Three-Line OutliningI love NaNo, but one of the drawbacks I find in writing fast and furiously is the inability to hold all the details of a manuscript in my head. To combat that, I’ve come up with a solution that keeps important information near at hand.
This suggestion is going to be low-tech and old-school, but it’s something that works for me, and I hope you’ll find it helpful, too.
My go-to for this system is a plain and simple 8 ½-by-11-inch lined notepad. You can use a Word file or spreadsheet if you prefer. I break down the manuscript scene by scene, and this is the information I’ve found it handy to include:
In the left margin, note the day of the week, time or time frame, and the location of the scene, using abbreviations to keep things concise. Example: Sat, late aft, diner; Mon, 10 a.m., lawyer’s office; one week later/Fri, early eve, Tina’s bedroom.
If you transition from one scene to another without a change in location—for instance, if you’re simply switching point of view or beginning a new chapter—it’s easy to list this as: immed foll (immediately following) or whatever abbreviation works for you.
Each scene covers three lines of the notepad, with a blank line between scenes:
Line 1 – list the chapter/scene number, then briefly describe the main action of the scene, usually beginning with the point-of-view (POV) character’s name or initial. (Using abbreviations, dropping words, and using symbols will all come in handy here, too.) Example from A Rancher of Her Own:
1-2 – Pete + Jane meet face-to-face again for first time in yrs when grandfather coerces P into becoming J’s temp assistant.Line 2 – list the POV character’s internal/emotional response in the scene and the scene kicker or takeaway. Example:
P unhappy at own reaction at seeing Jane all grown up.Line 3 – leave blank when writing your initial draft. This space is used to include ideas for possible revisions or to jot down the final info once revisions are done.
On the right side of the page, beside each set of lines (that is, each scene) or simply next to the final scene of the chapter, indicate the ending page number.
Below is a sample of an actual outline page for my upcoming release, The Lawman’s Christmas Proposal.
As you can see, it’s not necessary to get too fancy or too wrapped up in making any of this perfect. (In the example, I missed the extra space between two scenes! ;) ) The guideline or cheat sheet is for your eyes only.
I’ve found many advantages to using the system:
- Seeing the entire story laid out on just a few pages makes it easy to locate scenes and events.
- Line 2 of each scene provides a way to track the emotional and/or plot high points of the story.
- Starting each description with the point of view character’s name or initial lets you see how often you’re in a character’s POV.
- If you’re a plotter, you can also use the system to lay out several scenes in advance or even to chart your entire book at once based on your synopsis.
- If you’re a pantser or winging it for NaNo, you can work only a scene ahead or fill in the blank lines after you’ve written the scene.
- Whenever I’m writing a new book, I tend to jot the notes after the scene is done. My synopsis is my writing guide; the three-line outline is my cheat sheet for the actual manuscript. During NaNo, I modify the system, updating it each night with brief notes for the next day’s scenes.
- Having the story outlined this way can come in handy when you receive a revision letter from your editor or are working through revisions of your own.
Good luck with this and with your NaNo project!
About the Author
Barbara White Daille lives with her husband in the sunny Southwest. Though they love the warm winters and the lizards in their front yard, they haven’t gotten used to the scorpions in the bathroom.
Barbara’s new series, The Hitching Post Hotel, features a matchmaking grandpa determined to see his three granddaughters wed. The series began in April 2015 with The Cowboy’s Little Surprise and continues with A Rancher of Her Own (July) and The Lawman’s Christmas Proposal (December).
She loves to chat with readers, and you can find her and learn more about her books online at the following locations:
Ranch manager Pete Brannigan has no interest in playing tour guide to a city slicker like Jane Garland. But spending a few days with the headstrong photographer is a small price to pay for everything her grandfather has given the single dad. Though Pete's drawn to Jane's sharp wit and striking beauty, he won't hurt his young children by falling for another woman who puts her career before family.
Jane's seen the world through her camera…and used it to shield her emotions. With Pete, she can finally let her guard down. If only he could do the same. Despite their powerful bond, Pete still can't trust Jane with his kids or his heart. But if he keeps pushing her away, he may ruin any chance their relationship has to develop.
A Rancher of Her Own is available at Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Books-A-Million ~ Harlequin ~ IndieBound ~ Kobo.
“All’s fair in love and getting the perfect shot.” Once Daffodil took the sugar cube from her hand, Jane stepped back and began clicking again.
“I doubt any newlyweds will want souvenir photos of an old, past-her-prime mare.”
“These are for me.”
He couldn’t keep his eyebrows from shooting up in surprise. He couldn’t keep from needling her, either, and blamed it on those bygone days when a teenager seven years his junior had made his life a misery. “Gonna put them up on the wall in your New York high-rise?”
“Who’s gonna stop me?”
He narrowed his eyes. Then he noted the rueful twist of her lips. She was baiting him. The idea gave him a rush of pleasure he wasn’t sure how to handle.
“So, you do recall all those times you gave me grief.”
“I might have a faded memory or two,” she admitted.
When she moved toward the door, he remained where he stood, watching her silhouette against the bright sunlight.
She turned. “Way back then, I was just a kid asserting my rights.”
You’re sure not a kid anymore.
He brushed the thought away. “You were being a pain in my butt.”
She grimaced. “That too, maybe. But you can’t tell me you didn’t deserve some of it, considering your new job had swelled your head to about the size of this barn door.”
She rested her back against the frame. Her stance highlighted unsuspected curves beneath that loose, dark shirt.
Yeah, he’d called it right about her not being a kid.
He hoped she planned to go away soon—not just from the barn but, once the wedding was over, from the ranch and from Cowboy Creek. He couldn’t blame that thought on memories of the past, his desire to get back to work, or even the sight of her gazing regally down her nose at him the way Daffodil had looked at her.
No, he wanted her long gone because she’d turned out to be one fine-looking woman. Because she was making him want things he had no time in his life for now. And because she was still too many years younger than he was and would always be the boss’s granddaughter.
Yeah—think of the boss.
“That was my first full-time job,” he told her. “I was trying to make an impression.”
“Oh, you did that, all right. I’m glad you didn’t say ‘a good impression,’ because you didn’t come close to one. I don’t like men—people—who think they can order others around. And you definitely had a case of that back then.”
“I was in charge of the horses—”
“Under my grandpa’s direction.”
“—and watching out for them was part of my job.”
“He’s given you another job now, too, so he tells me.”
“Yeah. Playing nursemaid.”
“Thanks, old man,” she shot back, “but I don’t need that kind of help. An assistant is more like it. What’s the matter? Is the job beneath you?” She shrugged. “If you don’t like the idea, I won’t have a problem getting someone else.”
He’d bet she wouldn’t. As long as she managed to keep that smart yet sexy mouth of hers shut, any of his boys would be happy to assist her. He wouldn’t, but turning down Jed’s order wasn’t an option.
“I didn’t say anything against the idea. I’ve got no problem with moving furniture around.”
“Good. Then I’ll meet you in the lobby tomorrow morning at nine.”
To his satisfaction, she didn’t seem to be any happier about the assignment than he did.