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How to write an outline like setting goals

3 min read

I was thinking about productivity and goals. You know I’m a planner, and I like setting goals for almost everything. I also advocate a lot for outlining as an important writing tool, especially if you see them as a writing itinerary, a map, or a checklist for a story or an idea’s exposition.

I don’t want to bring the whole discussion about outlining or not, pantsers vs. plotters, and all that. Let’s just assume you have nothing against outlining and that you also see it as the writing tool that it is.

There are a million different approaches for it. You can list plot points, significant events, you can use the snowflake method, you can build it based on the hero’s journey, and so on.

But back to what I said in the beginning, what if we saw outlines as a checklist in a goal-setting system.

In that way, let’s say I want my first goal to be the reader finding out who the main character of my story is and what’s going on with them. The second goal then would be to make my reader fall in love with the character and let them understand their actions or their current situation. I want the reader to start rooting for the character or hating them. So, my second goal is to provoke that. What do I need? Sub-goals? An incident or a life-changing event in my character’s childhood or adult life? A cause? A monologue?

My next goal, then, would be to create a believable desire for my character and put some likely obstacles in the way. That moves the story forward and gives my storytelling a purpose.

You see what I’m suggesting? Instead of thinking of an outline with fixed plot points that you read on a book or online, or with a boring timeline, or a set of expected events in a fixed formula, it would look like a list of goals to achieve with writing.

So, forget about plot points and tropes and whatever that’s too fixed and widely spread in the writing-tips world or the on-writing literature. Just think about what your goal is in relation to your writing vs. your reader. What do you want your reader to feel? Remember we talked about finding your voice? Set your goals based on how you want your voice to echo and resonate and write those goals as an outline.

You can also forget about the story if you want. At least for a while. Just set milestones based on what you want to provoke in your reader’s mind and spirit with your words. Make them cry, make them laugh, make them root for the protagonist, make them hate the antagonist, or do the opposite, but make them believe in your story.

Do that, and then you link your goals to your story. I think that would be an excellent approach for outlines even if you don’t like them.

Try it. And tell me how it goes.

Now, between the lines…

What are your three primary writing goals?

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