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Novel Writing Methods #3: The Heavy Outline

Updated on September 17, 2012

What is an outline?

Just to recap, an outline is when a writer lists the events in a novel in advance of actually writing it. Most writers who outline use the light outline method, a simple list of scenes.

Some, however, use the heavy outline method, which works somewhat differently.


Why is it a 'heavy' outline?

A heavy outline is much more in-depth than a light outline. Instead of simply listing scenes, the writer may write each scene up briefly, without regard for grammar, and in a manner generally called 'telling'.

Alternatively, they may use a paragraph or two of description that further nails down exactly what happens in a scene. The heavy outline, thus, is more detailed and precise.

In some cases, a writer may combine both methods, writing a light outline, then filling it in with a heavy one. This method may result in the novel being built up from these simple paragraphs until eventually it is 'filled in'.

In other words, this method places a heavy lattice or framework, which is then filled in with detail.

Advantages of the Heavy Outline

1. It establishes the story in detail. It is therefore good for writers who need absolutely everything laid out before they start.

2. Like the light outline, it can be used to break the novel down into manageable chunks, except that in this case each chunk is developed, piece by piece, until it is a fully written scene. Most writers who use this method will also edit one scene at a time, trusting that their overall outline will maintain continuity.

Disadvantages of the Heavy Outline

1. It is even more prone than the light outline to create a sense of being 'done' with the work long before it has finished.

2. Sometimes the sketchy or 'tell-y' material may be left in the finished book.

3. It leads to a focus on individual scenes that can sometimes cause continuity or flow errors in the overall story, especially if it is not combined with a good overall light outline.


This method is worth a try for writers who are intimidated by the idea of writing an entire novel, as it makes it easy to work scene by scene and chapter by chapter until the book is done. It does not work well for people who find multiple drafts hard, or for those who tend to get writer's block once any kind of outline is finished.

Unlike the light outline, this method lends itself to building up ever more detailed outlines until you have a book. The combination of the two can be very effective, although like all methods, it does not work for everyone.

Other hubs in this series:

The Seat of Your Pants

The Light Outline

The Koontz Method


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    • jfay2011 profile image


      6 years ago

      very interesting. I did try the light outline last night. I only did it up to Chapter sixteen. The heavy outline sounds good too. The koontz method. hmm. I've got one or two of his new books. I haven't read them yet. Very good detail and advice to your hubs.


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