Pictured: All of my outlining tools
You know how some people like to freewrite? This common exercise is meant to help relax the mind and generate new ideas. I’m not much of a freewriter, but I do love to free-outline, or visually map my story. I’ll take a notebook sheet or a giant sketchpad (I don’t really do in-betweens) and I’ll outline a scene, a chapter, or an act starting at one point and just jumping around until I have all points covered.
And, when I say “giant,” I mean one of those 24″ by 36″ pads that are heavier than they look.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the outline templates I use in Scrivener and they are both fun and extremely helpful, but I use them mostly for contextual preparation. They’re easy tools for building my world and my people, but not so much my story.
While I often use notebook paper for its convenience, it’s really fun to get down on my hands and knees (while my wrists and knees are young enough to take it) and use a canvas-sized paper for my work. This does two things:
- It makes me feel like an artist. Writing can so often be sitting and type or sitting and scribbling in a notebook. This gives me a chance to move and see the story from a new, more free-form perspective.
- There’s just more room to write stuff so I can plot out larger sections of the story OR I can go super in-detail to a single chapter. I can play around with the granularity in the mapping to bring it up or down, depending on my need.
I initially got canvas-sized paper because I was in desperate need of a new outlining method to try and I was feeling boxed in by my little notebooks. In trying to define my style as a writer, I wanted to try something big.
So I went to Staples or Office Max/Depot and picked up the sketchpad and a bunch of permanent markers and went home and didn’t touch it for a few days.
Well, I touched it. I lay all the materials out and picked a scene to outline and then I just stared at it for a while.
Then I went and watched TV.
BUT TWO DAYS LATER…I spread the sketchpad and five different colors of Sharpies out on the floor, got down, and got to work.
And I worked on that one chapter for about 30 minutes then I stood back with a new, deeper understanding of the chapter I wanted to write. All the discovery of plot and twists and character that I usually did with just writing out the plot (which would then be subjected to several edits) was done in the chapter map. So, when I sat down to actually write the chapter, I knew the general direction and the actions of the chapter.
Visual mapping gives me the skeleton of the chapter–the actions and some of the basic reaction emotions of characters. Writing the chapter then allows me to fill in the smaller details and hammer out the exact wording–the muscles, blood, and skin on top of the skeleton of my story.
Plus, it’s fun and it looks cool.