Posted by: nancyisanders | February 5, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book: The Outline, Part 2

I usually work with two outlines.

My first outline is what I call my “short” outline. It’s usually one page so I can see the main structure of my manuscript at a glance. I usually post this somewhere at my writing center where I can keep the whole scope of my project front and center. When working on a 40,000 nonfiction manuscript such as Frederick Douglass for Kids, this is usually comprised of the chapters and a couple of bullets for each one.

The second outline I like to use for most projects is what I call my “working” outline. This outline can get very, very long. This is the outline where I’m plugging in all my notes and changes and ideas as I’m working.

For example, sometimes I’m writing the first half of the middle when an idea for the ending comes to me. Or I run across a tidbit of research that will fit into the ending. I just pull up my working outline (which is usually on the computer) and I quickly type that in at the section it belongs under a bullet point. Then I go right back to where I was working on the middle and continue with my writing.

Let’s start by creating your short outline.

You can find some fun worksheets to fill out as you create your outline for your nonfiction picture book. Just visit the site of my writing buddies, Writing According to Humphrey and Friends. Scroll down to the section on CHARTS AND WORKSHEETS TO GET ORGANIZED FOR SUCCESS. Click on two files to download them and print them out:

Outline for a Nonfiction Picture Book


Outline for a Nonfiction Picture Book document file.

The first file is a pdf file. This is what we’ll use to create our short outline.

Take all the information you plugged into your Basic Plot Worksheet A and fill it in at the corresponding places on the Outline for a Nonfiction Picture Book.

For example, on the line at the top, copy down how the story starts. (Don’t fill in the spaces for the * yet…that will be for details and we’ll talk about that soon.)

Then in the box for Change 1, copy down what your first change is.

On the lines for the 1st Half and the 2nd Half, copy the info from your plot worksheet to say what happens in the middle.

In the box for Change 2, copy down what your second change, or turning point, of the story is.

In the box for Change 3, copy down what your third change is.

Then on the line at the bottom, copy down how your story will end.

Don’t fill in any of the spaces after the *. Those spaces are for brainstorming ideas for the DETAILS that will take place in each of the four parts of your manuscript (beginning, 1st half of the middle, 2nd half of the middle, ending).

For now, your outline should just show the exact information your wrote down on your Basic Plot Worksheet A.

You can just use the pdf file for your short outline as you’re getting ready to start writing. (We’re almost at that point!)

But if you’re someone who wants to get all your ideas down onto paper and not just squeeze it into this small space on this chart, go ahead and fill in the document file. Again, copy the information that you plugged into your Basic Plot Worksheet A. Don’t fill in anything for the * yet. But in the document file you can write as much content as you want about how the story starts, what happens in the middle, and the significant changes that will occur.

In the next post I’ll explain more about how to fill in the details on the * lines for your outline.

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