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Outline Tips: Let Your Ideas Flow

Victoria A. Witkewitz

27 March 2024


Thoughts and ideas are undeniably important for any author, but preparation and organization are key to a successful writing experience. This article highlights nine quick tips to keep in mind while outlining your writing project.  For a thorough outlining process, check our Book Outline Template Guide with templates to sketch your writing ideas.  Now, let's get started!


Defining Outline Goals

Simply put, the goal of the outlining process is to draw ideas to turn into an actionable plan.  Think of an outline as an organizational springboard to start your writing adventure.   


An author may use the outlining process to focus on multiple-level goals including but not limited to:

  • High-level overview that covers the beginning to the end of a story

  • Chapter overview that focuses on points relevant to a specific chapter

  • Character overview to construct character attributes, goals, and obstacles

  • Plot points or what I call Critical Key Chapter Moments-essential points to move the story from point A to point B and so forth.  They represent the bulk of the story load. 


outlining tips

Before we plunge into outline tips, remember there is no right or wrong answer as to how you formulate your plan of action to draft your creative work.  You may even find yourself utilizing a multi-pronged approach coupling a few of the outline idea techniques.  Let's delve into the tips.


1.) Work backward.  When constructing an entire story (high-level overview) identifying the ending is a recommended place to start.  Why?  This will ensure impactful points support the ending objective.  This concept is relevant in a high-level overview outlining as well as chapter outlining.

2.) Keep points short.  In your first go-around of the outlining process, aim to document the main ideas as much as possible.  The idea is to connect all the pieces together without too many details.  If you dive into too many details at the start, it is easy to become distracted or lose focus.  Once you have prepared your initial outline, you can elaborate on the details, but establishing core points first is key.  

3.) Use multiple outline types as needed.  There are many outline types an author can use to generate their ideas including clustering and the synopsis method to name a few.  Some authors may find one approach may suit their needs while other authors may use more than one outline type depending on the topic.    


4.) The question approach.  One methodology I have found helpful in my outlining process is the question approach.  The idea is to present a series of questions where you continue to refine the answers until you have fully exhausted the topic of details.  For example:


What university did Benjamin choose?  ABC University

Why did he choose that university?  Because they have a great economics program.

Why did Benjamin choose economics as his major? Because economics provides a wealth of career opportunities.

Keep asking questions until you cannot come up with another answer.

5.) Jot down all the ideas. Allow your brain to explore multiple avenues without passing judgment.  Like a start-your-own adventure map, you will come up with ideas that take you in different directions.  Sort through ideas a few days later for a fresh perspective.  Save all your ideas.  You never know if they can be used for another writing piece down the road.


6.) Aim for a framework of substance.  While a good brainstorming session certainly helps those creative juices flow, keep in mind what points provide substance to the story.  Try to avoid excess words that do not contribute to a solid foundation.


7.) Support the main idea.  One of the points I ask authors to consider is how will you answer the main question for the reader.  In other words, what is the reader supposed to know, acknowledge, and understand by the time they finish your story?  This is what I call the Lightbulb Effect Questions.  This is important when generating sub-ideas to support the main objective of the story.  One way I approach this is by asking myself-how does this tie into the ending of the story?  If you cannot find an answer, the idea either doesn't flow with the story or needs to be refined until it clicks.  Check out our Writer's Block presentation series: Troubleshooting Techniques for Writer's Block for more information on this topic. 


8.) Take your time.  Planning and outlining is a fluid process.  While you may come up with a robust collection of thoughts from the start, ideas may trickle in from time to time.  Outlines can take hours, days, or even weeks and depend on factors such as your thoroughness to completion. 

9.) Revisit.  An author will be inspired to write at different times of the day, as well as, the thought process.  While you may find yourself with a bulk of ideas during one session, go back and revisit them in multiple sessions.  See how your thoughts align while new ideas arise.



Final Punctuation

The outlining process is a great step for an author to get organized to start their writing adventure.  Check out these additional resources below for more outlining planning.

Book Outline Template Guide

Authors' Notes Article: Outline Mapping for Your First Book
Writer's Block Series: Troubleshooting Techniques for Writer's Block
An Author's Guide to Book Planning & Troubleshooting Writer's Block

For additional information please click the links below.  Questions? Contact Us.


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