Over the years, I have learned that writing is actually the easiest part of content creation. The truly challenging part is writing an outline. But a solid structure can make the difference between good and great content.
Think of it like setting up a row of dominoes. Everyone loves watching dominoes fall, even though it only lasts a few seconds. The results are spectacular, but it takes a lot of time and effort to set up each domino. You have to carefully stand each one in the perfect position—if it’s too close to the next domino, it could throw off the rhythm and halt the momentum of the entire thing.
The same concept is true for content. If the structure of the article or blog you’re reading isn’t thought through from start to finish, it won’t leave as strong of an impact. If it loses your attention or fails to draw you in, you may blame it on poor writing. But the writing isn’t the problem—it’s the structure.
Identify the Biggest Idea
When you first sit down to write something, whether it’s a blog or a work of fiction, it can feel overwhelming. You might have so many thoughts and ideas running through your head that it seems impossible to corral them into something coherent.
Going back to the domino analogy, it’s like having a pile of dominoes in front of you. Everything is unorganized, with all different types of dominoes sticking out left and right. Where do you even begin?
Personally, I find it helpful to identify the biggest idea right off the bat. What is the ultimate objective of the content you are aiming to write? What do you want to achieve by the end of the piece?
Once you’ve discovered this, you can start to work backward. Consider your objective the “end” of the story. It is the destination. Now, jump to the beginning of your story. Where does your journey start?
Discover the Biggest Problem
Instead of thinking about what you want to achieve with your piece, identify the biggest problem in getting to that achievement. What is the most common, most frustrating thing standing in the way? This will make for the perfect jumping off point.
Every story has three things: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Now that you’ve pulled out the goal you want to achieve (aka, the “end” of your story) and the problem preventing you from getting to that goal (aka, the “beginning” of your story), you just need the middle part that connects the two.
Writers often struggle with the middle, but it can be the most exciting part of a story. If you only have a problem and a solution, you don’t have a story—you have a question and an answer. Google can help with that in two seconds.
The middle of the story is where complications emerge. In a fictional story, this is when the protagonist takes the most logical step forward to solve their problem, but something new is added to the mix that eliminates that option as a potential solution or modifies it in some way.
In content, the same concept applies. A solution to a problem is rarely black and white. You may try one solution and find it doesn’t work, or maybe it solves the problem but introduces a new one. What should you do next?
Add in Dimension
The middle of a story should add dimension. Think about it: Every approach has pros and cons. Weigh these factors against each other and sprinkle in some complications to make things interesting.
When you’re setting up a row of dominoes, you might put them in a straight line at first. When you knock them down, it’s fine, but it could be more exciting, couldn’t it? The next time you set up the dominoes, you try adding in a curve. Visually, it’s more interesting for your eyes to follow this path, and the more twists and turns you add, the more exciting the design will become.
In a story, you typically go from a negative to a positive. The beginning introduces a problem (negative), and the end solves it (positive). But a story that is truly engaging should add in a few more negatives and positives, like those twists and turns in a domino row.
To do this, add in complications. Start with the biggest problem (negative), introduce a potential solution (positive), add in another problem (negative), and end with your ultimate objective/solution (positive).
Fill in the Details
These are the basic building blocks of story structure. It may sound easy, but it takes a lot of time and thought to figure out what elements you need to include. You might sort through your pile of dominoes and find you only need a few. But that’s okay—you don’t have to use every domino for a spectacular show.
A great story is all about the journey. The more complications you include, the more interesting the narrative will be. And once you’ve identified the big ideas and problems and organized them into an outline, you can simply fill in the details. The hard part is over.
If you’d like to read more about writing effective stories, check out my blog post, “How to Write Content That Resonates.”
2 thoughts on “How to Write an Outline”
Yes!!!! I almost always use an outline. And, every time I do, I can write the first draft faster and the final piece has better depth and structure! Great article, Jake!
Thank you, Angela!!
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