To Outline or Not to Outline, by Trish Jackson

Hello fellow Soul Mateys. This is my first post on this blog and I am excited to be here.I recently participated in a writing class given by James Patterson.  I write romantic suspense, and he’s the master of suspense, so it was perfect for me.

I’ve always been a pantser. I get an idea, run it around my head until I have time to get to it, and then I sit down and write, and the story is all there some place in my head. I know a lot of you probably work the same way.

James Patterson dedicated two entire lessons to outlines, and he managed to convince me that an outline is absolutely imperative. So I went ahead and created an outline for my upcoming novel, Virgo’s Vice. This story was already written, and I already had a publishing contract on it with Soul Mate. It’s not supposed to work that way, of course. The outline should come first, but I wanted to see if it would change anything. I managed to get it done, and received my first edit from Caroline about a week after I completed it.

It did change things. A lot. Just for starters, the number of chapters doubled.

Here’s what I learned.

  1. Patterson recommended starting with an outline, separating each chapter, and getting the entire story down before you even start writing it. I found that this doesn’t work for me because I’m not a plotter and it interferes with my creativity.  I now write until I get to a place where I’m a little stuck—we all get to that point at some stage, right? That’s when I go back, read over what I’ve written, and start my outline.
  2. There are no rules about how to lay out your outline. I’ve seen templates for some very complex outlines that totally put me off. Just a numbered list like this with a new number for each chapter is fine.
  3. Write what’s in each chapter as if you’re telling a friend about a book you just read.
  4. Now go back and read the outline and consider the following:
  5. Think of each chapter as a scene in a movie, and make certain you started a new chapter for each new scene;
  6. Each chapter should contain something that moves the story forward. If it doesn’t, you probably don’t need it. There has to be a reason—or plot point—for every chapter. Deleting is hard, but sometimes it is the best thing to do;
  7. Make certain each chapter ends with something suspenseful to compel the reader to move on to the next one, preferably at the height of the conflict. (The hook);
  8. Try to find a way to add more suspense to each scene with impactful words, actions and visceral emotions (consider the senses used—sight, sound, smell, touch, taste plus balance, pressure, temperature, pain and motion.);
  9. We write romance and this means there should be as much sexual tension as possible. Put the primary characters together and then tear them apart;
  10. If a scene doesn’t seem quite right, try writing it in a different character’s POV;
  11. Try two or three alternate endings.
  12. Troubleshoot and edit, edit, edit.

Whether you are a plotter or a pantser, I absolutely recommend that you use this excellent tool. It’ll also help you to write a synopsis when you’re ready to submit it to Soul Mate Publishing.


Trish writes rural romantic suspense and her stories always include pets.

Would love to connect.

Twitter: @trishjaxon  Facebook Pinterest Goodreads LinkedIn


About Trish Jackson, Author

I grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe, Africa, and lived through some crazy adventures that sparked my imagination, including having to keep a loaded UZI by my side every night in case of an attack by armed insurgents. I write romantic suspense and romantic comedy, and love all animals and they seem to worm themselves into my stories, which are mostly set in country locales.
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6 Responses to To Outline or Not to Outline, by Trish Jackson

  1. I never used to be an outliner, but the more I write, the more I’ve come to rely on an annotated chapter list to guide me. I’ve heard about Patterson’s outline advice and it really makes sense to me, especially after getting a few books under my belt and needing to ramp up my productivity.

  2. kathybryson says:

    like the way you (& Patterson) explain how to use the outline to more the plot forward when you hit that stuck point!

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