Outlining 101: How to do it - article

For any author, the ability to create a usable outline is important. While certain types of outlines help in the creation and development process, others are useful for organizing ideas into an effective story line. Possible formats vary. Here, we will focus on mind mapping, story boarding, and the hierarchical outline.

As an author of a potentially unlimited number of projects, you need to prepare yourself with some internal working tools. One such tool is mind mapping. This mapping of your thoughts can be extremely valuable when you first have that “ah-ha” moment, and the sudden rush of a story idea comes to mind. Programs and “apps” are now available that allow you to create digital mind maps, but a pencil and paper will work just as well.

You write your main story idea in the center of a blank sheet of paper and circle it. Then from that circle you branch off to the related ideas you have. If a subsidiary idea has related elements, branch off from that idea, and so on, until you’ve put down all your ideas on your mind map. The resulting map will serve as a guideline for the rest of the creative process.

Study your mind map. What you want to pull from it are the elements of the story that can be written down on individual index cards. If you don’t have cards, just take a piece of paper cut it into either four or eight squares. Each individual idea should have its own card. Then, you can lay them all out and arrange a story line. If each card had a little sketch on it to describe the action, this activity would be called traditional story boarding. Don’t be afraid to move cards around. That’s all part of the process. Such testing of how things will play out will help create a story flow. You are looking for a flow that will to be satisfying to you and your readers.

So, you’ve come up with the ideas. You’ve organized them, and now it’s time to put them all together in a usable outline. The traditional outline that everyone has seen is called the hierarchical outline. Traditional outlines can use letters and numbers (A, B, 1a, 2b), Roman numerals, (II, VI, IX), and/or bullet points to break down different ideas.

You will rank and organize your information. First, choose a main idea or, a series of chapter titles. Directly under the chapter headings, include the ideas to be used in each chapter.

For example:

1) Chapter One: Scientists Home

a) Everyone is waking up

     i) Daughter two is bringing coffee and newspaper to Dad

          (1) She’s sweetening him up because she wants to go out

ii) Scientist/Dad wakes up

         (1) He’s slept sitting at his desk

       (2) He awakes suddenly with a post-it note stuck to his face

       (3) Turns daughter’s request down

You will see the value of understanding the outlining process as a writing project develops. This run down has only introduced a few of the options available. The best outlining process is the one you find yourself returning to use regularly. So be sure to try the possibilities suggested here, and then seek out and explore all the other options until you find the right fit for your style.

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