So when I was browsing Reddit, I came across this post where someone asked about how to organize story ideas. I thought this was an interesting question to answer.

For me, I spent some time plotting 3 stories last year and I had trouble organizing my ideas such that they gel together and flow well. Thus, I felt that I should share my plotting process and learnings when organizing story ideas.

Note that this is about organizing numerous ideas of one story.

[Self-Publishing Tips] [7-Step Guide] How To Organize Ideas & Plot Your Novel

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1. Write Your Story Ideas On Sticky Notes

Whether you write your ideas in great detail on Evernote, Google Keep or in your notebook, try to summarize the key points and jot them down on small sticky notes. Sticky notes could be physical Post-It notes or digital ones like Miro or Scrivener.

Scrivener, the go-to app for writers, has this corkboard feature. This feature lets you step back and work with just the synopses you’ve written on the cards. When you move these cards, you’re also rearranging your manuscript at the same time. The software has other benefits too:

  • Break your text into manageable sections so you can rearrange them
  • Open your research right next to your work
  • Compile everything into a novel or screenplay
  • Set word or character targets and track your progress
  • Save the current version before rewriting (and use ‘compare’ to find out what you changed)

Remember, it’s not just your plot ideas. Do include character and worldbuilding ideas too. In my case, I suddenly have interesting ideas while developing characters or building worlds. For instance, I might want to flesh out the protagonist’s backstory or include a scene at this place I made up.

Now, simply paste these notes anywhere you like. Preferably, on one surface or screen with no overlapping notes so you can see all notes in one glance. Don’t think about being neat. (Yeah, I’m talking to the ordering and arranging OCD in you 😁 Don’t worry. I have it too lol.)

Scrivener - Devices

2. Pick Out Notes On Significant Events & Arrange Them Accordingly

Next, I strongly suggest that you pick out the following notes

  • Prologue
  • Beginning/1st Chapter
  • First Meeting between your hero & heroine (if it’s a romance story)
  • Ending/Last Chapter
  • Epilogue

If you have notes on the inciting incident, midpoint and climax, that’s great too! You can arrange these in a three-act structure so the story makes sense.

  • Inciting Incident: the event that sets the plot into motion and thrusts the main character into action, usually takes place in the first act
  • Midpoint: the turning point that occurs halfway through the book (eg. something new or unexpected happens, a twist, reversal or disruption)
  • Climax: the highest point of tension in a storyline, usually occurs near the end of the third act, when the protagonist confronts the opposing force (eg. conflict, antagonist)

Now, arrange these notes accordingly in a line. Of course, do include some empty space so you can add more notes later. This will help you keep the beginning and ending in mind and ensure that you’re on the right track. Each scene should bring your story closer towards the ending.

As for me, I usually have the beginning and ending in mind (like the scenes will unfold before my eyes while I imagine the story). Thus, I can easily pull them out and place them at the start and end of the narrative timeline.

With these notes as markers, you’ll have a better sense of how your story starts and ends. This also introduces some structure and order to all the ideas you’ve thrown out previously.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels

3. Color Code Your Story Idea Notes

Next, let’s make a color key. This will help you identify the purpose of each note and will greatly help when planning your story beats.

Here’s my own personal color key. Feel free to adjust them according to your needs or add more like character development and conflict.

  • Blue: Worldbuilding
  • Green: Romance
  • Purple: Flashback
  • Red: Action
  • Yellow: Rising Action

With this color key in mind, you can go back and change the color of your notes (this is easier if you used digital notes) or use a pen, marker or highlighter to color code your physical sticky notes.

Also, if your note doesn’t fall into 1 color, you can consider breaking the note into smaller notes.

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels

4. Group Related Ideas, Space Them Out & Decide Roughly Where They Should Be

You might have ideas that are meant to be together. So group them together! For example, some events might flow right after another, such as an argument between two characters and the aftermath.

Or you might choose to space out certain notes and sprinkle them throughout the story. For instance, you might scatter the action notes so there are tension and suspense and your readers are engaged throughout the book. Or you might break up the flashback notes so your readers aren’t exhausted from the info-dump. If the flashbacks are crucial to the story, these spaced-out flashbacks can also add mystery and keep readers on edge!

Okay, I understand it might be difficult to pinpoint exactly where each idea should be along the narrative timeline. But try making a rough guess. For instance, if you have a conflict where the hero’s parents are against him marrying the heroine, this conflict will definitely happen after the hero and heroine fall in love. This way, you’ll at least know that this scene will happen later in the story.

Photo by Nappiness on Pixabay

5. Arrange Story Beats: Ensure Ups & Downs

You’re almost there!

With the grouping, spacing out and estimating of notes in the previous step, your story is almost complete.

Next, you simply have to arrange your ideas such that the flow of story beats is engaging. It should keep your readers excited and encourage them to continue flipping the pages. Ensure that your protagonist experiences ups and downs. He or she shouldn’t be happy or sad all the time. There should be moments when the mood changes or he or she experiences some danger or conflict.

Personally, I like to sprinkle some action, mystery, tension and suspense. For instance, your protagonist could be happily having a romantic time with his or her love interest. But there’s a subtle strange thing that’s happening around the protagonist (which he or she may not notice).

Photo by 11082974 on Pixabay

6. Double Check Your Story’s Structure

This is where the color code comes in~

Take a step back and look at your story’s narrative timeline. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it colorful?
  • Are there too many notes of the same color?
  • Do some colors disappear towards the end of your story?

If there are too many notes of the same color, do consider breaking them up. As mentioned earlier, you can space out these romantic or action scenes etc.

If some colors disappear towards the end, you might consider shifting some of these colors around so there are a few towards the end. There are exceptions though. For example, the start of your book might have many worldbuilding scenes but this might gradually decrease towards the end as readers know more about this world you created. You can, of course, add a twist by revealing something shocking about this world that readers don’t know until the end of the story.

The key questions here are: Does your story flow well? Does it keep you engaged?

Scrivener - Features Corkboard

7. Flesh Out Your Story Ideas

Finally, we’re at the last step!

If you’re happy with the structure, you can mirror these notes in your plotting document. Or you can directly refer to this narrative timeline when writing your manuscript!

This is also the time to flesh out your ideas. Add more details to each scene. You can also choose to break them into chapters so it’s easier to write your manuscript.

In my case, after I’m done arranging the summary notes in Miro, I also arrange the more detailed notes in Evernote. As I read through these detailed notes, I’ll adjust accordingly by adding, editing or removing scenes.

Scrivener - Features

Bonus Tip: Fill Up Spaces Between Ideas So Story Flows Well

The story ideas you have are not everything. Feel free to add more story ideas as you organize your notes.

Let’s say you notice glaring gaps between your notes where the story seems to make a sudden jump to the next idea. This is a great chance to add a transition scene here.

For example, between your main couple’s falling in love and their parents’ disapproval, you could add more scenes of them going out on dates.

Photo by lil artsy on Pexels

Bonus Tip: Feel Free To Rearrange Your Ideas

The biggest reason why I love sticky notes is their fluidity. There’s no fixed structure. You can easily move the note and stick it somewhere else along the narrative timeline.

When something doesn’t work, you can always rearrange your ideas so the story flows better.

For instance, I thought note A must always happen in the middle of the story. But later on, I realize it’s okay to shift this earlier so it happens in the first few chapters.

Photo by Kaboompics on Pexels

Bonus Tip: It’s Okay To Not Include All Story Ideas

So here’s the hard truth: I had to cut out some ideas because they didn’t fit the story.

You need to keep the big picture in mind. If some ideas just can’t work, you have to harden your heart and cut them out.

Ask yourself: After plotting the story so far, does it make sense to include this idea?

If you really want to include this idea, try tweaking the idea so it fits into your story. But if the idea can’t fit no matter how much you adjust it, it’s time to let go of the idea.

Photo by congerdesign on Pixabay

Now It’s Your Turn

Here’s my plotting process for my time travel story (which should be published next year!)~ I’m using 2 narrative timelines though. One for the time traveler and one for the time traveler’s lover. I almost created 1 more timeline for the antagonist hahaha 😀

My other 2 stories didn’t really need such in-depth plotting (though I did create a narrative timeline and arranged the notes up to 90% for one of them).

This is just my way of organizing story ideas. You can always find other organizational methods. Figure out what works for you then choose one method that suits your needs.

I hope that this has been helpful! Feel free to share your process of organizing and structuring your story ideas~

P.S. If you’re a plotter, consider creating these other must-have notes when outlining your novel~


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Nicole C. W. All Rights Reserved.

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