Loose leaf or bound?

I would like to know what methods others use to outline or coordinate their novel plans? For example; is it better to use loose leaf pages / index cards so you can move stuff around, have a bound journal so everything can be held together and read like a typical book, how does the system you use work for world building etc.??
I am in the process of pre-writing a first draft and haven’t really found a good way to layout the details. Any tips or thoughts you have are welcome! Thanks in advance too.


I’m a big fanfiction writer, so a lot of the stuff I write has some worldbuilding already layered into it, but I also like to participate in quarterly contests online that result in a lot of fandom-blind reader traffic. For those stories, I have to make sure I have just enough worldbuilding for people unfamiliar with the world to understand it, but not enough so they feel overwhelmed–so, a lot like original fiction.

I like to use loose-leaf, college ruled notebook paper, folded in half from top to bottom with each scene number circled out to the side. I find it’s the easiest way for me to write and review my outlines. I don’t have to read all the way across the page, and once I’ve written all the way down one half of one side of the page, I really feel like I’ve gotten somewhere. Plus, the scene numbers help me navigate the outline quickly.

I have two three-ring binders–one for stories in progress, and one for completed stories. Everything’s labeled and in chronological order, that way, if I want to go back to some of my notes, I can find them again easily.

I tried using a journal once… Pardon the pun, but it just felt too binding. The freedom of loose-leaf seems to suit me better.


@dtill359 Thanks for your reply!! I really like that you split the page in half and outline the stories that way, I am going to try that for my first draft since most of my scene details are fairly short & simple, it should help to keep the flow moving better. Also, I am glad you mentioned numbering each scene, I number everything so it’s easier to reference. I would definitely advise others to do the same!!

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I don’t have a tried and true method to suggest yet but I am giving Zim Desktop Wiki a try for organizing my worldbuilding and writing. Eventually, I hope to use Scrivener when their Windows version 3 comes out of beta release.

Zim Wiki is written in Python and is local to your computer instead of in the cloud. Your ‘pages’ are saved as text files in a hierarchical folder structure on your computer and uses simple markdown for formatting. Later, if you wish, you can even export all or some of your ‘pages’ as a website, even including particular style sheets to affect how it looks.

There are many wiki options online but Zim Wiki ticked a lot of boxes for me. I especially like that it crosslinks pages, meaning that if you link a character to a group or scene, etc, a link is created on that page back to your character’s page. This saves you from having to duplicate a page under several different places in your hierarchy.


Another alternative I have considered in the past and may use for the actual novel planning and writing is yWriter. It is free and has versions for Windows, iOS and Android. MacOS version is in beta.

K.M. Weiland used to use it regularly at one point and I think she covers the advantages it offers in this tutorial video:


That sounds like a great source for writing, especially since the hyperlinks will reduce the need for flipping back and forth or losing track of where everything is. Thank you for replying!! :smiley:

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Thanks for sharing this. I haven’t found a perfect method yet to organize my notes and writing and I’m always looking to try something new to see if that’s going to work for me.

I’m currently in a loose leaf mood but I do tend to lose pages from time to time since I take them out and move them around to use or reorganize. I like moving parts around so despite the fact that I have piles of notebooks, I usually start with those and end up putting notes online or on looseleaf.

I also want to say, although several of my writer friends use Scrivener, I found it to be a little unwieldy for me. The interface didn’t really make sense to me. Maybe the yWriter program will work!


What looks most promising to me about yWriter is how you can keep track of so many details about your scenes: characters and items present, location, point of view character, whether it is a scene or sequel (action or reaction) scene, what time it starts and ends if you are keeping a timeline for continuity and reality (too many hours in a day accounted for?) and more. These are all things that it is hard to keep tabs on otherwise when you are managing/organizing something like 30-50 scenes. You can even rate tension and humor level intended for the scene to balance pacing.

The last time I peeked at it, I believe yWriter 6 was just coming out. I’m curious to see what features have been added to yWriter 7.

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I sort of just get ideas and layer them together. One concept after another like building blocks.

Example- What if two teenagers fall in love? Ok. What else? What if they fall in love, but aren’t allowed to be in love? Ok. Interesting. But why? Maybe their parents or families dislike each other. Ok. But that has been done before. So what if they’re actually clones and clones aren’t allowed to marry anyone they like. They’re set up to fall in love with a certain person, but these two are flawed and actually like someone else.

Hope this helps :slight_smile:


I have the same issue. What I’m doing now is starting with an “event” list in Word. I tag event titles in Heading 1 so I can use the Navigation pane/Headings to see a list in the Navigation view. I also tend to order the list into chunks that generally show where the event happens (when I know). So I sort of order the events as a I go, and keep ordering as I understand more.

I discovered a program for writing called Plottr. Now I take my rough and usually incomplete event list and put the events in Plottr, and build the story in Plottr from that beginning. The website is getplottr.com. It has a free trial (and also a great Facebook group). They also have YouTube videos.

The main advantages of Plottr are you can enter all your notes and characters and place descriptions, set your story structure according to what you like or you can create your own, and then you will have a timeline and an outline view. I love being able to use any structure “template” I like or making my own, but the main thing I like is being able to see a timeline. It’s worth going to the website and looking at the demos to get a sense of how it works. It is easy to use, inexpensive, and flexible. The company is also responsive to writer ideas (from Facebook discussions and also you can add your suggestions at their website) and they keep adding features.


I guess I’m old school. Still use 3 x 5 index cards from my high school days. Although I guess I’ve updated the system a little. I now have colored cards.

I like the flexibility of moving things around. I also like that they are easy to carry around with me. I almost always have a few of them with me, wherever I go. You never no when an idea will hit. I can capture it on the spot, even work on it a little, and then easily integrate it into the appropriate place when I return to the office.


I use Scrivener for the relatively few notes I make and take.

If and when my series takes off, I’ll either make a Word file with notes about the characters (descriptions, mannerisms, what they want, etc.) and places and timeline and then paste that into the Notes section of each new Project or else do it straight into the Notes of the current file and paste THAT into the notes of the new project.

Scrivener has a learning cliff that more closely resembles a cliff than a hill, but even with minimal skills it is really good for keeping notes and the like. If you actually learn the program, or at least some of the more useful features, then it can go even further.

There’s a guy that runs a very thorough but not cheap online course for Scrivener. I won’t give his (or his course’s) name since I’m not certain that legit here and I’m too lazy to look it up at the moment. I’ll look back later and if it is cool, then I’ll post it then.

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Also, Dean Smith wrote a book called Writing into the Dark for Pantsers. One of the things he noted is that he writes a retroactive timeline as he writes. Basically he writes a scene\chapter, and then he pulls out a legal pad and makes brief notes… a summary of the action, a list of the characters n the scene, and a description of what they’re wearing.

Then he writes the next scene, and rinses and repeats until he’s done.

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I use open office and break the process into a few steps. I can’t lose any note cards (I know me) and it is easier to copy and paste on a computer than it is to rewrite by hand.

Also my outlines don’t have every detail in them. They are just guides. I change them if I come with a scene or scenario that is just far too awesome for me to leave out. Let it be as rigid or as loose as you need. It doesn’t matter if you start with the last scene or the first as long as you can fill in the details. It isn’t a perfect system but it working for me so far.

  1. Logline. Sounds silly but it helps me to boil the core of the story down to one or two sentences. Also if you have any specific themes you want to explore, make note of them. These may change.

  2. List of Characters. Separate the list from the outline. Start with the major ones that you already know are going to be in the story and add the rest as they come up. Unless you are absolutely sure of a name, stick to their function/relationships in the story - Bad Guy 1 or Older Brother. This way you can make sure that you don’t end with names that are too similar. If there is anything about the character that you know is going to come up, make a quick note. Bad Guy 1 has a limp and an eyepatch for example.

  3. Note the major plot points, or beats. You may only have a couple of them at first. After that, start filling things in: What are the logical steps to get from A to B? When does a clue first get introduced? What are the quirks that become important later? This may be a fun point to do the “Yes, But/No, And” trick. Keep the information short and pointed because this is not about detail but about you being able to reference later. Add as many little chapters as you want right now but try to keep the details to a minimum and written as a paragraph. If your paragraph is a page long, there is too much going on, break it apart. If it is only a few sentences, see step 4.

  4. Outline editing. Can you combine any of the smaller chapters together? Do you need to break any apart? Where do you need to foreshadow something? Do you have all the necessary beats? Do you need to add in an extra beat at a specific point? Where are your subplots and are they in the best place for character and/or plot development? Do you have too many characters or not enough? (Side note - I have characters and I have living plot devices. A character can affect the plot, a plot device forwards the plot. I don’t count the living plot device as a character.) How do the internal and external conflicts balance out? Can any of these internal/external conflicts be combined? What is your antagonist doing even if the readers never see it? Move things around as needed.

  5. This last step is really important if you have multiple POV character like I do. Note who’s perspective you are writing from. If there is a countdown, note the date and time. If traveling is important, note which locations - and I count physically traveling as a “location”. It may help to change the color of the font to help you visualize what is going on. Ask yourself is this character’s perspective the best one to write from right now? Repeat step 4 if needed.

Lastly, it may be helpful to have a separate document for all the cool or interesting ideas you have along the way. As the ideas come up, jot them down and make sure to save. You may not use that particular idea in this work but it might spark something later on. It could just something funny and completely unrelated to what you’re working on. (My partner once caught a typo and made a joke about it. The joke kind of grew into a funny visual. I jotted it down because, hey, I thought it was funny and someone else might too. It may turn into a short story one day.)

I hope that helps.

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I saw this article that described Michael Crichton’s method. He also carried index cards around and wrote on them as ideas came to him, so I think your method is in very good company!

The article goes on to say he would put the completed cards in a shoe box and when it was full he would lay out the cards to “plan” the story. When he was satisfied, he put the cards in an index card box and started writing.
Michael Crichton’s Method for Plotting Out a Story ~ WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®