12.26: Q&A on Outlining and Discovery Writing

Your Hosts: Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard

Our listeners had questions about outlining and discovery writing. Here are a few of the very best:

  • Do you outline scenes? How?
  • How do you know when to STOP outlining something?
  • How much do you have to know about your character and/or world before you start writing?
  • What do you to to diagnose and fix a structural problem with a discovery-written draft?
  • What do you do to ‘get into’ an outline that you’re struggling with.
  • Are each of your projects similar in terms of procedure?
  • What are some major indicators that a piece needs more structural work?

Soundbite moment: DAN: “I had to learn the difference between a story, and a bunch of stuff that happens.”

Credits: this episode was recorded in Cosmere House Studios by Dan Dan the Audioman Thompson, and mastered via great mastery by Alex Jackson



Find another writer. You each write a quick outline for a story, print it, then cut your outline into strips. Now, trade piles of strips. Your missions? Re-assemble the other writer’s outline.

Contracted Defense, by Piper J. Drake

7 thoughts on “12.26: Q&A on Outlining and Discovery Writing”

  1. Hi Writing Excuses Crew,

    I have a question for you. I’m trying to outline my first novel, but I find that there are different themes and arcs I’m trying to keep track of for each character. I find it difficult to see the arcs of each if I do bullets points in Word. Putting cards on a bulletin board to move around might be handy but I don’t have one available. Are there any tools that you use to keep track of multiple threads, but see them all at the same time? Have any of you found the program Scrivener to be useful? Thanks!

  2. The Utah quartet, Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard, got together with a pile of questions about outlining and discovery writing, and dove right in and tackled the bunch! Discovery answering, I think? Anyway, you’ll find answers to questions about outlining scenes, when to stop outlining, when you need to do more work on structure or outlining, whether or not the process ever settles down, how do you diagnose and fix a structural problem, and more! So, go read the transcript, available now in the archives or over here


    And don’t forget, you are out of excuses. So go write! Or outline, then write!

  3. I’ve a question with outlining, bouncing off of one asked. How much about the world should the writer know by the time they’re done writing? Just enough to tell the story or is even more necessary?

  4. I have a question not directly related to outlining: I was wondering how you find alpha and beta readers. Do you join a wiring group? Try to meet other writers willing to swap through online forums? Do Writing Excuses listeners pair up somehow through your website? I don’t know any other writers and my friends don’t really have the skills to truly evaluate and critique my work. I’ve written three novels and I’m hoping my fourth can get more help. I definitely appreciated the suggestion by your guest in one of the last episodes suggesting everyone invest in a content editor – but I still think I having alpha/beta readers as a first point of contact before I get to the stage where I invest in hiring someone makes sense. What do you think? Thanks!

    1. Have you looked at the Meetup app? I found two writing groups in my vicinity (Tulsa area).

      Online, check out the forums at Absolute Write, a thriving community of writers and editors willing to share their time and experience to help us beginners. There is a section where you can post requests for betas also.

  5. I’m having difficulty outlining my time travel novel. Any suggestions?

    There are multiple timelines and the nature of time travel in my story is that traveling in time creates a new parallel universe. It’s probably closest to “Back to the Future” per your time travel podcast (or “Terminator 2”).

    Also, this is a comedy.

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