S2/E15: The Inside Outline by Jennie Nash
Nash is the author of nine books in three genres, selling more than one hundred thousand copies so far. She’s now using those experiences to help other authors as a book coach. In addition, she’s created a whole platform for training and helping other people interested in becoming book coaches through her company, the aforementioned Author Accelerator.
Nash suggests that nurturing authors as they wrote their books used to be “baked in” to the traditional publishing process, but has since been “squeezed out.” And, of course, Indie authors have never been able to count on a supportive team automatically assembled around them. So authors are increasingly building their own support structures, hiring their own editors, publicists, and yes, book coaches.
Nash says a good book coach is a combination of the following:
On the Author Accelerator website’s landing page, you’re asked to choose between the following: “I want to be a book coach” and “I want to write my best book.” From there, you’ll navigate to a different set of options that will lead you to tools and classes meant to support your goals. Some of these tools are free (like the email-based class you’re offered on the pop up when you arrive) and other are paid. I was able to secure this week’s class for free on a promotion Jennie offered in response to the Corona Virus Shelter-in-Place orders that most of the country is under right now.
With the usual caveat that there’s a lot more to this class than I’m able to cover here, here are my…
1 Rules of the Inside Outline. You’ve probably come across a number of other plotting and outlining methods that have different beats at different points along the three-act structure. This is different from that. And for starters, she’s very prescriptive about the physical space that your outline will take up. The basic rules of the initial Inside Outline are:
No more than 3 pages
No more than 3 lines per bullet point
1″ margins, double-spaced, 12-point font
After working with hundreds (if not thousands) of authors, Nash has observed that oftentimes, authors get lost in their own outlines. With too much detail, it makes it difficult to see the proverbial forest for the trees. Limiting yourself to these hard-and-fast rules about length will help with that. Plan on an opening, a closing, and probably around 10 scenes (or less!) in this outline.
2 Each scene will have two parts. I can’t summarize it any better than Jennie Nash herself does: “The Inside Outline is a bullet-point list, where each bullet point describes a major action of the story (what happens) and is paired with a second bullet point that describes why it matters to the protagonist. The first bullet point is the scene and the second bullet point is the point of the scene.” She calls these sets “Tiers.” Taking this top view of not only what happens, but why it matters will help you keep track of both the emotional arc of the story and the events that are happening to your characters to create the conditions causing that emotional arc.
3 The foot bone connected to the ankle bone. The ankle bone connected to the leg bone…. Even without the other scenes, keep your eye on cause and effect with the major scenes. Each set of bullet points must CAUSE the next tier in some way. In the Q&A session, Nash went on to add that if your book has a story told in a non-chronological way, create two Inside Outlines. One that’s chronological and one that’s the way your reader will experience the story. Make sure they both make sense.
*No one puts Baby (or their Inside Outline) in the corner! This tool is not something you’re going to want to do once and put to the side. After you’ve used it to sketch out the big picture of the story you’re telling (while simultaneously testing it for emotional resonance), then you can flesh it out to keep track of all the scenes in your book. Or you can use it to help you solve a problem when you get stuck. You can use it during revisions. It will always help you “keep your foot on the rail,” to use one of my favorite quotes from Blazing Saddles.
Words of wisdom from Jennie:
“When novelists talk about outlining, they almost always mean outlining the plot. The result tends to be densely intricate grids that lay out the details of what happens when. I have seen a great number of these kinds of grids and they always make my stomach hurt. I know how much time they take to make, and how much effort, and I also know how infrequently they guide the writer to where they need to go. The reason? Plot grids always leave out the most important part of story, which is the why and the meaning behind anything that happens….The Inside Outline lets you marry the two together…[and] gives you an easy way to get down the key elements of your story and your plot without wringing the life out of either.” Jennie Nash, The Inside Outline: for Pantsers and for Plotters
I love Jennie Nash. She combines a lot of experience and expertise with a warm, approachable vibe. As I said before, there’s a good bit more here than what I’m able to highlight on this episode. There is another whole lesson on a tool called the One-Page Book Summary which is also incredibly helpful. (It’s not what you think.) At a minimum, whether you’re a fiction or a nonfiction writer, definitely check out AuthorAccelerator.com to pick up some excellent free tools and courses. See the resources section below for additional paid courses she currently offers. Or visit Jennie Nash’s site for this free resource: “My Top 10 Tips For Writing a Book Worth Reading,” which contains tools like the PDF “How to Commit to a Book Idea.”
I hope this was helpful to you! Next week I’ll be applying this same approach to another MasterClass: Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing by Margaret Atwood. Remember, right now, MasterClass has a 50% sale for their MasterPass!
Exciting update: I’ve recently opened a The Rookie Writer bookstore on Bookshop.org. Now, all of the books we’ve reviewed here are available in one place and (I love this part!) all sales benefit local book shops!!
Until then. . .
Happy writing, people!
P.S. In other Dair news:
Fellow author Robin Knabel and I have just posted a new episode of our new podcast, Unsettling Reads. Come check out our spoiler-free review of Alan Baxter’s Served Cold and browse our other reviews of books from the crime, fantasy, horror, literary, mystery, sci-fi, suspense, and thriller genres. You can find it all at www.UnsettlingReads.com.
To find out what I’ve been working on, fiction-wise, visit www.HDairBrown.com. Sign up for the email list, and I’ll send you a free story every month. Just one email a month. I promise not to inundate you. I hate a pesky emailer!
Finally, to help you keep track of both your writing goals and your time, visit TheRookieWriter.net and sign up for the email list to get a free undated quarterly version of The Rookie Writer Playbook (a planner/organizer just for writers) to try out. And, of course, The Rookie Writer Etsy shop has full annual, dated Writing Planners available, along with a few other tools and fun swag for writers.
Other Author Accelerator Courses for Writers:
Writing Course Bundle (3 Course Bundle)
Blueprint for a Book: Fiction
Blueprint for a Book: Memoir
Self-Study: Story Genius Workshop (with Lisa Cron)
How to Revise a Novel
Navigating the Path to Publishing
How to Write a Query Letter
The Pitch Track: Fiction
The Pitch Track: Nonfiction
The Outcome Outline (for Nonfiction Writers)