Writing Wednesday: How J.K. Rowling Outlines Her Books

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J.K. Rowling writing

(Photo source)

An author’s mind map or story outline can be a fascinating artifact to pour over and examine (especially if you’re a huge fan of the outlined work!). Not only does it allow you to see the story in a different light but it gives you a peak at the author’s writing process and how they were able to keep track of their story’s various events, characters, and timelines.

Many interesting examples can be found online but today we wanted to take a look at a page from J.K. Rowling’s map of chapters 13-24 of the 5th Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Click to enlarge

(This and other interesting materials were found on Rowling’s website years ago but now it can be found here.)

Part of this page’s charm, of course, is it’s roughness. It’s handwritten in cursive on loose leaf paper; the column lines weren’t done with a ruler; many words and paragraphs are scratched out or re-written. She may be J.K. Rowling, brilliant best-selling author of the Harry Potter series, but a document like this can be created by anyone!

The outline is made up of 10 columns. The first four map the chapter’s broader details: the title, the month, the plot, etc.:

  • “No”: The specific chapter number
  • “Time”: The month of the school year that the chapter is set in
  • “Title”: The title of the chapter
  • “Plot”: An outline of the chapter’s plot

And Rowling uses the final 6 columns to keep track of the story’s various subplots and characters:

  • “Prophecy”: A subplot about the prophecy Harry finds himself concerned about all through the book
  • “Cho/Ginny”: The book’s romantic subplot
  • “D.A.”: What’s happening with the resistance army, or “Dumbledore’s Army”
  • “O of P”: What’s happening with the “Order of the Phoenix” group
  • “Snape/Harry”: What’s happening with Snape and Harry
  • “Hagrid and Grawp”: What’s happening with Hagrid and Grawp

It’s an interesting way to keep track of everything! Note that some columns have nothing written in them and others vary from having complex to simple details. (The initial “Order of the Phoenix” columns have very simple details: Chapter 13 is called “Recruiting”, chapter 14 says “first meeting”; chapter 20, on the other hand, just says “big meeting”.)

So tell us in the comments section below – what do you think? Do you outline your projects? If so, how?

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One comment on “Writing Wednesday: How J.K. Rowling Outlines Her Books

  1. This is a good way to waste less paper! I tend to outline my short stories, and sometimes they don’t out bigger than I intend. I tend to do a seven point structure of each chapter. I need to find a more efficient method though.

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