LibreOffice as an Outlining Tool

Every time I read an article about specialized novel-writing software, I wonder what it does that free software like LibreOffice can’t.

One thing that LibreOffice does really well is outline documents.

Here’s how I use it.

LibreOffice is built around styles, which seemed restrictive when I started using them.

My philosophy is write first, format second. Styles force you to format as you write. I don’t like that. But styles can be useful too.

I use paragraph styles for outlining. There are also page, character, frame, and list styles, none of which I use for outlining.

What I do normally is highlight text I want to apply a paragraph style to, then choose the style from the drop down menu in the tool bar. The paragraph styles menu has items like “Default style,” “Header 1,” “Header 2,” and so on. Another way to access styles is by pressing F11 to bring up the styles dialog box.

Now, lets say you have a document that looks like this:

Chapter 1

Blah, blah, blah.

Chapter 2

More blah, blah, blah.

Highlight Chapter 1 and choose “Header 1” for the style. Do the same for Chapter 2. Now your document looks like this:

Chapter 1

Blah, blah, blah.

Chapter 2

More blah, blah, blah.

Notice you don’t have to highlight the content of Chapter 1, just the first line.

Hit F5 to bring up the Navigator. In the list of ways you can navigate your document, you will see “Headings.” It should be at the top of the list. Open it up and you will see Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 listed.

Now we get to the point of all this.

Click on Chapter 1, then click on the down arrows in the tool bar at the top of the Navigator. Chapter 2 will now be first, and Chapter 1 second. The associated content was moved with Chapter 1.

Neat trick, huh?

But there’s more.

There are 10 header levels, each higher number level with a lower priority. So you can set up your document like this:

Chapter 1

Section 1

Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3

Section 2

Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3

Section 3

Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3

Apply Header 1 style to chapters, Header 2 style to sections, and Header 3 style to paragraphs. You can outline a twenty chapter novel like this and move everything around in the navigator as you wish, either before or during writing.

Give descriptive names to things so you know what you’re moving. “Protagonist character description paragraph,” “Big battle,” “Licking wounds and assessing next move in the cave,” and so on.

I hope this doesn’t look complicated. It’s not. It’s a great way to shuffle things around in your outline until they’re where you want them.