Summary Outlines

Between the idea and the draft, there’s the constant struggle between the need to plan and the desire to just start writing—depending on what sort of writer you are, of course. If you’re someone who simply cannot know what’s going to happen or you’ll lose all interest, then this solution isn’t for you. But if you want to plan but you also want some spontaneity, I might have come up with a nice compromise.

I call it a “summary outline,” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like and which I am completely positive I did not make up. But the detailed summary is often developed later in the process, even after the draft is done, when it can’t really do you any good as a development tool.

The summary outline as a compromise between planning and making it up as you go is the exercise of opening up a document and just… telling the story—but in an expository and abridged nature. You can go into detail of actions and dialogue, even, but keep just a hint of reserve and the ability to “tell” what you don’t want to show (or don’t yet know in enough detail). Imagine telling the story to someone, without all the time in the world to spell out every scene.

For me, this tool has come in handy for… well, doubting things, my greatest skill. It shows me in the outline which scenes are falling flat, where the conflict lags, and where I’m cramming in filler that doesn’t quite flow. It’s a great way to test out pacing and structure, as well as juxtaposition and arcs, without the time commitment of an entire draft. And as compared to the point-by-point outline (the more traditional type of planning), it’s able to fill in and expand on the details in a way that can really tell you if “conversation at the bar” is a worthy scene.

It’s another tool in the arsenal during the murky development phase, and while I can’t say I’ve mastered it (ha), I think it’s a great place to start.


About J. Sevick

Just write.
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