I’m frequently asked about how I start writing a book. The two most common of these questions are: How do I get ideas for a book, and do I outline the book before starting to write.

I’ll address the outline question this month.

Please realize there is no “one” way to write. I’ve found a method that works for me. I refine it with each book project, but the initial phases are the same.

  1.  I define the theme.
  2. I produce a plot map.

I don’t write an outline. I dislike the things. The closest I come to outlining a book is the plot map, which I’ll briefly describe. Think of a plot map as the marriage of a story board and a high-level outline.

In Ted Dekker’s writing course, “The Creative Way,” I learned that a story is “a series of events involving worthy characters who change as result of those events.”

Therefore, in the plot map I place events along a chart using another of Dekker’s techniques. The story is divided into five stages:

  1. Backstory
  2. Inciting Events
  3. Challenges, Falls, Solutions
  4. Dramatic Turning Point
  5. Wrap up

When I’m done, I have a chart consisting of boxes of text describing the events that will carry the story along through each stage to conclusion.

I don’t go into any further detail at this point. All I need to know is the book’s theme and the events that define the character’s journey, or stated another way, the plot.

Once I start writing, I usually stay aligned with the plot map but I don’t feel forced to “color within the lines.” Ideas arise throughout the creative process, and I don’t discard them just because they weren’t on the original plot map.

The theme and plot map provide focus and direction throughout the writing process, which is critically important because, as a writer, I don’t want to drift away from the purpose of the book.

It’s true, some authors write detailed outlines before beginning. I’m not one of them.