Whether or not you outline your stories before you start writing usually comes down to whether you like to plan out your story or just wing it as you write.
The thing is, whether you’re a planner or not, creating an outline for your story can mean the difference between finishing your story and spending months wondering if you’re even close to the end.
What’s the point of outlining?
You might wonder why you should bother with an outline if you’re going into full plan mode or if you like to just sit down and write, letting your muse and characters figure out the direction as you write.
An outline can create a good medium between a plan and winging it, acting as a foundation for your story to help you know the general direction you’re going in while keeping some freedom, or forming the base for a more in-depth plan.
As a planner, you might be wondering where to start. The outline is where you should start. As you build up the outline, you can turn it into a full blown plan with as much detail as you like.
If you’re a pantser, writing by the seat of your pants, then having an outline, no matter how brief, will give you at least a direction to write in.
Do you ever feel like you’re writing and writing with no end in sight? An outline can be the light at the end of the tunnel.
When you’re wondering how close you are to the end, when you’ll be done with this first draft and able to start editing, or begin that new project, a quick glance at the outline will tell you everything you need to know.
How to outline your story
When outlining, start with writing down the scenes, points and ideas that are already in your head, you can then go back and fill in any gaps and flesh it out.
There are no rules when it comes to outlining your stories. As with everything in writing fiction, it wholly depends on what works for you. But here are some ideas that you might like to try.
- Make a list.
This might sound boring, but it’s what I do and it works for me. I open up a blank Word document, but you could easily use a notebook, app or anything else, and I create a table. Then, in the left column, I treat each box as an action point and I create a sequence.
Now, my brain works in a sequential way, so I can start at the beginning of the story and work my way through to the end. If I don’t know what happens next, I leave a box free and move on. I’ll come back to that gap and fill it in later. Often, by the time I get to the end, I’ve figured out what’s missing and what needs to go in the gaps.
This table eventually turns into my story plan by adding more details and columns for character notes and a tracker so I know which chapter I’m up to (the action points eventually become chapters).
- Use index cards / post its / pieces of paper.
I know a lot of writers who use this method. Take a bunch of index cards or post its, or rip up some pieces of paper, and on each one write down an action point, scene or something that needs to happen in the story. Then, arrange them into a plot.
The great thing about this method is that you can easily switch and move scenes, chapters and actions points around until you’re happy with the story.
You can also add extra details to each one, such as whose point of view the scene is from, if it’s particularly important to a specific character, if some characters don’t know about this, or you can put references on them so you know which are red herrings, which are action heavy, where the romance is, etc.
So this method can be really useful if your story is complicated.
When you’re done, put them up in order on your wall or on something like a cork board. You can tick them off or remove them once they’re written.
- Create a mind map.
If you’re in your 30’s, or older, you may know these as spider diagrams or it could look similar to a flowchart. A mind map is basically a way of organising your thoughts and getting everything down in front of you.
Naturally, there are apps for this now, so if you prefer being digital instead of reaching for your notebook, simply do a search for ‘mind map apps’.
There are lots of free apps, but one designed specifically for authors is Scapple. Unfortunately, it’s not free but they do offer a free trial.
- Design your own bullet journal.
Bullet journals are all the rage and if you’re artistic and like designing things, this could be a winner for you (it’ll also feed into your need to procrastinate!).
You can create your outline in a layout that works for you, alter it as you need to and make it pretty or style it so that it resembles your story.
A quick search in Google and YouTube will bring up tons of ideas for creating a bullet journal for your stories.
And if you’re after a dot grid notebook to create your story journal, there are two available from Write into the Woods! Get yours right here.
These methods aren’t just great for outlining stories, they’re also perfect for planning your stories more in-depth, creating characters and world-building.
Have a play and find what works best for you.