Should You Include Dialogue Snippets in Your Outline? {Case Study}

Welcome back!

…to me. 😆

In case you didn’t notice, I didn’t release a full post 2 weeks ago. My family actually got sick with covid, and I was way too exhausted to work on blogging. But, I’m back now!

I’m trying to figure out ways to combine some of the upcoming posts, seeing as I had some planned out leading up to NaNoWriMo to try and help you out as I best can – but that’s a totally different topic. For now, let’s get into today’s post! 😉 


I think that all pantsers have this fear inside of them that making a plot will box them in when they try to write their story, limiting their creativity. That fear keeps them from trying to outlining. They want to be creative, and in their eyes, having a plot stops that.

If you don’t know, I actually used to be a pretty hardcore pantser. I don’t think it shows very much anymore, but that used to be the only way I wrote. Some of those leftover fears from my time as a panster still lurk in the back of my mind, though. (Also, WordPress keep trying to autocorrect me whenever I write ‘pantser’ into ‘panther’. 😑)

However, as a person who now refuses to walk into any book without at least some semblance of a plot, those fears have taken on a different form in me: the idea that, while I’m plotting, maybe I’m plotting too much. I need creative freedom to go meandering down whatever paths happen to pop up along my way, and if my plans have to be followed exactly, then I can’t do that.

So how far am I really willing to go with my outlines?

I happen to get lots of snippets flying through my head as I plan my books. I just see scenes happening in my head, and I have to write down what the characters are saying. But adding those snippets into my outlines just didn’t seem like a good idea. They were so… binding. Constricting. Boxing me in.

At least, that’s what I thought they were.

I know in my case study posts, I usually include the main case study at the end alone, but I’ll be threading it through the whole post today as well. 😉 Keep an eye out for that!


In my deep, dark past, I once included all the snippets I thought of into an outline. I went full out, completely putting in all the snippets, and all the dialogue I could think of; there were some spots where I practically wrote the entire scene itself. 😂 So, looking back now, it was pretty over-the-top.

I don’t think anybody will be too surprised to hear that writing that book didn’t go so well for me. If you’ve been around for a while, you might recognize the name Poison Dragon. That was the book where I forced myself to write close to 2k a day, and ended up crashing and burning pretty bad.

Source | Live footage of me trying to write

After that experience, I was left pretty scarred, and had no interest whatsoever in ever including so many snippets in my outline again.

In fact, I didn’t put any into my outlines again for a couple of years. Like, when I say I was scarred, I’m serious. 😂

But this past NaNoWriMo, I wrote a novel with the most insane amount of detail needed in my outline, ever. I’m talking research, two different character arcs, past and present timelines, flashbacks, subplots, and… it was all in a contemporary novel of all things.

Source

If I was going to keep things straight, I would need my snippets. They gave me the right feel of my book, of each scene, and kept me straight.

I knew that, logically.

But my little squirrel brain kept bringing up horrific memories of Poison Dragon.

Source

But then, right before NaNoWriMo, I saw a video on writing faster.

I know, sounds totally off subject. But it changed the whole way I viewed the idea of inserting snippets into my writing. I’m going to show you today how I now view these, how they help, and how to do it yourself – correctly.

(By the way, if you actually do want to know how to write faster, the link to that video is here! 10/10 recommend.)


Constricting VS Building

The main change that happened in my mentality was how I started seeing adding snippets into my outline.

As I’ve already mentioned, I used to see it as something that would constrict me, and box me in, instead of letting me be creative.

However, after watching the video, I came away with a whole new mentality.

These weren’t things that I had to follow rigidly. If you’ve seen my About page recently, you’ll have noticed that I really have embraced the idea of breaking ‘rules’, and being really rebellious.

Source

The same goes for these snippets in my outline. I could break those ‘rules’ I’d set up for myself.

The thing is, I always saw these snippets as more of binding ropes. But now, I see them as building blocks. I see a way to become more inspired… which actually means I have more freedom than ever before.

What Snippets ACTUALLY Can do for You

In the video, she said to build your scene around your snippets.

And for me, that was when everything just clicked.

Imagine this: you have a scene you’re going to write. You have a couple sentences reminding you of what should happen in the scene. You write it, and the words flow, you enjoy the process, and you hit the main points. But when you come back to edit it a couple months later, it takes forever to try and streamline it and keep only what’s necessary.

Now, imagine this instead: you have a scene you’re going to write. You have a couple sentences reminding you of what should happen in the scene, as well as a snippet. You included it in your outline because it’s important in revealing something about the characters. Now, as you write the scene, you build the scene so it revolves around this necessary piece of information. It’s written to that end. The words flow, you enjoy the process (especially seeing as you still can wander down any random paths that pop up), and you hit those main points – and, more importantly, the main point.

Source | Dialogue snippets keeping you on track

What’s the difference?

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know that I’m an advocate for cause and effect. If you don’t have that in your story, your book will meander all over the place, and nothing will truly matter to the plot. Therefore, every scene should have a main point. There’s probably a couple, if you have some subplots floating around, but there’s definitely one main point you’ll want to hit in that scene; that main point will help move the story forward and keep the character running straight toward the climax.

That is what your snippets can help you do.

Source

In my experience, I only write down snippets when I’m busy in the pre-writing process when it’s something pretty important to the story. That’s usually because I have to immerse myself more in that scene, in that particular moment, to get it right and truly tap into my characters thought process and feelings. Those two things are the keystone for your scene, and essentially are going to be what helps put the flesh on the bones of your story. They’re the lifeblood of your book, and thinking about it this way changes everything.

Not to mention, as was the whole point in Abbie’s video, it can seriously help streamline your writing process, because you have something to work with, and you can write a good first draft faster. 😉

How to do This Yourself

There’s a couple of sort of disclaimers I feel like I should put in here at the end, to help you get the most out of your snippet-including-ambitions.

Don’t Include Full-on Scenes

Something I mentioned that I did – and that was a total mistake – was basically including a full scene in my outline for Poison Dragon. I definitely can remember one in particular, and that was close to where I stopped writing the book. 😅

The point of a snippet is that it’s a small piece of the scene, not the full scene.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines a snippet as:

Source

A snippet is not a full scene. It’s a small piece of it. Only include the main part of the scene, the main point of it.

Focus on Dialogue

Description is great and all, but it’s more like the pretty decorations in the house than the actual point. Dialogue makes up the walls and the floors. I wouldn’t call it the foundation of the house or the main support structure, but it definitely is one of the most effective way to convey information, build up the story, and develop characters. Dialogue can say things directly and indirectly through things like the actual words, the tone, the way it is delivered, and what we already know a character’s views on a particular subject are. Dialogue can seriously carry a lot of weight.

If you are going to include any snippets in your outline, my tip would be that you include dialogue alone for most of them. Sometimes body language says more than the characters’ dialogue does, but including just dialogue in your snippets can really help you drill down to the main point of the scene. Dialogue helps convey mood, character dynamics, and some of the most important meat of the scene.

Remember: dialogue is the walls and floors. Description is the pretty decorations and furniture that pulls everything together and makes it look good. It’s not the main point.

Source

Only Include Big Chunks at Important Parts

As we’ve already seen from me, it’s not always the best idea to include a large snippet in your outline.

However, there are some parts that are very delicate and might need everything you have on it. While you’re outlining and brainstorming, you really only see the most important stuff happening. You don’t have to think quite as much about every transition, about things like a scene’s pacing, the way you’re conveying mood, or how a character might describe things; you just see those main reasons the scene even exists for. At such places as these, you need everything you come up with if you’re going to capture it correctly on paper when you are thinking about all those other things.

Source

Now, just to clarify, when I say ‘important’, I mean some of the biggest scenes of the book. Every scene of your book should be important to some extent. But if it’s pivotal and changes the game, then we’ve got a very delicate scene where you might need all the info you have to offer on it.

As well, when I say pivotal and game changing, I mean some of the biggest things that happen in your book: Inciting Incident, 1st Plot Point, Midpoint, 3rd Plot Point, and the Climax are the ones that I really consider to fall into this category. Every other scene should be clear, but it’s probably better if you’re a little lighter on the amount of snippets you include for them.

An Example

I know that some of these tips might be a little confusing to some people, so I have an example ready from my own outline for my NaNoWriMo novel! 😃

I stare at him, floundering in utter confusion. “How can you always be so nice?” I finally ask, mentally adding, “Especially after I was so mean.”

He laughs. “Maybe I just like seeing how much it confuses you.”

He’s certainly right about that: it does confuse me. I’m so used to people leaving me alone after I give a cold response, that it’s strange to have someone doggedly continue being so… kind to me. And not in that fake or annoying way that doctors do it, with that infuriating look of pity in their eyes as they say, “I’m sorry.”

Who is this boy to change the status quo? I’d rather not spend the last days of my life being confused.

Does the actual scene look like that?

Nope! (I checked, too.) There are descriptions, dialogue tags, stuff leading into it, and stuff coming out. But it all stays on the same course: heading to the end that this snippet created. That was the aim I had in mind, and having any goal at all can make such a huge difference. The scene is built around this idea: this realization that she must have. He is always kind; why? But this snippet also conveys her own internal conflict over it: she doesn’t want to agree with it. She doesn’t want to even really think about it.

In 121 words, I gave myself the ultimate target for this scene:

  • The character’s internal conflict (and therefore the point she’s at in her arc: between Truth and Lie. Still stuck, but starting to notice the Truth and how nice it is.)
  • How she interacts with other characters (character development)
  • Where she’s coming from (and therefore how she views the world)
  • Where she’s going (especially how she’s still fighting against the Truth, but kind of wants it)

This is what happened with most of my snippets. I’d build my scenes around them, working them into it. Sometimes, the snippet would get broken into separate pieces, because the conversation would take a turn I wasn’t expecting (but that felt completely organic, on topic, and in character). Dialogue tags would get added in, and the way I delivered the snippet (building up to it and then coming out of it) shaped the scene. This allowed me to always, always hit the points I needed to. I had snippets for the important pieces that were moving: the character arc, for the most part, and also subplots.

To prove my point: in grade 8, I wrote a book called The Triad of Caosdif. I didn’t plot it out outline it, but I had an end-goal in mind. And while the story meandered and went down random paths and did whatever the heck it felt like most of the time, every scene and every character decision was toward that end.

Which was literally just to get to a mountain.

That was it.

And it actually made a difference. Despite how the plot meandered, it did at least have a set course. It helped streamline it slightly. (Though I use the term ‘streamline’ loosely, in this case)

But, hey, that’s what editing’s for, right?

Source

The thing is, once you take this idea of having a goal to a molecular level with your story, things start to get really interesting.

Scene Goals

This is where the idea of an essay really comes to my mind.

  • Controlling thesis statement
    • Example
      • Every sentence supports your examples
        • Which in turn supports your thesis

The thesis is called the controlling idea for a reason. It literally is the yardstick you use to measure your essay; I’ve had to rewrite essays before because I realized my examples didn’t support my thesis.

Now, apply this to your story.

  • You have a controlling idea of your own story
    • Each scene builds toward that end
      • Every sentence supports the goal of that scene
        • Which in turn supports the controlling idea of your own story

In the case of The Triad of Caosdif, the controlling idea was to get to a mountain. This character motive drives all their actions. The end goal is the ‘present’ goal, so to speak. The characters want it now, and everything must be working toward that. In my NaNoWriMo 2020 novel, the character arc was my big controlling idea, and each scene built it and moved it forward in some way.

Source

Now, that’s easy to say and all, but people might wonder how to actually put this into action.

And that is where those snippets step in.

On a molecular level of your story, each conversation has a point. You drill it down to its essence in the brainstorming process, which is when you can more easily see the big picture. This is when you can think broadly, see the wide scope, and decide how to best progress the character closer to their end goal in the present.

And suddenly, your manuscript’s outline is not only giving you more creative freedom through your snippets; it’s also driving your character forward toward that end goal in each conversation. In each scene, in some way. You’re building your book, and you’re building it in a way that moves the story forward in some way, shape, or form in every scene. Cause and effect really do start coming into play.

And though it might be a mess (what first draft isn’t?) let me tell you, it’s a lot easier job to revise the manuscript now than it would have been before. Less scenes to take out, less scenes to write up to help fix the book, more tension and suspense, questions being raised, momentum and pace, plot, character development-! Seriously, it helps so much.

That’s the power of an outline. It gives you power; it doesn’t take it away.

But any outline can still produce a horrible story. It takes one that properly builds you and your story up to do it right.

And those small, couple-of-sentences long dialogue snippets hanging out in your outline?

They make all the difference in the world.

Each scene has a point.

You see what the point is when you come to write, and work toward that point as you write up the whole scene.

You make your point.

You move your entire story forward.

Don’t forget to save this post for later!

I know I hit a lot of points in this post, and I didn’t fully delve into some of them, but I hope you can see now just how much dialogue snippets can help you in writing an entire novel. 😃

As NaNoWriMo is sneaking up on us, I definitely thought another post about outlining was due. 😝 (If you want to know exactly how long away it is, make sure to check the footer of my blog! I have a countdown posted there all year long 😉)


If you enjoy this post, you might also like:

For Every Question, There’s an Answer (And Another Question) {How to Keep Readers Interested}

Foreshadowing: The Art of Being a Ninja

How to Brainstorm Your Story in 5 Steps


I’m glad that I’m able to be back; if you don’t want to miss out whenever I (actually 😝) post, make sure to subscribe! I share snippets and updates on my writing, writing and reading memes, as well as more cool exclusive insider content! 😁 Can’t wait to see you on the inside!

How are you doing?

Do you like to outline?

Are you planning on participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

Julia

Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Should You Include Dialogue Snippets in Your Outline? {Case Study}

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