Chalk Outlines

No, I’m not going to talk about true crime novels. These are not literal chalk outlines, but rather a process of outlining that I use when planning fiction. I refer to them as chalk outlines to emphasize that they are never set in stone, but always subject to being erased and rewritten.

Following the advice of author Michael Stackpole, I decided to outline my Nano this year as thirty chapters, with a goal of each chapter being about 1700 words. That means I’ll have one chapter to write per day.

When I decided on Starlings for my project, I had a vague idea of the plot but nothing specific enough to make a solid outline. Instead I opened up iTunes, selected a song that reminded me of my main character (“Wolf Like Me” by TV on the Radio), and told the Genius to choose at least 30 songs. I dutifully copied them down and let them suggest the pacing and order of various plot points. Somewhere in the second half of the novel they even suggested an entire diversion I hadn’t planned on including, but that worked well.

The whole process of outlining a 30 chapter novel took about two hours. It was nearly painless, a totally new experience for me in the world of outlining. The outline is, of course, subject to change – and if it does, well, that’s what the Randomize button is for.

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