Tips for Outlining

When it comes to writing a manuscript, there is one practice that is essential: outlining. The process of outlining helps us to stay focused and on track with our WIP. If we outline our story, it can also help keep us going whenever we experience the inevitable writer’s block in the middle of our work. 

Outlining All at Once versus Outlining as You Go

There are pros and cons to both outlining all at once or outlining as you go. When it’s all at once, you have a very clear idea of how the entire story will pan out. Granted, this doesn’t leave your plot a whole lot of flexibility. When you outline as you go, you gain a bit more plot flexibility. But planning out the next chapter or scene as you write it means that you might end up with more plot holes appearing in your work that you will then have to fix later on. 

Separate Docs

When it comes to outlining, some of us might be tempted to make our outlines in the same document as our WIP. But it can sometimes be helpful to have an entirely different document for your outline, particularly if it’s going to be very detailed. This helps to keep your actual work from getting jumbled up. 

Apps and Programs

There are various different apps and other programs that you can use to organize your work into an outline. Of course, you should do your research on the different apps and programs available, so you can pick the right one with the features that you work for you.

Questions to Ask When Pairing Characters

Let’s be honest, even when the main plot of a story isn’t romance, it still will often be included as a subplot to the story. Similar to the questions you’d ask when world building or developing individual characters, asking certain things of your character pairings is a good way to further develop your couples and make them realistic and believable to the reader. These are the types of questions that can be helpful to figure out how good a match your characters are. Of course, not all these questions need to be answered in the story itself, but it’s good information to have in order to better understand your characters. 


Questions to ask about your character pairings:

What do they like about each other?
What do they not like about each other?

How did they meet?

How long have they known one another?

How open are they about their love?

Is their attraction superficial or very deep?

What do they share in common?

Who initiated the relationship?

How do other characters view their relationship?

How much does their relationship affect he story?

Are they casual or serious in their relationship? 

Are they happy in their relationship?

How much time do they spend together? 

Character First Impressions

Apart from our villains, we want our characters to be well-liked by our readers. Every writer wants to believe that at least one of their characters will become a fan favorite. And there are ways of achieving this, but not all the different pointers have to be used all at once. Some of them can just be food for thought.


Show Don’t Tell

A staple of writing, it’s all about the action. Rather than saying, “she is so cool,” show us why this character is so cool. The first impression of a character lasts a lot longer when it is shown through action rather than told through words. 


Establish Empathy or Sympathy

Giving your reader a reason to relate to a character is the fastest way to make a good first impression. People are drawn to characters that reflect themselves, therefore by writing characters that illicit empathy or sympathy from a reader is the best way to create a bond between your reader and your characters. 


Impress the Reader

People are easily impressed by those who are smart, strong, funny, or creative. So if your character has such traits lie creativity, wit, charisma, or proficiency in a certain area of skills, then don’t be afraid to show them off. 


Save the Cat

Save the cat is a writing device used in screenwriting, which is meant to make a character instantly likeable if the first thing they’re shown doing is something good, such as saving a cat. Even if you’re not a screenwriter, you can still employ this in your WIP. 


Establish Mystery or Intrigue

Don’t give us everything right away. Make the reader want to know more by hinting at an interesting backstory or secret that the character might have. Not only will they want to get to know the character more, but they will also stay interested in the story as well. 

Deciding What is Plot Relevant

Writing an entire story is hard work. It requires a lot of time and patience. And when it comes to our writing, we are always given many different bits of advice. One of the advice tips that we constantly hear is that we must make everything plot relevant. And it is solid advice; we should always be striving to move our plot forward. However, how exactly do we decide what is plot relevant and what is not?

One misconception is that if we are writing to make everything plot relevant, then we can’t have moments of character bonding, or doing anything that isn’t 100% in line with the ultimate ending. But we need to remember this isn’t true. 

We need to remember that if a scene is showing the reader something personal about the characters, then it is plot relevant. It is the “why” behind a story’s action. But more importantly, it gives your reader a reason to care – if your reader doesn’t feel attached to a character or characters, then why it doesn’t matter what happens to them? And let’s face it, your characters can be integral to the plot. Not only that, but if your story doesn’t have more lighthearted or slow moments, you’re left with constant drama. And this level of intensity will quickly get old, and the truly intense moments of your story will lose their impact. 

Yes, everything that you write should have a ripple effect in one way or another, and should be plot relevant, but those that influence your character’s internal development can be just as important as the outside influences. 

Plotting Twists & Reveals

You’ve started your next writing project and you’re in a rush to perfect it. We’ve all been there and done that, but we must continuously remind ourselves to think things through in order to master the art.

To achieve the best drama, your protagonist must have enough information to make an informed decision. This slowly comes out in stages. By the midway point of the entire story, your character needs to have a good idea of what’s going on and who could possibly be behind it/influencing it. In order to set up the proper twist, don’t give them all of the details (aka NO info dumping).

An easy way to keep yourself in check is by remembering:

  • One reveal per scene or per chapter break.
  • The twist or reveal should cause an emotional effect.

Leave a miniature cliffhanger when you drop a good reveal on the readers. It will set them on edge and they’ll be lured into reading more.

What is the difference between twists and reveals?

  • Reveals are why something happens (backstory info)
  • Twists are what’s actually going on (new knowledge)

Be sure to watch out for the following caveats:

  • Don’t add extremely obvious hints or references. Be subtle enough that readers aren’t able to guess until the last couple of twists fall into place. Make them suspicious, but don’t overdo it.
  • Surprise is only half of it. Twists and reveals need to have an emotional impact or create a life-altering point of view for the protagonist from the moment of reveal and onward.

The number one thing to remember is you want readers to care about your story. Show them a protagonist forced out of their comfort zone by getting dragged through the mud, almost making a comeback, being pounded into the dirt, and then very slowly overcoming their obstacles. Your protagonist should not have a perfect score against all of the hurdles you’ll throw at them, but that’s what makes for an enticing story.