and questions. We look forward to reading them. Feel free to share his interview with your writer friends.   

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards, Author
Copyright © 2009-2021 Joan Y. Edwards

Subscribe to Joan’s blog for new articles of inspiration, information, and humor. Receive free gifts. Join over 231 subscribers and over 1,139,837 visitors. Thank you.