I write Christian fiction, so my first, mental outlining usually takes place in the context of whatever it is that God is teaching me or showing me at any given time. So many of my books have been birthed out of a non-fiction book. Stepping Down was actually conceived after reading two different books (52 Lies Heard in Churches Every Sunday by Steve McVey and Pagan Christianity by George Barna and Frank Viola) as well as my own struggles with balancing ministry at church and home. One other issue for the book came from my own struggle to reconcile what I hear preached from pulpits nationwide vs. what the Bible says. The gap is sometimes so astounding that I have to wonder where the messages are coming from.
After I got some initial thoughts together about the main character, I called a few friends who are pretty “high up” in terms of mega-church involvement to share their thoughts with me. Then I called a fellow writer (Vanessa Miller) to talk through plot points. By the time I actually sat down to write, I had these 2 crazy pages of notes with arrows and sidebars and smiley faces and cross-outs on a yellow legal pad.
Then, I just started writing. About halfway through (roughly 30,000 words), I stopped and did a chapter outline because if didn’t, the story would probably never end. The outline showed me what had happened already and what needed to happen next. This round-about way of outlining happens for me a lot, especially when I’m writing full-length novels. There are sub-plots and layers that I have to control, and they have to (at some point) converge. If I don’t plan at some point, I think it gets too crazy. When I write novellas, I don’t always have to do this.
The chapter outline guides me the rest of the way home!