Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Writing an Outline

I encourage writers to get their foot into the door via the query letter. Some publishers require you submit an outline with it and I often get requests to see how I write them. I originally wrote one for Lady Mary but couldn't share the finished pieces so I'm posting the one I wrote for A Shot in the Arm because it's short and it illustrates the point well. This turned into a sidebar (~400 words) for the main article on The Science of Smallpox. You can read both articles here. Note that my bibliography is solid. I know some editors look at it first to see if the sources the writer plans to consult are good.

Outlining works for me because the jumbled images that come to my mind can be organized where I can see them. They often suggests a story and now I can see if all the elements are in a logical order. Note that my outline is a combination of sentences as well as short phrases. Many people balk at writing outlines. Fear not. You can write a rough draft and create an outline from it. Happy reading, writing and outlining.


1.      Introduction

·         Ouch!  Shots hurt.  But they prevent you from getting sick.

·         Teach body how to fight germs

2.      B cells

·         Trillions of B cells

·         Each B cell recognizes a bit of something that is NOT part of yourself

·         Specificity – germs match up with their B cells

·         B cell becomes active – clones itself and makes antibodies

·         Antibodies bind germ and destroy them

3.      Time frame of infection

·         Germs multiply fast – 1 can turn into a million in a few hours

·         B cells take about 1-2 weeks to catch up in antibody production

·         Height of battle – you start feeling better

4.      After the infection

·         Body is the same except that it knows how to fight against germ

·         Memory B cells – sometimes they live for your entire life

·         Basis of vaccination – vaccines contain dead/weakened germs without making you sick

·         Armed and ready to fight

·         Time frame of second infection – less than a week and you probably won’t even feel sick

5.      Edward Jenner

·         Cowpox protects against smallpox

     ·         Vaccines – magic bullets


1.      Helena Curtis.  1983.  Biology (Fourth Edition).  Worth Publishers.

2.      Bernard D. Davis et. al.  1980.  Microbiology (Third Edition).  Harper & Row Publishers.

3.      Edward Jenner.  1938.   Scientific papers: physiology, medicine, surgery and geology.  Harvard Classics Vol. 38.  P. F. Collier & Son, edited by Charles W. Eliot.

4.      Paul deKruif.  1926.  Microbe Hunters.  Harcourt Brace & Co.

5.      Louise E. Robbins.  2001.  Louis Pasteur and the Hidden World of Microbes.  Oxford University Press.

6.      Ivan Roitt et. al.  1985.  Immunology.  C.V. Mosby Co. 


Mirka Breen said...

Great example of a proposal done professionally and succinctly. Lady Mary lives!

Katie L. Carroll said...

Very interesting look into your process. I'm glad your story got a second chance at reaching readers.

Vijaya said...

Thanks Mirka. I've sold so much just from the outline alone, I think it's a good skill to practice.

Katie, Lady Mary is so fascinating, I was glad that kids would get to know her even if it was on the throne!

Jenni said...

Really interesting! I haven't done nonfiction in awhile, but I did something similar for Calliope. This sounds like a fun read!

Vijaya said...

I love nonfiction even as a kid. I was always reading biographies. And I'd sit and read the encyclopedia on our monthly visits to the British Council Library. Choosing only 4 books to check out was HARD.