Have you ever been in the midst of editing a manuscript and wished you could physically move sections of your story around? Are you a kinesthetic or visual person who might benefit from a more hands-on method of interacting with your outline?
A tangible outline might be the method for you.
What I mean by a tangible outline is a story outline written out on physical pieces of paper, enabling you to interact with your outline in ways that you cannot do on a computer screen. In my own editing experience, creating this form of outline has been incredibly beneficial for stories that need major revisions such as deleting or moving chapters. I find it much easier to work with slips of paper that I can swap around to different locations than adding or deleting bullet points on a Word document. This way, I can try out various ways of ordering my chapters without actually changing my official outline each time.
This method also works wonders if you need to focus in on a certain character or theme within your story. If you create a slip of paper for each chapter in your manuscript, but write chapter numbers or titles featuring that character or theme in a different color, you can track where the character or theme appears throughout the story. This makes it easy to see if the appearance of that character or theme is scarce in one area of the story or too regular in another. You can also determine if your characters learn information at the proper moments by evaluating those moments within the larger picture of your outline.
If you are interested in creating your own tangible outline, this is how I do it:
Step One: Gather Supplies
I cut pieces of paper into small slips, enough to have one slip for each chapter of your manuscript. I also recommend using colored writing utensils so that you can code certain characters, themes, or a specific category of chapter in varying colors. The colors enhance the visual aspect of the outline and make it easy to see where certain storylines progress. I used sharpies, but colored pens or pencils would also work.
Step Two: Create and Arrange Outline
Here's an example of three slips from an outline of one of my manuscripts. For this outline, I color-coded it based on the priority of the chapter and the main character's relationships (ex. pink = important interactions with the romantic interest). Obviously my outline is much longer than three slips of paper, but I wanted to give an idea of the purpose of the different colors. By using this method, I am able to see if too much priority is placed on interactions with the romantic interest throughout the manuscript, and if so where I could include further development with other primary characters.
This could similarly be achieved by highlighting bullets on a Word document, but by using a tangible outline I can easily move the slips of paper around in a variety of patterns to determine the best order. It's also easy to add in slips or take away slips and see how that change would affect the balance of your storytelling.
Every writer has his/her/their own method of writing and revising, but if you think a tangible outline might help you feel more engaged in the revision process, I highly suggest trying it out. It has helped me a lot with major revisions in the past, and I expect I will use it again in the future.
I write YA fantasy and contemporary fiction. This blog is dedicated to thoughts and advice on writing and publishing, as well as various interests related to the world of Young Adult.