There are various ways for mapping out the storyline that you will use for a story. One of them is to create a bullet-point outline, which would theoretically be useful because of the hierarchy system that you can make, but as it goes along you can't really visualise how the story goes along. Another system would be to use mindmaps to map out the storyline, because subsets of one idea could be branched off.

What ways do you use to map out your storyline/content?

  • No-one answered "Not at all". Of course, maybe no-one here does (not map at all). Wouldn't be surprising, I'd suspect that not people who just write "by instinct" (or whatever you'd prefer to call it) wouldn't really be attracted to a site like this one. Or are there counterexamples? Speak up! Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 19:11
  • 2
    Here's how one well-known author approached it: slashfilm.com/…
    – moioci
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 21:57
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    @JürgenA.Erhard: I... but, but... I do! I mean... my imaginary friend/muse does it for me! Sure she never lets me peek in her personal notes...
    – SF.
    Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 1:09

4 Answers 4


One technique that I've used has been a simple spreadsheet. I make a number of columns, one for every major thread of the novel, and I color each column differently to make them stand out. Then I write a one-sentence summary of each scene and put it in the appropriate column, in chronological order from top to bottom, so that it looks like this:

X  Y  Z
*     *

Imagine that X, Y, and Z are characters or subplots, and the asterisks are short scene summaries. In this outline, the action starts with X, moves to Y for two scenes, then to Z, then X and Z are in a scene together.

That way, I can read the chronological sequence of events by reading down all the columns, but I can also which threads aren't getting enough attention, and how the action moves from thread to thread.

  • Can you share where you first learned cette technique?
    – bobobobo
    Commented Dec 27, 2010 at 12:49
  • @bobo, I pretty much made it up myself, although I was inspired by similar systems I had seen several other people use. Commented Dec 27, 2010 at 15:25

I still do this analog...plot points go on index cards, different plot lines are in different colors, cards get laid out on the carpet until I'm happy with the arrangement.

  • Definitely this. If you number your index cards, you can then shuffle them and read through, too, just to see if there are any connections between scenes you might have missed. They're also a good starting point if you want to later flesh out a larger outline or input them into a program like Scrivener. Commented Dec 5, 2010 at 9:37

My favorite tool is Scrivener. It's full-featured writing software that organizes a larger manuscript as a set of documents, each representing a chunk of text.

Scrivener is great for plotting. You can view your chunks as index cards on a corkboard. Each index card shows the title and summary of a document.

I tend to chunk my manuscripts into scenes. I create create a document for each plot point/scene, view them on the corkboard, and drag the cards around around. This allows me to try out different sequences of action, notice plot holes, and generate new ideas from the juxtapositions.

You can also group documents into folders, view the folders as index cards, and drag those around on the corkboard. I use one folder per chapter.

Scrivener gives me exactly the kind of flexibility and organization I want. It used to be Mac only, but Literature and Latte has a beta version for Windows. Search for scrivenerforwindows.


Often called a "beat sheet." Lists the "beats" of the storyline.

Excel is a good way to do this. From the bare outline of JSBangs above, you can start adding columns with the time (date), main character in the scene, how that scene will move the story along, etc.

Lots easier to do it electronically; index cards, etc., are okay. Just don't drop them. I've done that a couple times with computer punch cards (late 1960s). It's not fun.

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