As you sit down to begin writing your story or novel, a few important questions might be running through your mind: How does this story begin? What happens in the middle? How is the conflict resolved? These parts make up the basic structure of a story—beginning, middle, and end—but it can be difficult narrowing down your ideas.
Here are some quick tips to help you through the writing process as you embark on your writing journey this month!
First, don’t think of outlining as a prison. If you’re opposed to outlining, you’re probably thinking that your creativity will be stifled, that outlining is a waste of time, or you may just want to jump right into writing (which is always preferable to writer’s block, right?).
If this is your current mindset, try to think of outlining as a map with certain landmarks you want to visit. Your story can change halfway through. Your characters can make different decisions. You can play around with settings, themes, and conflict. As long as you make it to that one specific landmark, or the inciting incident, turning point, or climax, the road there doesn’t have to be totally set in stone.
Second, understand story structure before you begin to outline. You’ve got this amazing idea – this brilliant, bright, and exciting concept – and as the writer, you have the complete freedom to splatter your thoughts all over the page. Make a mess. Don’t write chronologically. Jot down character development scenes. If you’re not having fun with your writing, you’re doing it wrong.
At some point, however, you’re going to want to turn those ideas into a cohesive story. This is where outlining comes in (we never said you had to outline before you started writing!). Once you have a draft in which you held nothing back, go back and see where each scene fits into your story. Reorganize. Reread your chapters, write down the important plot points, and then cut out things that don’t contribute to the overall story. By doing this, you’re developing your beginning, middle, and end, which is essential for any story to make sense to your readers.
Third, give your outline space to breathe. Feel free to experiment. Outlining is one of the most flexible and fluid stages in the writing process. You’re not committed to a subplot or character arc — you’re simply trying to make your ideas all come together. If you feel like the pacing is off at the start of your story, move things around in your outline before going in to revise. Try different things with your outline until you have a solid path forward.
You can also use this space to settle on a theme in order to bring the pieces of your story together. Look over your outline and see if you can find a connection between the events. If a theme emerges, you can revise your outline so that the theme is more prominent.
There are a variety of online tools designed for outlining, such as Trello, Coggle, and Scrivener (note that Scrivener costs money). But you don’t have to use fancy tools to outline if you don’t want to. Post-it notes, notecards, and journaling are popular methods for outlining.
What matters is that you tell the story that you want to tell. The outline is there for your eyes only — it doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone other than you.
is an avid reader and passionate writer from Colorado. She studied creative writing and journalism at the University of Denver and graduated in 2021. She has worked with the Denver Quarterly literary journal, written for the DU Clarion, and currently works with Spring Cedars Publishing.