Novel Writing 101: Outlining/Plotting

Joyce Henderson

Joyce Henderson

First published at the age of 16, Joyce Good Henderson is a writer, writing coach, photographer, and homecare nurse whose publications include fiction and nonfiction books as well as more than 400 articles in professional journals, blogs and online. She owns Celtic Loom Books.

Her most recent book is Help! My Baby Didn’t Come with an Instruction Manual, a no-holds-barred approach to cover real-life mom concerns. She compiled the collective wisdom of several mothers, sharing experiences of 185 (plus) years of mothering, with a touch of wackiness.


This is a 400-page manual to get moms from pregnancy through adolescence.

Help! by Joyce Hendeson

“We started as 12 women with an email village to help a young mom get through her pregnancy and new baby,” Joyce said. “We’ve continued, and others have joined.”

Joyed pulled together the emails and edited them into a book, intended to help women who are in anything from the early stages of pregnancy through adolescence.

“We have four entire chapters on poop,” Joyce said with a laugh. “There’s a lot to be said that most people don’t say, including 2-year-olds who finger paint with it.”

With such a diverse publishing background,Joyce described her outlining practices. I’ve talked with authors who write an outline and stick to it, and I’ve spoken to writers who prefer to let the characters define the plot. Joyce does a little of both.

Joyce’s Outlining Process

“I don’t use a traditional outlining process,” Joyce said, who describes herself as a visual person. “I use plotting boards for both fiction and nonfiction. My boards keep me on track, give me a timeline, and remind me about characters’ physical characteristics.”

In non-fiction, Joyce uses sticky notes on her board to arrange and rearrange chapters, provide color to topics and remind her where she’s heading.

“My fiction plotting has a general structure, but I tend to let the characters tell me their story, and the outline is usually vastly different than the finished product,” Joyce said. “I’m a plot-driven writer.”

For either, her system resembles a business plan. Before she begins writing, she develops a marketing and publicity plan. “My two most important questions are: Who is my target audience, and what is the message? My marketing plan details who the audience is, how I’m going to write and set up the book, what will it look like. I decide if it will be just digital, or if it will be traditionally published.”

For fiction, Joyce outlines her plot and timelines. She also includes pictures of places and people. “This helps trigger a theme and helps me remember how things look. I may even have a floor plan of a house on my board. I keep those boards handy while I’m writing.”

Advice to Aspiring Authors

Joyce quoted Mark Twin, “Life is 10 percent what you make it, and 90 percent how you take it. … Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

“You have to figure out what works for you,” Joyce said. “Understand yourself. Be persistent. There’s a certain amount of talent involved with writing, but success sometimes is more persistence than talent. Hard work and persistence can make up for what’s lacking in talent.”

Finding Joy in Everyday Life

Joyce finds joy by serving others. “I work as a nurse, and the only attractive part of that is serving others, not the paperwork, pay or hours. I lead mission teams to Ecuator every fall, and I enjoy working as a writing coach. I like to see other people succeed.”

You can contact Joyce through her website.

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