The Outline for The Jade Dragon

I doubt anyone would be interested in the first pass of the outline I have just finished. I believe some of the details of how I built the outline and how I intend to use it in writing the novel would be of interest. Those who have already written and successfully published novels may be interested to see if there are any nuggets that they may use from my creative process. For someone starting out, to see a successful process that works should provide some support in their attempting their first book.

To be at the outline stage of developing a novel means that you as a writer have accomplished a few things. You have an idea for a story. You have at least written a couple of lines of what the story is about. You have at least a working title and you should have a hook, that is one or two lines as to what your story is about that will hook the reader.

This is what I had for my current project.

Book Title - Jonas Watcher: The Case of the Jade Dragon.

The title was somewhat easy for me, I am writing a series based upon a 1930's detective. The title comes from doing some research and expanding upon a Chinese myth involving a dragon.

Jonas Watcher is hired to bring a young Chinese woman from St. Louis to San Francisco to participate in an arranged marriage to unite two old and powerful families from China. As Jonas takes the case, he discovers that there are factions that are opposed to the marriage and are willing to go to any lengths to stop it, even murder.

This is what I had to start with. I have already established characters from the previous two books, that I will use in this third book, so I have the added advantage and disadvantage of using those characters. The advantage is that I have already worked up details of those characters, and I already know how they will interact in the story line. The disadvantage is that if someone is picking up this book without having read the previous two books I have to reintroduce the characters with enough information to satisfy the new reader without going over ground that will bore a person who has read the previous books. Also, I need to maintain continuity that if I misstep, trust me, readers will let me know.

My outline initially consists of  lines each representing a section of the book that tells the story. Once I have that done, then I start by writing Chapter headings. Eventually, I will use these headings as Chapter titles. I prefer titles to numbers, but that is a personal choice.

Chapter 1

An Incident at Union Station

The story opens in a train depot. Jonas is on the train returning from New Orleans. From his first-class compartment, he sees three men taking an older Chinese gentleman and a younger Chinese girl from the train. It is early in the morning and no one else is around to help the couple.


This was the beginning of the  outline to the novel. I write the Jonas Watcher series in the first person, this lets me tell the story through Jonas Watcher. I get to include his thoughts and actions which add a richness and also lets me be less that perfect with grammar because I can write sentence fragments as he is telling the story. It has a disadvantage because everything must be from his point of view, but that just means I have to find a more creative way to insert others points of view.

The outline is not the novel. I am not looking to wordsmith here, but simply to tell the story and include notes to myself and shorthand that will remind me what I need to do when writing the story.


An Incident at Union Station

Jonas is sitting in his compartment on the train, dozing. His Train has been slightly delayed before heading to San Francisco. He wakes up to sounds of distress and sees three men accosting an elderly Chinese man had a young Chinese woman across the tracks from his train. No one else has noticed and no one is coming to the Chinese couple's aid. Jonas checks his forty-four and exits his compartment to help the distressed couple. In the corridor, Jonas sees the conductor who reminds him that they will be departing in 30 minutes. As he gets off the train he notices that the three men have moved the couple from the view of the public. He runs quickly in the direction he last saw them going. He sees a storage area and hears voices. He surveys the area and gets his bearings, his opponents are unaware of their surroundings, they chose it because it was out of sight and sound of the public. (Be here as he analyzes the area for a defensive and attack positions). He approaches the group calmly almost as if he is unaware of what is going on. The Chinese man and woman try to seek help, but the trio threaten them and imply the approaching man may also be in danger. Jonas feigns innocence and then interest as if he might want to participate with whatever is about to take place. Jonas plays his part well and the trio are completely fooled, the Chinese girl is leery, but the old man recognizes Jonas for what he is, a Dragon. The ensuing altercation points out that though he is outnumbered, Jonas is much more skilled at using his environment and the elements about as weapons than his opponents. The Chinese gentleman insists that he and the woman stay out of the way and let Jonas handle the situation, which he does very effectively.


This is the fully written description of the first chapter at first pass. I have little description, I have not identified or described the characters. My intent at this point is to just tell the bare bones of the story so I can get it onto paper, or, in this case, virtual where ever the data resides. In my second pass, I will add some details and may make notes on how I want to story told. I may play with a chapter scene in my head for several hours to longer before I get it down.

There is an area in parenthesis in the above excerpt that is a note to me. "Be There" is a comment that tells me I need to be more involved with the description. I need to be Jonas Watcher and witness the event with his humor, intensity, and sense of purpose. Remember this is my initial take on the story and there is not a lot of detail. There is enough information that it will guide me when I actually start writing the novel. I will add character names, and locations in the outline to have a source of information. When writing from Jonas' POV I am writing the novel, but in the outline I am just building a skeleton of the story. The outline is a tool, only a few people may see it, and that may only be if I have a road block and I need assistance.

The outline is 14 chapter headings and 5 pages. If there is a need I will publish it here, but the example above should be enough to get someone started. My next pass will be to fill in details and add characters names. Also, I will use the outline for research, it will give me direction for areas where I may be weak. I think of it as a map to follow, and I may deviate if something occurs to me when I am writing the novel.

Gene Poschman

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