Outlining – the fun way!

Ever heard you need an outline to write your book, but can’t stomach the thought? I felt the same way before I wrote my first novel – and rewrote it – and wrote it again (and repeated too many times to count!) – before discovering the true value of an outline.

Reaching this point took a lot of trial and error, learning what worked and what didn’t. Along the way, I discovered several tools that made planning fun!

Before discovering these tools, my first attempt at planning using pen and paper was . . . passable. The result?




Too many ideas and not enough space! When I tried adding pieces of paper to contain the extra ideas, I ended up with a living room floor covered in paper and unable to easily see the ideas I want to pull the threads of.


The First Amazing Discovery

My irritation with the process above led me to believe there had to be a better way. I found it in a magnetic white board! (You can click on the images below for the links to the exact products):

If you’re like me and want to see ALL your ideas on ONE space, you’ll buy a large board. Some people prefer several smaller boards they can move around, but again, do you actually want to LIVE in the room you’re writing in? Or just be crowded out by boards or paper? Choose the board size based on how YOU work and the space you have available.

I went with the magnetic board because I wanted to have the pens stick to the board so I wouldn’t lose them. These are the pens I chose:

They have a broad end for the eraser, so they can wipe out a whole line with one swipe and the color differences between the pens is marked enough to be noticeable.

So, using my pens and board, I went nuts and did my brain dump, getting all the MAIN ideas down in one space.


The Next Challenge

But now those ideas needed rearranging, ordering, thinning, deleting. So, thinking I could revert to good old index cards for this, I bought two packs: one all white and one with colors, no lines, because, why lines? They just restrict you!

Then began the tedious task of transferring all those ideas onto my fancy cards. (Can you tell I have a thing for stationery?) I was twenty minutes in when I realized this was inefficient. Why was I doing the same work twice? Wasn’t there an easier way to do this?


A Delightful Discovery

Stopping what I was doing – why continue the madness? – I went and looked for magnetic index cards. Lo, and behold, they have them! And in all sorts of shapes and colors and sizes. I was drooling over the selection by this point, but curbed the desire to buy them all and bought these two:



I used the larger ones for ideas I needed to explain to myself (yes, sometimes I forget what I meant when I wrote the idea down!) and the smaller ones for shorter ideas or ideas “tailing off” the larger idea.

I also purposefully bought these two sizes so that when I got to the last part, they would work well together. This is because I could turn the larger card to portrait orientation so that it was the same width as the smaller card – so no higgledy-piggledy on the final version of the story line!

On the subject of colored edges, I chose ones that had color so that each color could represent something if I needed it to. For example:

  • when matching characters to who does what where (yes, read that again!), I could assign each character a color and that would be the character from whose POV (point of view) the story would be told
  • when thinking about multiple books, I assigned a color to each book in the series so I would know which idea I wanted in which book.
  • If you’re writing a standalone, the colors could represent the main themes percolating through your story that get fleshed out in each successive chapter.
  • the colors also worked well for different aspects of the story in each book – a different color for overview, mood, setting, revelations, new characters introduced, how the thread running through the books in the series is continued

I am sure you’ll come up with your own ideas for how you’d like to use the colors – or not! HOWEVER, FOR MY FIRST GO-ROUND, I DID NOT USE THE COLOR “FUNCTION.”

Remember, when you’re brainstorming ideas, you just want to get the ideas down. Don’t fuss about color or size. Just tag that idea and toss it onto the board. Editing comes later, same as it does when you’re writing!


Putting it all Together

Once I had all my ideas rewritten onto the magnetic cards (which you won’t have to do since you can learn from my mistakes and get them onto the cards the first time!), THEN I could see them all in one place.

***PRO TIP: If you don’t get magnetic index cards with little “ears” to pull them off, you need to leave a space on one of the corners so you can move the card without smudging the writing!

‘Ears’ she says? What is she talking about?” These:

You can see they have an “ear” along the edge you can use to lift the index card. I didn’t go with these because they were too pricey, but you may prefer them for ease of moving the cards around:-)



Before playing around with the cards and moving them to my heart’s content, I took a photo. This way, I have all the ideas should I ever need to revisit the “first draft.”

Then, I created an empty space on the left side of the board by moving all the cards to the right two-thirds of the board. (I read somewhere that you SHOULDN’T SLIDE THE CARDS. Peel them off the surface and move them so you don’t mess up the magnetic effect.)

This empty space down the left side of my board created the first “column” for my story. I like to work in columns running top to bottom and then left to right, but you may prefer to work in rows, in which case, clear a space at the top of your board. NOTE: Columns works for the index card sizes I chose. If you work in rows, you will need to factor that into the card sizes you purchase.

Next, I created my storyline, peeling the idea cards from the area on the right where I’d crammed them into some sort of coherent order starting at the top left and moving down, like creating the first column of a newspaper article. (And no, sorry, no pics of that this time around since my board is all pretty and set up now and NO SNEAK PEEKS FOR YOU!!)

As I started arranging the cards in story order, it became obvious that some ideas:

  • were better for another book in the series – set aside for next story board
  • did not fit the story as a whole – erased so I could use the card again
  • could be split into multiple further ideas – where I embellished the idea and added the new “mini” ideas to the board on the right so they could be added to the story line in the appropriate place as I went along

I continued moving the cards around until I was satisfied with the end result – and oh! What a pretty board I created:-)


The Final Result?

I had so much fun outlining this way it didn’t even feel like a chore! It took a whole afternoon, but finally I had all my ideas fitting into a cohesive whole, with all the tension in the right places and all the revelations where I wanted them.

Hopefully my experience can help you discover how to make outlining fun for you too!

A FINAL COMMENT: The links above are affiliate links. Your using them keeps me in coffee:-)

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