Plots and Sub-Plots: How to Outline if you Hate Outlines

I hate outlines. The only way I can make a good outline is to write the book and then go back and outline it. Not real helpful.

Being a visual person, all those words in linear order feel like a math problem to me. With a novel especially, I can't figure out where to put all the sub-plots and characters and such into an organized order from the top of a page to the bottom.

That's why I love the tree concept. I don't even remember where I found it, so I apologize to whoever invented it for not giving proper credit!

The tree works great for fiction or non-fiction, books or articles. I'll put in examples from my new Sick & Tired book since it's fresh on my mind. Here's how it works:

Get a posterboard and draw a big tree trunk, and here we go!

1. In the trunk, write the main idea/point of your book. (How to Live Joyfully with Chronic Health Problems when you'd rather just Kick Something!)

2. Underneath the trunk, draw roots. That's backstory info that you'll need to put in somewhere, but it's not really part of the plot. So write your backstory facts, one for each root. (Why I'm qualified to write this book, why this book is needed, etc.)

3. Now it's time for you main plot themes. Draw large branches from your tree and write the major things that need to go into this book or this story, one major thing for each big branch. (Grieving is okay, not just accepting your limitations but adapting, what to do when you're ready to snap, freedom from what other people think, etc.)

4. Now from each branch, draw smaller branches. Those are your sub-plots, or for nonfiction, the points you want to make or illustrations you want to use within that larger heading. (For the grieving branch, I would want to make the points that it is natural, it is okay, different people have different time spans for grieving, etc.).

5. Keep making your branches branch off into smaller branches until you have covered that topic thoroughly. (I could list a specific story I want to tell, or some statistics, or verses I want to use to go under each idea.)

Wallah! You have your book. The tree concept works for me. I can look over the entire project and see all the parts of it shooting off in the right places, and it doesn't feel stressful to me like an outline does. And if you're really the visual type, as you complete a section, you can color in the branches you've worked on and always be able to see how far you've come and how much you have left to do.

Hopefully this will help those of you who feel like you're drowning in information about your book and don't know where to put what.

Happy outlining--or happy treeing!


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