Outlining Effectively (Part One)

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If you’re starting to write a story, no matter for a book or not, what do you think of first—the plot or the your characters? This two-part tips posts will be discussing for both the answers.

Points in this post are more relevant to those who focus more on their plot.

Note: These tips would work best for plotters.

Tip 1

Some people like plotting their story in ink and others prefer to type. Either way, I suggest plotting at least some of your story in paper. Have a pen and notebook with you always and jot down everything in bullet points. Bullet points make everything look neater, shorter, and more precise. Writing paragraphs would feel too tedious, especially when you are just outlining, and this is the reason most lean towards typing. Bullet points will also prove easier when you are referring back later as you won’t have to read the whole paragraph for one small fact. You can get it in one glance.

Also, don’t take too long writing down as it might interrupt your flow of the plot. The mind works too fast and writing in abbreviations and short forms can help get a lot down. Just make sure you can understand what you’ve written later.

Tip 2

When you want to change something, don’t scratch or scribble over it. Strike it out neatly and write down the new idea. One, this will make the page look cleaner and still appealing. Two, if later, while writing your story something doesn’t add up or match and you want to refer back to old ideas, you can clearly read what you’ve stricken out but it would be hard to make out what is under the scribble. Writing in hand saves your trashed ideas too which might actually be helpful later. In software, it would be lost.

Tip 3

You can work out jotting down points for future scenes or relevant info in 3 ways:

  1. Write down points elsewhere as you are plotting, even if it is in the middle of a paragraph.
  2. Outline one chapter and reread, writing down any new points and ideas only then and not letting it interrupt your flow in the middle.
  3. Only when you are done outlining for the day, take 10-15 minutes to reread and write down points and notes. Not caring whether you’ve written 2 pages or 2 chapters that day.

Tip 4

When you are done with some amount of plot outlining and are not in the mood for any more, never worry that you’re wasting time. Reread your outline and compare all of them together, figuring out the mismatches. Note down any changes and smooth out differences. This will help in solidifying your outline and also get your brain thinking again.

Do you focus on your plot first or your characters? What do you think of these tips and can you think of any others?

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