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Outlining, oh let me count the ways...

Outlining. Not all writers do it. Some just write free from the moment an idea hits, not knowing where it is they are going and maybe not even having an idea of where the story will end up (pantsters).

Others write like they’re completing their thesis and their outline is tens of thousands of words.

Then, there are those that are somewhere in the middle.

Whatever you decide to do, however your brain works for writing is A-OK. If it isn’t broke, why fix it?



It may not be broken, but there also may be a better way of doing things that makes you even more productive. So, don’t be afraid to step outside of your box.

That’s what this post is for, to help you step outside of said box, or even maybe explore a little of what you’re already doing, now.

I am a writer that never starts a book the same way twice. So far, anyway. But I would really like a consistent “formula”, if you will, that will allow me the creativity of just writing but also the structure and guidance that an outline offers. I’ve discovered that when I write with an outline, I write faster and better and I feel less lost (check out this post, here, for more reasons as to why I switched).

So, where do you start, if you want to try outlining?

First of all, don’t think of it as outlining; think of it as organizing your thoughts. And there are an innumerable number of ways to do that.

I have done an actual outline where I just sketch out the events of a story. I have gone and done an outline where I plot out the turning points and character motivations and how they interact with each other. I’ve done post it notes. I’ve used brain mapping and computer programs. Sydney, over at TWC, uses a white board. All methods are viable. Let’s sketch out a few so you can get an idea of how you can make them work for you.

Post it Notes These are great because you can easily move them around. They also come in a variety of colors and shapes so it’s easy to visually see how your story is progressing. Use a different color for each character and a different shape for each kind of event (tension, plot point, romance, etc). Timelines are easy to map out, as well, with this method. Think this purple sticky note should be sooner and perhaps on a different character’s timeline? Great, stick it somewhere else. Mine are on the side of a bookshelf.

Outlining Outlining is great because you can choose how much or how little you want to map out beforehand. But you need to agree with yourself, before you start, on what you will outline. For me, there are a few items that HAVE to be there

  • Inciting Incident

  • Pivot point into deciding to act

  • Doorway into Act 2

  • Midpoint

  • Pivot point of the third act/Climax

  • If your middle will be going up or down

  • Final pinch in the third act

  • How your story will end

It’s also ideal to have an idea of side plots and relationships and how they’re going to develop along the way.

Some people like to map out everything to the nth degree, and that’s okay. It’s always better to put more time into the foundation and mapping of your story than to not.

Programs/Apps There are several different programs out there to help with outlining. You can use mind mapping (Lucid Spark, Mind Meister, Scrapple), yWriter (my favorite writing and outlining software, so far), Scrivener, etc. There are so many out there, you’re going to be able to find something that suits you.

I challenge you to outline, if you’ve never done it before. Or, if you do currently outline, I challenge you to try a different method. See how it works out for you.

Happy writing and I’ll see you in #TheWriterCommunity!


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