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Outlining my stories using a balanced meal plan approach.

We’ve all heard the term plotter or pantser, sometimes called gardener or architect.  I personally love doing both and often find myself with a lovely outline that gets completely reworked after every few scenes because my characters reveal things to me as I write them and so I have to adjust.

When I first tried to quantify my writing style the image that worked for me was legos.  I had characters and things that I wanted them to accomplish. I broke them down into little pieces and put them back together in the shape of the story I wanted. Unfortunately that often led to having to take the whole thing apart and redesign when I found something new I wanted to fit into the story.

I’m not ashamed to say that means I have too many unfinished stories to count because the idea of ripping them apart and starting again was less appealing than just starting over. Eventually using scrivener I found the idea of using/tracking individualized scenes and moving them around so I abandon stories a lot less frequently.

What does this have to do with a balanced meal plan approach? Let me break it down for you and maybe you can find a bit of my process that will help you in your own journey.

First let me start with balanced does not necessarily mean healthy and boils down to what makes me happy. That being said we need to breakdown story elements into our ingredients. I’m going to use one of my romance WIPs for my examples but they can be applied to any genre.


(Sorry vegetarians this is my method and to me meat is essential)

These are the things that must happen or the story falls apart. I suggest 3-5 servings a story but you do you.


  1. (Inciting Event) H/h meet in a coffee shop and are attracted but have an argument. leaving frustrated with each other.
  2. (Rising Action) He needs her to help solve who is hacking and selling inside information on his company. Interact – respect and attraction grows.
  3. (Climax) She discovers antagonist saves his company but he has to protect her from retribution both accept their love and solidify as a couple.


(Yeah yeah Atkins fans shhh some of these are necessary)

These are the setting, background, worldbuilding and side facts of your story. Necessary but too much and both you and the reader might go into a food coma and skip the rest of the story. They are best when used liberally to add depth and bind everything together.


  1. Company is a Mercenary firm with data if compromised could hurt a lot of people.
  2. She is a computer genius with low social skills, failed at many jobs and relationships in the past, and has an obsessive need for organization.
  3. He is ex military with sorted past with little patience with people in general


(Necessary- sometimes amazing sometimes boring as hell to write)

These are the small events that are needed to get through the story that can’t be skipped.


  1. Hunt down heroine to hire her
  2. Intro antagonist in non-obvious way.
  3. Alone time forced to grow relationship
  4. Antagonist discovers they are about to be found out.


(Healthy wonders that make writing worthwhile)

These are the events and elements that make us laugh or cry. The things that touch our emotions that are not “needed” but the story would be boring without them.


  1. The first kiss/glance/meeting all the juicy details that make us wish we knew someone who triggered those feelings inside us.
  2. She gets to slam him with techno speak.
  3. He purposely works out with his shirt off to get her attention.
  4. They are following someone and think they are going to be seen so they kiss to hide their identity and it turns steamy.


(The thing we all love but too much can make us sick)

This is The End the Ever After, sometimes a paragraph and sometimes an epilogue. Were we wrap up all our feels and sigh because fiction is so much better than reality. You can have small servings of this in the book when you wrap up sub plots but should really save the big serving for the end.


  1. Someone is saved from the bad guys and set up in their dream job
  2. Wedding bells.
  3. They run the company together now and are stronger for everything they went through.

The balance of these elements varies depending on genre and your style of writing but in my opinion if you remove any of these elements completely you end up with a unsatisfied reader. There are hundreds of other ways to say much the same thing I said above but I hope if nothing else my odd visualization will make you smile and think about creating a healthy balanced book.

Ann Jensen Books

Writer of Steamy Romance. Part time author, full time engineer and single mom. Enjoying life and trying to find my write life.

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