Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tip O'Day for Authors #141

Guest blogger Merrill Heath discusses tools for outlining.

There are any number of tools you can use, from low-tech to high-tech, depending on your preference. The method I prefer is actually very low-tech – multi-colored index cards (or large post-it notes) and poster boards. This is easy to use and provides a great big-picture, visual depiction of your plot.

Here’s what I do. I use different colored cards for the main plots and subplots and red dots to signify the “hooks.” Hooks are simply points where I want to provide surprises or throw out something that will keep the reader turning pages. On each card I write a quick note explaining what happens in that chapter. Then I stick the card on the poster board. If the chapter includes both MP and SP content then I’ll put the SP card below the MP card on the board.

I prefer different colored cards because it makes it very easy to survey your plot to make sure everything is flowing like you want it to, that the SPs are woven through the story at the proper intervals, and that you’re providing enough hooks at the right places to keep the reader interested. You can easily shuffle things around if you find gaps or problems with the sequencing of events. You can add hooks if you identify any slow areas that need a boost. And you can quickly see where you’re repeating yourself or putting in scenes that aren’t really needed.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to write out your chapter cards in order, either. You can write the cards as the chapter ideas come to you, then shuffle them around to see how they best fit together. And if you’re one of those writers who feels that outlining stifles your creativity, this is still a great tool to use after you’ve finished the first draft. On subsequent rewrites and edits it will help you identify areas that need work.

Merrill blogs on writing at http://merrillheath.wordpress.com/

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