Plot Loosely, Plot Loosely

Three Benefits of Plotting Loosely

When you do, you’ll accomplish three things that will make writing something sustainable—something you’ll be able to do with joy for the rest of your life—instead of turning it into miserable drudge work that leaves you longing to do ANYTHING else.

What are these three things?

  1.  You’ll keep your main story in front of you. A loose plot outline is NOT one of those A,1,a outlines you learned in school. Neither is it a 30-page condensation of your entire story such as you’d do to sell a book on spec*

You do it with index cards, and you just hit the high points—what your main characters will be doing. By having these index cards available and in front of you, you remember what you’re writing, and why—it’s easier to stay on track and to avoid those “but what if I did this instead” digressions that can leave you with a whole lot of pages and no coherent story

2. You’ll allow space for surprises.

With a loose plot outline, however, you are free to follow those brilliant side ideas that will actually add to your story. You don’t have to walk away from a rigid 30-page outline—you just have to rewrite a handful of index cards to fit your new plan.

And you’ll save your sanity.

3. Overplanning a novel makes you feel like you’ve already written the book—why would you want to do it again? It’s like working in a straightjacket. As one of the world’s (reformed) great overplanners, I have been this route. It will suck the joy right out of creating.


Underplanning, however, leaves you in a constant state of anxiety. You have no idea what happens next, you never have a clear vision of what it is you’re trying to create, and when you finish, you don’t know whether you accomplished what you set out to achieve or not.

Having started out as a pantser**, and having finished only some very bad short stories and one utterly irredeemable novel while doing so, I can attest to both the anxiety and the constant feeling of trying to work my way through fog.

Neither straightjacket nor fog allows you to do your best work.

A loose plot that contains flexibility, elbow room, and a sense of direction without a sense of confinement does.

You can do this.

Write with joy,




*ON SPEC—You sell the book before you write it, based on a synopsis, an extended outline, and sample chapters.

**PANTSER—someone writing strictly by the seat of the pants, with no planning whatsoever.

Something both kinds of writers might find helpful:


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Holly Lisle

Novelist, writing-nerd, dissector of thought processes, writing course creator and site owner here, Holly Lisle has a cat that plays fetch and a whole lotta stuff on for both readers and writers.