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Novel Writing Methods #2: The Light Outline

Updated on November 22, 2012

What is the Light Outline?

An outline is when a writer puts down on paper the series of events that a book will contain. It is a way of planning the book out in advance.

A light outline is, specifically, a list of scenes that the writer plans on putting in the book. The scenes can be moved around, but the final order is the 'outline'. This does not mean the outline will not change...far from it. Many writers do change the order of scenes between initial outline and final product.

How Do You Make A Light Outline?

There are two common methods. Some writers simply write a list. This is much easier with a word processor, allowing mistakes to be erased before the list is printed out.

Many, however, actually use index cards and write each scene down on a card then set them out. This is called 'story boarding' and is a common technique in movies and television, where a committee of different people may be working on the script. The index cards can be shuffled around until a final version is put together. Often this is then pinned up to a board of some kind (hence story board).


Advantages of the Light Outline

1. You know where you are going. For some writers, it is essential to have each twist of the story planned out before they start.

2. It is easy to move scenes around. Because all you have is the list of scenes and maybe a sentence or two about what occurs, fixing the order is a lot easier than in the 'heavy outline' method.

3. It makes it easy to break the task of writing the novel down into smaller segments, treating each scene as a task that has to be completed.

4. You can, if you feel like it, write the book out of order. Many writers who outline actually write the ending of the book first.

Disadvantages of the Light Outline

1. Some writers feel that once a story is done they are done. For such writers, outlining first may actually result in writer's block as their brain tries to insist that the story is, in fact, finished.

2. Having an outline can force the story in a specific direction. If it then gets away from you (as happens) and goes in a different one, an outliner may find herself forced to rewrite the entire outline.

3. For some writers, the light outline is not enough and they find towards the end of the process that they have forgotten what they meant in their own notes.


A light outline is a good method for writers who feel the need for a road map to their stories. It is a poor one for people who find that their plans don't survive contact with their characters or for those whose brain works in such a manner that finishing the outline feels like finishing the book.

Also, for some writers, a light outline is not sufficient. In the next hub, part three, the heavy outline method is discussed. This is a very similar technique, but with some key differences.

Other hubs in this series:

The Seat of Your Pants

The Heavy Outline

The Koontz Method


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    • trusouldj profile image

      trusouldj 5 years ago from Indiana

      Outlines helped me in the beginning when i was a student at Columbia College. But at some point they seemed to get in the way, because I have trouble sticking to them.

    • mortimerjackson profile image

      mortimerjackson 6 years ago from California

      This. This is the way I write. Because most of the writing I do centers around theme, I have to plan out events in the story in order to fit that message. It makes my story all-the-more organized.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 6 years ago from United States

      A good hub that explores a good way in writing. Personally. I prefer to write as I go and let things fall into place along the way. I never know the ending to a story that I write, which makes it more enjoyable for me. Thanks.

    • jenniferrpovey profile image

      jenniferrpovey 6 years ago

      It's not my idea. It's how a lot of people do it. I personally don't outline, but I talk to people who do all the time.

    • jfay2011 profile image

      jfay2011 6 years ago

      very interesting hub, I usually write as I go, but I might try an outline tonight for my new novel and see how it goes. I like your idea of index cards. My writing instructor used to have us write a word or a phrase on an index card. She said it could be good to keep a file of assorted index cards in case something inspires us to create something from it. I will be looking forward to your hub on heavy outline. I always love to read peoples great hubs on writing. Very good hub.