Outlining. For a lot of writers, that’s a bad word. It makes them cringe or run screaming for the door. Well, I’m here to tell you that outlining can be your friend. It wants you to scritch it behind the ears and to croon sweetly in baby talk. In fact, you could think of it as a way to get to know your infant story. Awwww. Isn’t it cute? Just look at that sweet little plot point.
Outlining will also show you when it’s time to change that sucker and flush that scene because it stinks to high heavens. Oh yes it will.
You don’t believe in outlining, huh? Because Mrs. Davis in fifth grade made you do so many outlines that your head hurt for a solid week trying to get all those levels right with the proper sentences to describe each part of your report and it hurt you so badly on such a deep level that it has scarred you for life. For life! No, you don’t have to show me. But I’m here to tell you that outlining not only doesn’t have to hurt, but it can be fun. Why? Because you don’t have to do that kind of outline.
Here are some more intuitive variations that can help you plot out your story.
Mind maps are intuitive and fun. You start with your central theme or event in the center and surround it with clusters of related subjects or scenes. It allows you to work spatially rather than linearly. Once you start playing with mind mapping, it can actually be a lot of fun. You’ll find that your ideas will start to flow, and then the ideas related to your central theme will sprout ideas of their own, and like the old shampoo commercial, it will continue, and so on, and so on, and so on. Mind mapping is great for overcoming writer’s block because it utilizes both the visual and subconscious. You can create your own mind maps with paper and pencil or you can use free software you can get here.
What do they have a lot of on the internet? Pictures! Use them to outline your story. Gather images for your characters, settings, and important props and keep them in folders so you can refer to them when you get stuck. Sometimes looking at a photo will fill in gaps you were struggling with and get those writerly juices flowing again. Believe it or not, they may also help you find issues in your story so you can fix them before they bog you down in a later draft.
Draw a map of your story’s world. Maybe it’s a fictional town in the mountains or a fantasy world. Maybe you need a real map of New York City so you can plot your character’s route to work every day. Whatever you need, a map can help you put it together more realistically, even if your map is very cartoony. It’s okay. As long as it helps you with your story, it works. Some authors even end up putting a finished version of the map in the book, so don’t knock it.
Use one of these ideas, use them all. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is you start putting your ideas in some sort of order. Do you have to organize them formally on paper? No. Not unless you want to. But if it helps to keep character sheets so you remember that Jane has blue eyes and sandy brown hair instead of green eyes and dark brown hair, please do so to create a record you can refer to if you’re tempted to redraw her halfway through the book. No detail is too much for you to know. It may not make it into the book, but it’s important that you know it. That book is your world.