Outlining 101: What Tools Do You Use? - article

There are many choices in software tools for outlining a story, from simple programs such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Microsoft Project (Mac versions of Word and PowerPoint are Pages and Keynote), to more complex object-oriented programs, including CADKEY, iPad apps, and Visio. All of these products assist in the development process and organization of details, facts, and events. 

Microsoft Word (available for both PC and Mac, Mac also has “Pages”) is by far the least expensive and easiest method to aid in these simple tasks. And you probably already have it installed on your computer and have been using it for years. Mind mapping, which is basically a diagram that is used to represent words, ideas, and tasks, coupled with Visio, allows you to combine the best of both worlds. They let you not only classify and organize information, but aid in an intuitive way to arrange their elements and visualize them in the writing process. (Note: for information on types of outlining see the article “Outlining 101: The Basics”, here on the Author Learning Center).

There was an interesting article last year after the TV series finale of Lost, where executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse described in vivid detail the complexities of character and scene development. They shared images of blackboards filled with pointing arrows, pictures, magazine clippings, photographs, and digital imprints. Needless to say, without proper outlining techniques, this show would have been, well, literally lost, with a very short shelf life. 

Microsoft PowerPoint, part of the Microsoft Office Suite, or Mac’s Keynote, are other great ways to organize in a visual manner the arrangement and detailing of various elements for good storytelling. Facts and certain characteristics have to remain consistent, otherwise, your reader is going to be very confused and probably leave your book. 

It is your job as the author to ensure that all the checks and balances are in alignment. And when they are, you’ll be afforded more flexibility to convey a well-structure story that not only reads well, but holds up to public and industry scrutiny. It also sets you up nicely for a continuation of the storyline and additional works from the same piece, while eliminating redundancy.

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