When you hear the word outline, you may think of the bulleted list you had to write for some academic paper. But when you’re writing fiction, that method doesn’t always work. Sometimes you need something different, something new. Here are five alternative approaches to help make an outline for your next story. 

  1. Free-Write

This low-pressure approach serves well as a starting point. Here, the point is to get anything onto the page. Don’t worry about perfection. Grammar, spelling, punctuation—those things don’t matter. Allow the page to be a mess of details and musings. Tune into your stream of consciousness. 

I often use this method to jot down ideas when my mind feels overcrowded with them. Once written out, there is more clarity and it is easier to be organized. A helpful tip for this method is to use a distraction-free program like Cold Turkey to increase the fluidity and speed of the process. 

  1. Mind Maps

Our writing doesn’t always fit a neat-and-linear mold. Mind maps are helpful for this. They offer flexibility in ways that other methods don’t. With mind maps, you are free to diverge off of ideas, write in subplots, or group notes together.

More than that, mind maps let you visualize your work, making it simple to connect and categorize ideas. Programs like Scapple even allow you to upload images in your mind maps. This comes in handy for the following method. 

  1. Image Sequence

Pinterest mood boards are fun to make, but what if you could use them for an outline?

An image sequence revolves around aesthetics. It consists of finding images that relate to your scenes and grouping them together. Then, you organize them into the order of your story. This can be done with a photo editor, or you can use the mind mapping tools from before. 

With this method, you get 1) visualization, 2) inspiration, and 3) easy access to the content of each scene, as you will only have to glance at the images to conjure it up in your mind again. 

  1. In Which…

Shared by actress and writer Brittany N. Williams, this outline is useful if you struggle with summary. In her tweet, Williams names this method after Diana Wynne Jones, author of Howl’s Moving Castle, because the chapter titles all start with “in which.”

The process for this is simple. Outline your story by writing “chapter one, in which…” and then briefly describe that chapter (or scene). When I tested this trick, I found that summarizing became much easier. But why is that?

What I noticed is that this method gives you a starting point—the “in which”—and the repetition of it creates a steady rhythm, prompting you to write consistently. Plus, it limits your summary to a single sentence.

  1. Audio Recordings

Sometimes it’s easier to talk about a topic than to write about it. When you find yourself in this situation, you can build an outline using audio recordings. 

Here’s how it works: each recording will focus on either a chapter or a scene. If it is a chapter, limit your recording to 20 seconds. For scenes, make it 15 seconds. Summarize your ideas during those recordings. If you go past the limit, save your recording, and try again until it is kept within the timeframe.

While this method asks for concision, it also offers more flexibility because your summary is not limited to just one sentence. Once satisfied with your recordings, you can review them later in your writing process. 

As these methods show, there are many ways to construct an outline. Every writer has their own process and way of thinking, so every outline will look different. There is no single right way to do it. That said, feel free to adjust any of these ideas to suit your own needs. Exploration is part of being a writer, after all!

Meet the blogger:

Gisela Perez in a brown jacket.Gisela Perez is a multi-genre writer and poet. At the heart of her works, there is an earnest desire to give comfort and foster curiosity. When she is not writing, she can be found admiring the moon from her home in Minnesota. 


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