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How to Outline (the Easy Way) Like Janet Evanovich

Every week, I spelunk into the Writer’s Digest archives to find the wisest, funniest, or downright strangest moments from our 92 years of publication.

Today: Here's to Janet Evanovich (and that we all might one day hit it as big as Janet Evanovich). The author of the bestselling Stephanie Plum series celebrates her birthday this Sunday, so I did some rooting around, and found our most recent interview with her. It's from 2007, and you can read the full thing here.

As someone who begins to nod off at the thought of making giant, classic outlines (and instead prefers free-range, perhaps dangerously vague stream-of-consciousness explorations), I was intrigued by Evanovich's more simplified "storyboard" process.

Here's how to outline like Janet Evanovich—plus a frank, honest example of what some of it looks like, from one of her actual storyboards.

Evanovich: Storyboarding is a little more visual. When I’m plotting out a book, I use a storyboard—I’ll have maybe three lines across on the storyboard and just start working through the plot line. I always know where relationships will go, and how the book is going to end. When I storyboard, they’re just fragments of thoughts. I write in three acts like a movie, so I have my plot points up on the preliminary storyboard. Another board I keep is an action timeline. It’s a way of quickly referring to what happened a couple of scenes ago. The boards cover my office walls.

WD: IT’S MORE SCENE-ORIENTED THAN AN OUTLINE MIGHT BE, THEN?

Evanovich: Exactly. Because I know the relationships, and I already know my characters and how I’m going to reveal my characters to my readers—how I’m going to feed them information about that character. That stuff doesn’t have to be in my outline. What I have to outline is action and plot because I’m not particularly good at that.

How to Outline (the Easy Way) Like Janet Evanovich

Do you outline? How in depth do you go? Share your thoughts in the comments section. I'm building up another dangerously tall stack of review copies at my desk, and will pull the name of one random commenter next week to receive a few cool new writing books.

Happy Friday.

(Also, some preliminary blog procrastination today has led me to discover how good Evanovich's website is. Not a bad thing to check out if you're looking to sharpen or start your own.)

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