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WRITING TIPS: Outlining and Plots

This is probably going to be the widest net I’ll cast when it comes to writing tips. I want to talk about plot and outlining. Plot is the underlying thread of every single scene and action that occurs in your story. Depending on the genre, it can be more or less fleshed out. Genres like flash fiction occur in a singular climactic moment which can’t really be considered a plot at all. However, we’re going to be talking about long-form fiction writing: short stories and novels.

When I first started writing I rarely had an end goal for my pieces in mind. There were just words and pictures in my head and I needed to get them out. As a result, a lot of those pieces went unfinished. Now that I’m a bit more experienced, I’ve begun outlining stories which I’ve found helps me a lot.

Every story begins with three things: who, what, and why. Essentially, you want to establish who the main character is, what the problem is, and why it is important to them. These are the absolute bare bones of the plot. You need a character to tell the story through and you need them to care about the problems in their lives. That is what will make readers care. Start simple and from there you expand outward and add new things. Below is a very messy example of an outline I did for a novel I’m working on.

It’s pretty much incomprehensible to anyone but myself. However, this was the difference between falling to writer's block and actually getting words on the page.

Another tip for those who are absolutely new, genre fiction is a fantastic way to warm yourself up to plotting and outlining. It typically follows a formula which allows for quick writing and easy plotting. Dystopian novels have the “chosen hero” and a shadowy evil government to overthrow, mysteries have a murderer who needs to be caught, etc. etc. etc…

Although it gets a bad rap, genre fiction gives you the chance to see how fitting scenes into a plot works in real-time, and from there you can learn to subvert genre conventions–tweak things here and there and allow your story to stand out.

And finally, to ease your worries I’ll leave you with this: there is no such thing as an original plot. We, as humans, take constant inspiration and ideas from the world around us, and while you should always shoot for originality, don’t let it paralyze you. Write first, always.

- Megan Zimmer

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