April 3rd, 2015

How to Write With Your Right Brain

2015, April 1, Darynda and Margie, Alb.Margie Lawson and Darynda Jones

Darynda Jones’ writing is so fun, so fresh, you might think she doesn’t use much of her right brain logic. But she does. Read on, and you’ll learn why and how her right brain rockets her to best seller success.

From Darynda Jones:

So, yeah, I get teased. Even today, sitting at the big girls’ table, I get teased. I’m a plotter, but not just any plotter. I plot like my life depends on it and, in a way, my career does. I’ve learned not to mess with my process and it will often produce outlines that consist of between 40 and 60 pages.

Lots of writers outline. Most don’t do it to that extent, but I see my outline as a map. I have to know where I’m going before I start on the journey. I have to know every turn. Every twist. Every possible obstacle.

Does all this mean that I rigidly stick to my outline? That I never waver or have any kind of spontaneity? Quite the opposite. By creating such a detailed outline, I am actually more free (in my mind, anyway) to divert from the path, because I always know where I’m going. Where I’ll end up. And by creating such a detailed map of events, guess what I never ever have? Go ahead. Guess.


I’ll wait.

A sagging middle!

A sagging middle is just not a problem I have ever had. My stories never wander aimlessly. Every scene moves the story forward. Every interaction adds important information or develops my characters even more fully.

Of course, there are more advantages to outlining. One is that I am freer to create those fresh twists that get a writer on the best sellers lists. To explore a character’s emotion and take my writing to the next level. I didn’t know how to do this at first, but I stumbled upon an online class on empowering characters’ emotions given by the incredible Margie Lawson and my writing has never been the same.

2015, April, EDITS System Highlighting, Jenn, Kari, Shelly, Gloria, Bob, DaryndaI learned so much from that class and from the many I’ve taken since, and right now I’m sitting in an immersion class with Margie, learning so much I’m giddy and ecstatic and dizzy with knowledge. I’m already looking forward to my next immersion class! (And, no, I’m so not kidding.)

Anyhoo, are you sold yet? Check out my process and see if you are willing to take the plunge. And even more important, check out Margie’s classes and lecture packets.

Darynda’s Outlining Process:

I plot like there’s no tomorrow, baby. I barely start a book without three distinct outlines.

1. The Skeleton Key: This answers four basic questions:

— Where are we?

— What time of day is it?

— What major event happens in this scene or series of scenes?

— In what order does the story unfold?

2. The Outline:

This is a brief synopsis of the entire book. It is usually about 5-9 pages long. It’s what I send my editor for approval before actually starting the book.

3. The Detailed Outline:

This is where I take the skeleton key, plug the outline into the appropriate areas, then add any details I’ve come up with including specific scenes, little extras I want to reveal here and there, funny lines or situations I want to use, and even internal and external motivation.

These outlines usually run between 40 and 60 pages, but remember that part about adding scenes? Yeah, by this point I’ve already written a nice chunk of the book.

Next, I take the final detailed outline, copy and paste it into my manuscript, and delete as I go. This way I never stray far from the conceived story. I don’t wander around, wondering where I’m going. I know exactly what is coming next, and very often, if it’s a “hard” scene (meaning I’m too lazy to write it at that moment), I’ll jump to another scene. I don’t get bored and/or stuck very often and I rarely pull my hair out by its roots. I’ve tried pantsing. It wasn’t pretty. I had writer’s block by the time I got to page three.

NOTE: Let me just say that I write ALL over the place. I do not write linearly in any way, shape or form. But each scene has a purpose. Each scene moves the story forward. This makes the book tight, the pacing strong, and the story smooth. By having such a detailed map of where I’m going, I can write on chapter two one day and chapter nineteen the next. Another (possibly more important) advantage to outlining is that I’m always making progress, always having fun.

Margie says:

Darynda Jones, Eighth Grave After DarkDarynda has a smart right brain. But I love her uber-creative left brain too. Here are a few of the hundreds of fresh examples from her upcoming May 19th release, Eighth Grave After Dark.

Dialogue Cues:

1. “Having a secret meeting with my husband?” I asked, my voice sharp with accusation and innuendo. Mostly accusation. 

2. What Gemma so often forgot was that no matter how soft and nonjudgmental her voice was, I could feel the emotions raging beneath her calm exterior.

Flicker Face Emotion:

A worried expression flashed across Reyes’s face so fast, I almost missed it. Almost.

Cliché Play:

“I just like to keep you on your toes.”

“Oh, you do that. No worries there. I’m like a ballerina when you’re around.”

Rhetorical Device, Conduplicatio

Still, seeing it in person sent a tiny quiver of terror lacing down my spine. Terror that I’d burst out laughing and embarrass her.

Character Description and Humor Hit:

All in all, he was very nice looking. Medium height. Slim build. Exotic coloring. His accent would suggest a local upbringing. I got the feeling that in his spare time he liked wearing feather boas and singing karaoke. But that could just be me projecting.

Fresh and Funny:

Reyes exploded into the room incorporeally, his heat like a nuclear blast over my skin. I held up a hand, and though it was meant for Reyes—he had a tendency to sever spines first and ask questions later—Agent Waters stopped instantly.

Humor Hit:

I could never hate him. Not even if he ate the last Oreo, though that would be pushing it.

A big THANK YOU to Darynda for sharing her right brain with us!

BLOG GUESTS – Share your ideas about outlining, or not. Or share a fresh example from Darynda Jones or your WIP.

Post a comment and you could win an online class from Lawson Writer’s Academy!

These April classes just started (click on the hyperlink for more info):2015 Albuquerque Immersion, Pergola

Story Structure Safari 

Creating That Historical Feel 

Love Your Voice 

This class starts April 5th:

 Diving Deep Into Developmental Edits

Thank you for dropping by Writers In the Storm!

Margie LawsonMargie Lawson—editor and international presenter—is often considered one of the top writing teachers in America. She used her clinical psychology expertise to develop deep editing techniques used by new writers to multi-award winning authors. In the last decade Margie has presented ninety-plus full day master classes to writers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Writers credit her innovative EDITS System and deep editing techniques for taking their writing to publication, awards, and bestseller lists.      

Margie created (and teaches for) Lawson Writer’s Academy, which has over thirty online instructors. She also teaches Immersion Master Classes, four-day, personalized, hone-your-writing-craft intensive experiences. To learn more, please visit www.MargieLawson.com.

140 comments to How to Write With Your Right Brain

  • Okay, okay. I’ve always been a pantster, but you’re actually convincing me here. Particularly because I’m struggling with my next book, and this outline thingy idea just might have some merit. 🙂

  • I always need to study the directions and look at a map before I go to an unfamiliar location and am addicted to the GPS, so why did I think I could write a whole, complicated novel without a plan? I like the analogy you make between the two and it hit home for me. I outline scenes and characters and know the beginning and end, but right now I’m in the sagging middle and stuck. Like taking a wrong turn into a bad neighborhood. 🙁

  • Thank you for a helpful, instructive post. The skeleton key is especially helpful. I’m in the redrafting phase of my first nove and am trying to figure out how to bring out my protaganists painful backstory without too much telling. Margie’s classes sound exactly like what I need.

    • Hello Barbara —

      Every writer needs a skeleton key outline. Most pantsers probably have the answers to those questions in their pants pockets.

      You’ll learn how to slip in backstory in my lecture packets. You’ll learn lots more too.

      Thanks for chiming in!

    • They are FANTASTIC!!!! I cannot recommend enough!

  • Thanks, Darynda … a post with Margie or one of her many successful students is always a must read. I think we all somehow stumble and fumble into a style, a pace, or something that works. I am hopelessly and haplessly in love with the mad rush of that first draft. It comes to me like a manic dream and I can’t stop until it’s a done deed.

    However, what I’ve learned from my stumbling is that I must take that manic dream and dissect it … rip it out one hair, one sentence at a time in order to get a finished product.

    I am sure I would have an easier road to travel if I did it in a more organized plotter-fashion … but hey … that’s me all over … the kid who tripped on a crack in the sidewalk because she was too busy looking at clouds 🙂

    • Hey Florence!

      Always fun to cyber-see you. But I’d love to see you in person too!

      Seems like you could plan where you’re going, and still love that mad rush of your first draft.

      You’d save time, save your sanity, and have more hair!

      • Ditto, Margie … I would so love to see you in the flesh. I think you’re right … and I am doing something akin to this now … only taking three chapters at a time and actually using an outline … what a hoot !!

        If I can’t see you in person, one of my do-to lists has your name on it. If I don’t win a free-be … I may be able to catch’cha on-line soon 🙂

    • I kind of feel that way about my first drafts too. I write VERY FAST first drafts, but have my outline right there with me and my skeleton key on the screen too so I always know where I’m going. My favorite part is actually the rewriting. I love polishing and making it all fresh. But I bet if you write fast first drafts, you don’t suffer from a sagging middle either. Best wishes!!!!

  • Oh, the horror!

    Darynda, I’m so happy that this works for you – and I SO envy you the ‘no sagging middle thing (mine look like 80-year-old-woman-boobs) – BUT not only an outline, but a 40 page one? Write out of order?


    Just no.

    Love your writing, though, and we have ONE thing in common – Margie-Love!

    • As a girl who writes out of order and does a skeleton key, I’m considering what this might cut time from my “manuscript dragged through every field, basement and attic before editing” process. Things must go faster with an outline. Hmmmm…

      Me three on the Margie-Love, and I ADORE your books, Darynda. 🙂

      • Hugs to Immersion-Grad and Brilliant Writer Jenny!

        Hmmm… You could save all that manuscript dragging.

        TRY DARYNDA’S WAY! You share zany DNA with Darynda. Her style of outlining could work for you!

        And — Come see me! Puh-leeeeese? Miss my Jenny!

      • Thank you, Jenny!!! I do write very fast first drafts, but my outlines can take FOREVER! I have to let things simmer if you know what I mean. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors!

    • Hugs to Immersion-Grad, RITA Winner, and Fab Friend Laura Drake!

      I know your brain is bigger than Texas, and your outlines are all scrunched up in your freakishly awesome brain cells. Your process (and brain) work incredibly well for you, and for anyone who reads your books.

      Miss you! Have to get my Laura-fix this year. I hope your 2015 fishing trip is in Colorado again!

    • HAHAHA, Laura! I totally understand. I feel the EXACT same way about pantsing. The very thought gives me hives. But I have a feeling you are doing JUST FINE with your process. LOL.

  • Major structure junkie here. The more I plan, the faster (and better, much much better) I write.

    (I haven’t been around here much ’cause I was busy finishing 3 books. This is me bragging about how planning gets me what I want. Also noting that one thing I do not want, near the top of the list, perhaps, is 80-year-old-woman frontage. Not in my books, not nowhere, not no how.)

    • Hello Joel —

      Ah — a structure-based writer. Faster and better works.

      I’m intrigued with your Chandleresque cozies. An oxymoronic pairing. Clearly not moronic.

      And I agree, no 80-year-old-woman naked frontage should be in anyone’s books, or minds. But Laura Drake push-pinned that image in all our minds. Ouch!

    • YES! Very into structure. Thanks for stopping by, Joel!

  • I loved this post. I’m a place in my writing where I often stumble (having been a pantser for most of my career.) I’m going to take your structural plotting and give it a try!! Thanks Darynda and Margie… XO

    • Hugs to Uber-talented Lovey-friend Jeanne Stein!

      You’re so smart to try on Darynda’s right-brain outlining plan and see if it fits.

      It could be the best fit, the best style, the best way!

      MISS YOU! We’re only an hour apart. Let’s play the match calendars game and get together soon!

    • Yay!!!! I hope it helps! Keep me updated, Jeanne.

  • bonniegill

    I’ve always been a pantser but i want to try your skeleton key meathod. I wish I could plot and this seems easy enough to help boost my lazy right brain into action.
    Thank you Darynda & Margie. You guys are awesome.

    • Hey Immersion-Grad Bonnie —

      Great to see you here!

      Glad you’ll try Darynda’s skeleton key method. Your right brain can boost your left brain all the way to success!

      Any plans to come to Colorado? Nudge. Nudge.

    • Thank you, Bonnie!!!! I hope it works for you! Best of luck, love. Keep me updated!

  • Thanks Darynda and Margie! My favorite thing in the world is deviating from my outline because it makes me feel like I’m breaking the rules and getting away with it! I’m a pantser at heart, but very much see the need for an outline. So, call me a reluctant plotter who gallops back to pantsing every chance I get! Great post. Can’t wait for 8th Grave!! Darynda – you usually have me in tears from laughing by page six.

    • OH thanks so much, Christina! Best wishes on your career!

    • Hugs to 3-time Immersion-Grad Christina!

      Wait until you read 8th Grave! You’ll be wiping laugh-happy tears from page 1! And what a plot! WOWZER!

      And — I know the first chapter in 9th Grave like we shared a bed.

      Check out the pictures I posted on Facebook — from Immersion class with Darnyda in Albuquerque. You’ll see the bed. :-))

      9th Grave? ANOTHER WOWZER!

  • Kate Mallinger

    I loved this post. First of all, I am an outliner, but never to the depth described here… I’m going for it! I’ve always steered off track a bit, which allowed new ideas to just pop up, but I definitely like the idea of writing different scenes depending on what I’m feeling that day while still knowing where I’m going and what has to get done. Super! Thanks!

  • Kelly

    Thank you Darynda and thank you Margie! I want to try this method so much. I think I’m a plotter at heart who keeps trying to pants it. This sounds like the perfect method to me! I’m taking Story Structure Safari now and I’m already seeing great ways to apply what I’m learning.

    Plus, Darynda, you’re brilliant! I love the way you blend quirky randomness with a cohesive story. Thanks for sharing your process!

    • Thank YOU, Kelly!!! Good luck and keep me in the loop! Let me know how it works for you!

    • Kelly —

      You used the same words I use to describe Darynda’s writing. Quirky and random — used to tell an incredibly strong and compelling story.

      We must have the same personality profile. 🙂

      So glad you’re in the Story Structure Safari class. Lisa Miller will help you make your story strong.

  • Heather Leonard

    This was fabulous!

    I am a panters who deep down knows she needs to be a plotter in order to strengthen the ties between subplots and the main plot. Hangs head in shame at lack of hard work expended. I am going to try Darynda’s method this weekend.

  • catemasters

    Excellent insights, Darynda. Thanks for sharing your process. I need as many pointers about plotting as I can get.

    Thanks for the opportunity to win a class, Margie! I’ve taken Story Safari and downloaded several packets, but am always ready to learn more. 🙂

  • Sanoja

    I think I need to go on a Safari…

  • abuzzinid

    Thanks, Darynda! I needed to see that. I’ve been working toward plotting like that and your success gives me inspiration. Especially since you said you don’t stick to it completely. Thank you for writing such fun and engrossing books, too. I look forward to many more.

    Margie–thanks for the opportunity to win a class. I’ve taken many through your site and each one has been brilliant.

  • I love your post, thanks for sharing. Reading about someone who plots in such detail and I am drooling like a little kid after ice cream in summer. I tried and got writers block for a month! But your process is sooooo efficient! Congrats on finding what works and making it work for you!

  • Great post! I’m getting more structured with each story I write. Did the pantser thing and ended up with a big steaming mess. I do a 5-ish page synopsis and then notecards for each scene. Not sure I’ll ever get to the 40-60 page outline stage (wowza) but you’ve given me some great ideas for tidbits to add to those notecards!

    • I’m so glad!!!! And, yes, the more structured your outline, the most complex you can make your story without losing the readers, and the more emotional impact. Good luck!

    • Hello 2-time Immersion-Grad Jen!

      Great to see you here! Would love to get together in Boulder sometime soon.

      I’m excited about your upcoming release, MUST LOVE GHOSTS, April 28!

      I can’t wait to read it. I remember your story and writing from Fab 30 and Immersion classes. And I know your writing is stellar!

  • Robert Doucette

    New ways of writing are always exciting to me. I collect them like a amateur work worker collects tools. After examine each one, I try it out and decide if it is right for me. Some go into my tool box; others wind up in the shed.

    My first completed draft had little planning and I finally left four-five chapters blank to complete it. The second had some good ideas and fun characters, but my romantic suspense novel needs a lot more romance and suspense. Both could have been saved with more planning and outlining. (Actually, I will probably do an outline of the second to see what I have, what I need and where it should be.)

    My next go round will probably follow Darynda Jones’ plan but with more character sketches.

    Many thanks

    • Welcome, Robert! I have actually done that. With my first ms, which was heavily outlined, I went back when I was finished and did a skeleton key. (I didn’t actually call it that until probably my third ms.) But it helped me see where I was and what I could have done better. Good luck!

  • Love that FRESH writing! And the Oreo humor hit totally cracked me up (especially since I just wrote a scene in which two characters celebrate their accomplishment with a package of Oreos — because those cookies are bonding that way).

    I’m also looking forward to my next Immersion. Thanks, Darynda, for the inspiration!

    • Here in Trader Joe’s Land, we call them Gluten Free Joe-Joe’s. So, how about the next time I see you, Julie, we bond over some GF Joe-Joe’s. That’s got a certain cadence to it, right?

      • Moving back to ABQ in a couple of months where there are Trader Joe’s aplenty. SOOOOO making a special trip just for the Joe-Joe’s! ZOMG

      • Jenny and Julie —

        You can call ’em Oreos or GF Joe-Joe’s or chocolate flying saucers. They’re so yummy-in-your-tummy, and they’re vegan too!

        Darynda and I are both vegan. We know those chocolate cookies rule!

    • YES! They are VERY bonding! Hehehe. Thank you and good luck with your story!

  • Thanks so much for this, Darynda – it’s the best post I’ve read on why I should plot (I never do at the moment). I’m most struck by the fact a good outline FREES you to digress if necessary. Will be bookmarking this for sure!

  • Heather

    Does Darynda use a program like Scrivener for her outlining, or just a Word document? It would great to see a .pdf example. Fantastic post

    • Thank you, Heather! I have actually used Scrivener several times and then sometimes I go back to Word. Not sure why. But right now I’m using a program called Blockbuster by John Truby. I took his class in NY a couple of weeks ago and it was amazing too. I learned so much. Anyhoo, yes, I use a variety. Anything that will get that plot on the page! I have so much going on that I need to see it. Again, it’s my map. I’m lost without it.

    • Hi Heather, you might get two replies. I have used Scrivener before and then the next book I might use Word. I never know what will work with my brain at the time. Right now I’m trying out John Truby’s Blockbuster. Fantastic for character motivation and determining the beats of any genre or combination of genres.

  • Hi Margie,

    I love Darynda. She’s featured in my series writing class. Her outlining process is scary amazing.

    If you’re giving away prizes, I’d like to be stuck in a cabin with you and her for about a month. Okay a year – but I’m thinking your husbands might balk at that for a prize.

    Lisa Wells

  • As always, wonderful information! The outline is a little scary!

  • I HAVE to outline. I start by filling out M. Hauge’s Six Stage Plot 3-Act Structure to get the big events down, then I go to Laura Drake’s awesome spreadsheet and start jotting down scene ideas from beginning to end. Before I start writing, I do a detailed outline of the scene. Otherwise, I’d be looking at a blinking cursor forever. Great post! Love Margie’s classes. I have her Deep Edits packages but there’s nothing like working through an on-line class with her. Hope to take another one soon.

    • I love Michael Hauge and Laura Drake! Must find these! I’m using John Truby’s and Blake Snyder’s story beats right now. So much awesome info out there!

    • Michael Hauge is awesome! And Laura Drake has a spreadsheet??? Hmmmmm… Might have to check that out!

    • Hello Barb —

      I look forward to seeing you in another online class!

      I’ll have lecture packets for two new classes available on my website on April 12th:
      — A Deep Editing Guide to Make Your Openings Pop
      — Visceral Rules: Beyond Hammering Hearts

      Now you know. 🙂

  • It’s always helpful to learn from the Masters!

    • Hello Immersion-Grad Shelly!

      I had the BEST time working with you in Immersion last week!

      Love your story, your characters, your writing. Wish I didn’t have to wait until August to read It’s In His Heart!

  • Robert Doucette

    Another comment so I can restate the process to be sure I understand it.

    The 5-9 page Outline/Synopsis is written and then broken into dozens of individual scenes, or individual scene series. The skeleton key is turned and the door opens to reveal the setting (Where?), schedule (What time?), and action (What major events?) for each scene. Plus, each scene’s location in the book is determined (What order?).

    While exploding the Outline/Synopsis with the Skeleton Key, all of the necessary foreshadowing, plot twists and reveals are noted, plus the fun stuff that occurs along the way (description, dialog, rhetoric and humor). This is also when any needed scenes are added.

    This wonderful process allows the writer to quickly get the story out in a short Outline/Synopsis but then think hard about each scene as it is expanded. Then when the “real writing” happens, you’ve already established the order, setting, schedule, and action, so each scene can be separately written. Brilliant.

    Am I close?

    • Yes! That’s it exactly! And thank you! I was going to add that my skeleton key is only about 2 pages long. It’s like the step by step. I hope it works for you!

  • pfunky32

    I have tried a basic outline and usually veer far, far into strange water. I think I would be more productive and need less structural editing if I did your fleshed out outline idea. Love your books, Darynda. And love all your teaching points, Ms. Margie. Great blog post guys.

  • Hello Everyone!

    I forgot to include three things in my blog.

    1. We’ll have TWO DRAWINGS! TWO WINNERS!

    2. First Drawing: Saturday at 6:00 PM, Mountain Time.
    The winner will get to take a free online class from Lawson Writer’s Academy

    Second Drawing: Sunday at 6:00 PM, Mountain Time.
    The winner will get a lecture packet (their choice) for one of my courses.

    3. Here’s a rhetorical device I meant to share from EIGHTH GRAVE AFTER DARK.

    Zeugma: He supped on human souls. Fortunately, I’d convinced him to sup only on the souls of humans who did not deserve them, like murderers, drug dealers, child molesters, and lobbyists.

    Rhetorical devices can make your writing fresh!

  • Thanks Darynda, I always love learning about other writer’s processes as I never know what tidbit I might incorporate. I used to pants, but now I’m more of a plantser–I come up with my characters’ GMCs and then the major turning points, and even some secondary ones if I can, and fill in inbetween… Sometimes I can get halfway through and be able to plan out the rest…

    • Plantser! Too cute! I am learning to incorporate much more of my characters’ motivations and wounds/ghosts from the past. Very important to the emotional depth of the story. Best wishes!

    • Hey Angela —

      Sounds like you make plantsering work for you! Miss you. Hope we get to connect again this year!

  • Kat

    Love hearing how another writer works out a writing plan of action. It is obviously worth the effort you put in! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Thanks Darynda and Margie. I’d love to do an Immersion class one day! Until then, I’m enjoying the online classes and the WITS posts. As far as process, I seem to get more organized each time – although it always feels like a hot mess while I’m writing the first draft.

    • Fae Rowen

      I am starting to think about putting something on paper rather than just go with the movie in my head when I start the next book. The only time I did that was a list of 26 scenes for my third book. I have to admit that made the writing go faster, even when I “strayed” from the list. But the idea of a full-fledged outline )let alone 40 pages!) makes this pantser shiver in the California heat.

      Thank you, Margie and Darynda, for such a great “two-fer” today! So worth the read.

    • Hey Debbie —

      I would love to work with you in an Immersion class. Can you put it on your WILL DO LIST for fall 2015? Spring 2016?

      I recommend trying Darynda’s 3 outlines plan. You could simplify. Make it half as long as hers. You’d still know where, what, when, and why. All good!

      Thanks for chiming in!

  • Barbara Rae Robinson

    With each book I write, I find I’m outlining more. But I doubt that I’ll get to the 40-60 pages. Though that does sound intriguing. My last outline was basically the beats of the story. I’ll have to do some more thinking about this. You’re an inspiration, Darynda.

    • Fae Rowen

      I’m absolutely with you, Barbara. I haven’t started outlining–yet–but I’m thinking seriously about it.

  • Thanks Darynda & Margie for sharing this great article. Great plotting idea to try with my next book.

  • I’ve tried pantsing and well…pantsing yourself is just plain embarrassing. I’ve learned that I need an outline like my soul needs fire, but even with an outline I still falter and fall away from the story. I’m eager to try your methods and see if it can save me some sanity for my later years.

    • Fae Rowen

      Your first line made me laugh, Carol! Not enough to switch my status to plotter, but you do give me pause for thought. Thanks.

  • Elaine Roth

    Darynda – Thank you for posting your process!! I tend to sag and wander and lose my characters in descriptions so I am desperate to find an outlining system that works for me. Most of the time, outlining has resulted in writer’s block, unless it’s post-it notes on a giant board, but that still leads to wandering at times. Will definitely be giving this a try, too!

    • Fae Rowen

      I like post-its around the circumference of my computer monitor, Elaine, even though I was a great outliner in school. Sometimes my post-its are three deep, but I fix something then throw the post-it away.

    • Elaine —

      Thanks for dropping by WITS! Great to see you here.

      I hope you try Darynda’s three-part outlining system. It may be a perfect fit!

  • Fellow authors and friends are amazed at my outline, not sure how many pages but it is thick enough to be a book in itself. I enjoyed putting it together and then the story just flowed. Okay so, ‘the proof in the pudding is the eating’ and this is my first novel so I will reserve comment until it is published and read.

  • mvmarise

    So excited to try outlining my story with Darynda’s process! My brain is flip flopping just entertaining the idea because I’m usually such a pantser. This sounds at least doable as I can paint myself into a corner without a window to climb out of some days. Love your books, Darynda and am always amazed at how writers of your caliber are willing to help those of us still making our way. And can’t give Margie enough hugs for all the lessons she’s taught as well as the top notch instructors I’ve been able to learn from in class.

    • Fae Rowen

      I totally agree with your comments, mvmarise. We’re on the same boat!

    • Hello mvmarise —

      I love the hugs, and the kudos for lessons from me and instructors for LWA. Thank you, thank you!

      I agree. Darynda is an amazing talent, and an amazing person. She’s good people. Really good people.

  • I pantsed my first book, which was fun at the time, but then it needed GOBS of rewriting and revision. Not so fun. Now I’m a die-hard plotter and plan every scene before even beginning to draft. Love Darynda’s writing and I’ve taken one on-line class from Margie and two of her workshops at RWA. Would love to win another one. 🙂 Great post!

    • Fae Rowen

      I’m just starting to see my process “needle” swing a tad away from the pantser camp, Amy. Revision is not my favorite activity, though, and that’s why I think my process may be changing.

    • Hey Amy —

      Ah… You’re like Darynda. You use your left brain first and take the pressure off so your right brain can cut loose in your scenes. Smart, smart, smart!

      Hope to see you in another online class, or in person!

  • Thank you Darynda and Margie for this post. It is truly divine timing for me and is exactly what I needed to continue in my expanding my outlining. It is something that is not a natural process as yet as I get scenes out of order. Daryna did you do a similar process for the series as a whole or do you go book by book?

    • Fae Rowen

      Great question, Ally! I finished the first book in a series and am thinking it might be good to outline–at least a little–for the next two books.

  • OMG. Finally, I have found someone whose process is like mine. I even call that first stage–the skeleton. Then, I write a 6-8 page synopsis for my editor so I can get paid. 😉 Then, I add “flesh” to the synopsis to make it about 40-50 pages. I copy and paste that right into my manuscript and start writing. The process has worked for 70+ books now so I’m keeping it. 😉

    • Fae Rowen

      You’re right, Delores. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Congrats on 70+ books. Wow!

  • biancaree

    Awesome, I find I need an outline to help me focus. I’m going to try it on the new book I’ll be starting next week. Margie can’t wait until June for your Denver immersion class. Writing as Jaylee Austin

  • Suzanne Purvis

    Thanks so much for this great post and the comments. I agree with the others. I love learning how each author is different in their process. Definitely, not one size fits all. 🙂
    I’m a true seat-of-the-pants writer of my first draft. After the first draft has been vomited onto the page then I go back and start to plan out my major plot points, character arcs, etc, etc, etc. Maybe a little backwards, but that’s the way my mind works. 🙂

    • Fae Rowen

      I love that we all do what works for us–once we find what “fits,” Suzanne. Thanks for that reminder.

  • Becky Rawnsley

    Thanks Darynda and Margie for a fabulous post. I’m a pantser who knows she needs to plot more – I’m struggling through a sagging middle at the moment so this post was right on time! You’ve inspired me to try your method and do a skeleton/short outline/detailed outline approach – I already made a start today :-)!!
    Do you use Scene and Sequel (Goal/conflict/disaster/dilemma/decision) as part of your process? (I just finished Kathleen Baldwin’s fab LWA course on this and I’m trying to incorporate it into my writing)
    I love your writing Darynda – you can move me to both laughter and tears, which is something I aspire to, and your characters, plot and pacing totally rock!!

  • Fae Rowen

    From one pantser to another–good luck with the outlining approach, Becky. Let us know how that works as you work on the saggy middle!

  • ^^ ditto to Becky’s post. Scene & Sequel was an eye-opener for me and I’ve been toying with an outline thingy that makes this pantser cringe from claustrophobia.
    But yours might just be the answer – I’m going to try it.
    Thank you Darynda for this timely post and Margie as always for inspiration on top of all the great info and advice.

  • Wow! These outlining ideas are really helpful. I’ve been a pantser, but I’m finding that using a detailed outline as a guideline has helped me stay focused. Thanks for sharing these examples, too!


    A HUGE THANK YOU to darling daring Darynda for sharing her outlining process and her time. I know she’s on deadline and I appreciate her for taking the time to respond to so many posts.


    I just clicked over to random.org, and we have a WINNER!

    The WINNER of the online class is ALANNA LUCAS!

    Alanna — Please email me: margie (at) margielawson (dot) com.

    I’ll do another drawing tomorrow night for a lecture packet from me.

    If anyone has questions about the online classes offered by Lawson Writer’s Academy, please email me.

    Thank you.

    All smiles…………..Margie


    The WINNER of a lecture packet from me is………..HEATHER LEONARD!

    Congratulations Heather!

    Please email me: margie (at) margielawson (dot) com.

    If anyone has questions about online courses, lecture packets, Immersion Master Classes, or my full day and weekend workshops, please contact me. Thank you.

    I look forward to seeing you all online, and maybe hug-to-hug!

    • Fae Rowen

      Thank you for your generous gifts, Margie. Our Writers in the Storm readers are so lucky to learn from you and your “Margie Grads”!

  • Thank you. After working with people who meander through hundreds of pages in search of a plot, I’m thrilled to hear someone else talk up planning. (I even color code the emotions in each chapter. *blushes*) Shoot the Muses–give me an outline!

  • Fae Rowen

    Color coding the emotions sounds like something I can do, sannahines. Thanks!

  • Priya

    This article comes timely as I want to start writing my first novel this year.