Daily Archives: October 1, 2013

How to write a nonfiction outline

Like a lot of my blog entries this one was born on the internet. A member of Facebook group that I belong to asked for some help in organizing an outline for a self-help nonfiction book that she intended to write.

This is how I would do it…

For self-help nonfiction outlines are CRITICAL. Write out a rough table-of-contents. If it helps, use file cards – one file card to each chapter – and lay them out on a big old card table like you were trying to plan out the furniture layout in a room before you got to the furniture shoving stage.

I learned that first step from my wife, Belinda – who plans out the furniture arrangement in a room by pushing around cardboard cutouts on the dining room table BEFORE we get to the furniture shoving stage. Being male – I am more inclined to just lean on the couch and shove it around the room until I get tired of shoving and then I sit down on the couch – and if I can see the television set I figure my work is done.

Women are smarter than us fellows, I guess.

Remember, when you are laying out an outline and/or table-of-contents is that each “chapter” or “section” is like the paragraph in a story. At the end of the day you ought to be able to “tell” yourself the whole story you want to tell just by reading the chapter titles.

(just the same way that I keep TELLING myself that I MEANT to put the couch on top of the credenza – and no fair running off to Google credenza)

For example – you’re going to write a book on BUILDING A PLATFORM – chapter one ought to be GATHERING THE WOOD, chapter two ought to be FIND THE HAMMER, FIND THE NAILS, chapter three – HAMMER UNTIL YOUR TEETH RATTLE, and chapter four – A LITTLE VARNISH MIGHT BE NICE, and finally chapter five – NOW STAND ON THE BLOOMING THING, WOULD YA?.

Which, on second thought, is most likely how I wind up moving furniture after all.

You can use this technique to write fiction outlines as well. A file card for each chapter and a quick layout to properly tell the story will make the writing go a lot smoother.

In the interest of full disclosure I do not ALWAYS use this technique – but I really ought to do – because the writing DOES move a whole lot smoother when I actually KNOW which way that I am going.

yours in storytelling,
Steve Vernon