Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Start to Finish (Part 4 of 10)

Structure your article.

Before you write, plan where you’re going. If you start with a single focus, you decide on a beginning or introduction and bring in evidence to support your point. For years, I tried to teach this by using either what's known as the train method or the way Guidepost teaches. Neither has worked well for me. It may be that I'm not the analytical type, so I'll give it as simply as I can.

If you have a focus—a single idea—that's where you start. I strongly recommend a written outline. It helps you know where you start and becomes like a map to get you to the end.

Once I know I have the material structured, I like to begin with an illustration or a statement that points readers in the direction the next six pages will take. The story can be either negative or positive—its purpose is to bring out the problem we want to resolve in the article. (This holds true with fiction: You start with someone having a problem.)

Ask yourself questions. Answer them in logical order so that each fact or incident naturally leads to the next.

For example (and those two words are a logical transition from the previous paragraph), I want to write about learning to forgive. The most obvious way is to set up the problem and it can be done in a few words or two paragraphs.
I can't remember when I began to detest Maynard. Was it in grade school when he played his stupid jokes on me? Was it the time he stole two dollars from my wallet? Or when he started dating Gina because he knew I liked her?
Again, I urge you to start with a written outline. Later you might be able to structure it inside your head (which I do). If you don't start with an outline, you may end up where you didn't plan to go.

An outline is the beginning of your structure.


  1. I guess I need to retrain myself in the fine art of outlining!

    Thank you for sharing your writing experience and knowledge. I'm excited to be tutored through your past postings too.


  2. One way that helps me keep on track of what I want my chapter is coming up with a title for that chapter. I may change it later on, but it helps me keep with the subject of the chapter, reminding me everytime I come back to work on it.

    I do like the writtne out-line. I do have to have an outline in my head before I can even tackle a chapter. It makes ideas flow smoother for me.

  3. I only write non-fiction at this point. For a book I can jot down a quick outline for chapters and concepts to be covered in each. Once I start writing I jump around to whichever chapter I have something to speak about. I jump-start off of life, a recent sermon, a movie or a great book...and let it roll. This is probably not a real organized way to write. I probably learn to follow a outline as I improve my skills. But I am not a to-do list kinda person (I lose them when I write one), so I wonder if I will ever be an outline kinda writer.


What are your thoughts?