Writing Advice: Outlining Tips


Everyone has their own way of outlining a story. Some people create a traditional type of outline with roman numerals and letters to tell you which items or plot points belong under others. Some use the infamous Snowflake Method to plan out their plot. Others go into exhaustive detail, listing the different scenes they plan to write. Personally, I like to use a bit of each of these methods. I start with some elements of the Snowflake Method, create a rough outline, and then begin describing scene and important plot points. Through all of these steps, I often use a stream of consciousness style of describing my story. My sentences aren’t always complete, they just include whatever I need to remember the elements of the story.

Whatever your style of outlining is, there is nearly always room for improvement. Perhaps you’re feeling like your outlining method is missing something, and that it’s not getting at the core of the story you’re planning to write. Recently, I read a post on Vox, the politics and pop culture news site, that offered some tips for punching up your outlines and refining your writing process. This advice applies specifically to that stream of consciousness description you might use to lay out the bones of your plot.

According to this post, you should avoid using “and then” when describing your plot. This is something so small that I had never considered it before. But now that I think about it, using “and then” is pretty much second nature when I’m writing rambling, stream of consciousness plot summaries for my personal use. As the post says, this is the way a child might describe his or her favorite book or movie to you. They string together the plot elements with “and then” because they don’t understand any of the underlying nuances. They’re just listing plot points.

So, what should we use instead? The post on Vox makes some great suggestions that include meanwhilebut, and therefore. Instead of simply linking together plot points, these words imply more meaning and make you think more deeply about what’s going on in your story. The post gives these descriptions for each word: “but…introduces the idea of opposition,” “meanwhile…introduces the idea of parallelism,” and “therefore…introduces the idea of progression.”

Through these three words, you can introduce conflict to the story you’re writing (essential for any story!), create parallel situations between characters and plot points for an interconnectedness, and progress through your story at a better pace. I think these three words would be a huge help, and I plan on using them during my next outlining session.

Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan