Creative Outlines

ACFW Advice, Authors and writing, Brainstorming, Friends of ACFW, Plots, tips Leave a Comment

by Donna K. Rice

Several years ago, while browsing an airport bookshop, I spotted Idea Mapping by Jamie Nast. Intrigued, I picked it up and took it along on my journey. The book explores the process of taking ideas, speeches, business concepts, or whatever project you might think of and mapping it out on one page using bubbles, connecting arrows, diagrams, and key words. Using basic principles, one can build a diagram that flows in a clockwise pattern to capture complex plans. The beauty of mapping out ideas in this fashion is that a great deal of information can be condensed to a single page. No flipping through page after page of notes to find where a particular thought landed in your planning process.

Wow! I got excited and started making notes all over the book about ways I could use this in my business and other personal planning. At the time, I wasn’t contemplating writing novels so I didn’t go down that avenue of thought.

Fast forward to 2013 when I was deep in the study of how to build a story. Having been trained in school on the classic method of outlining papers with letters and numerals, my frustration with how to visualize my story on paper reached its peak. Trying to make a long outline in traditional fashion killed my creative inspiration. I had been through the Christian Writers Guild Craftsman course on fiction and had just attended My Book Therapy’s Deep Thinker’s Retreat. My mind was buzzing with plot points and inner journeys. But my outlining process still left me uninspired.

Frustrated, I got out my sketchpad. Could I take the idea mapping concepts and outline my novel on one page? After false starts and some horrible drawing (I am not an artist!), I finally laid out plot points and the emotional journey of my main character in a one-page diagram. Bwhala! Joy exploded in my heart and creative writing began to flow from my keyboard. Something about being able to see the big picture of my story in one place sets my imagination free. I can look at what I fondly call my bubble plot and see where my story is going and where there are still gaps.

I’ve now made a form on my computer with the basic plots points and other reminders I need to build a story. When I have a new idea, out come the bubbles and I begin to add notes, character names, and events to carry them through the story. As I write, I can refer back to my diagram for a quick reminder of where the story has been and where it’s going.

Are you looking for a creative way to outline your story? Check out idea mapping. Google it and you’ll find websites that teach how to do it. If you get really inspired, read the book mentioned above. If you find traditional methods of outlining too confining, bubble outlining might be for you.

Donna K RiceDonna K. Rice writes women’s fiction and is represented by Sue Brower of the Natasha Kern Literary Agency. She’s a licensed minister, conference speaker, and estate planning attorney. She also works with GenderSave, a nonprofit seeking to empower women and girls at risk from gendercide practices in India. Contact Donna at

Comments 0

  1. This coudn’t have come at a better time! I, too, used to do the Roman Numeral outlines and then never used them because I couldn’t view the story as a whole.

    I’ve been exploring different ways to organize my story threads and think I’ll give this one a try. 😉

  2. Pat, I’ve used Scapple, too. It’s easy to use and fun. Nadine, I hope you enjoy this approach and find a new way to create your story. DiAnn, you are always a great encouragement to me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *