J.K. Rowling writing

(Photo source)

An author’s mind map or story outline can be a fascinating artifact to pore 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 fifth 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?


  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.

      • Good tip! Thanks for the suggestion – we’ll have to look into Weiland’s offerings, ourselves.

        All the best,
        The Paperblanks® Team

    • Looking for a more expansive method? That’s easy, my friend. Just read “Punching Babies: a how-to guide” by Adron J. Smitley. It goes through the entire plotting process in much detail without making your story sound formulaic. And it’s not just for novelists, it’s also for screenwriters. Ever since i picked up a copy, my writing’s been off the charts. before it took me at least 6 months to do a first draft from beginning to end, but now i’m cranking them out every few months, AND there’s little to no reworking the plot as everything makes complete sense before i even start writing. I highly recommend that book. It was a life-saver for me =-)

      • Hi Michael,

        Thanks for the recommendation! A rather provocative title for a book on writing, but you’re quite right, it’s one of the best around. Good luck with your writing! We’d love to read it sometime 🙂

        The Paperblanks® Team

  2. Outlines are a representation of our mental structures, and anytime we can observe a mental structure higher than our own it gives us something to work towards. Well done and appreciate the advice.

  3. EXCELLENT article =-) I’d just like to add that MY writing really took off after i read “Punching Babies: a how-to guide” which does the same kind of outline here only much more detailed and in-depth. After reading Punching Babies my writing went from taking about a year or more per novel to now averaging two novels per year! My productivity has NEVER been so high, and it makes a HUGE difference when you have something to reference beforehand to keep your brain on the right track so it doesn’t wander then the next you know you have to scrap the last 10,000 words because you went trailing off having an affair with your muse only to find it really has nothing to do with the main point of the story at all, LoL. Anyways, if you haven’t read it then I’d deff. recommend reading Punching Babies: a how-to guide. It’s cheap and it’s on Amazon =-)

    • Thank you, Gerarld!

      And Smitley’s Punching Babies is an excellent recommendation for those writers out there who want (or need!) to outline their story before beginning. We definitely agree that having an outline is vital to keeping your muse in check 🙂 In fact, we just published another Writing Wednesday post about the importance of planning ahead (Writing Wednesday: The Importance of Planning Ahead and Plot- Outlining).

      All the best,
      The Paperblanks® Team

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