You can outline your novels however you want. You can use whatever office supplies you have lying around, too. But what’s my personal favorite? Post-It notes. Keep reading to learn more about sticky note novel outlining.
What Is The Sticky Note Novel Outlining Method?
Before we begin, I want to point out that there are many novel outlining methods. You can choose whichever one works best for you and your project. Or, you can choose not to outline your book at all.
One popular method is showcasing the three-act or four-act storyboard. Some people use Post-It notes in this way, where you line up events for each act within your story. It’s an excellent visual representation of what you want to happen in your book.
This method shows off plot holes, sections that are too long or too short, forgotten subplots, and more.
But I don’t do the sticky note method this way. Instead, I combine brainstormed lists and summaries with sticky note placements.
Creating Lists And Brainstorming
First, I use Post-It Notes to keep track of my characters and settings. I enjoy color-coding everything, so I sometimes assign a specific color for characters and another color for the setting.
Then, I keep a list of all my characters and their places in the book. Finally, I add anything and everything to these Post-It Notes.
It can be something as simple as a physical trait of a character to something they said to why a setting is significant to the story or why the characters end up there and when.
I sometimes use sticky notes for this because they’re easy to move around. I can place a particular note elsewhere to see it when writing a scene easily. It’ll help me remember what I need to add to that scene.
Adding a quick note is also easy when someone does something notable in the story. I can jot it down and stick it under their name.
Here’s a confession: I no longer use Post-It Notes for this section of my outlining. I use index cards.
Index cards also come in many pretty colors and come in many sizes. So do Post-It Notes, but index cards seem more final to me. Plus, my notes don’t look as messy. I can fit more information on the index cards rather than the sticky notes.
However, sticky notes are great for this, especially if you have a character or world-building board.
But index cards work great if you have a folder with this information.
Summarizing And Creating Scene Maps
Scene maps are how I utilize sticky notes the most. If I have a good idea about how I want the novel to go or have many random thoughts, sticky notes are ideal.
I use a scene map with sticky notes to write my first draft. Next, I’ll create a timeline of events, plot points, character introductions, and more.
Also, I do my best to keep each chapter in its color to help myself later in the editing process.
Now, I use up a lot of sticky notes during this. Depending on a chapter’s length, I may go through half a pad for one chapter.
So, where do I put them all?
I typically create my scene maps on a poster. I can hang it up on my wall and always see it. But I don’t buy a poster. Instead, I have cardstock paper that I tape together to create my own poster. If I need to take it somewhere, I can fold it and put it in a binder or pocket folder.
On the other hand, I sometimes use a notebook. I can lay the sticky notes out in a 2-by-6 grid per page. I can close the notebook to ensure the sticky notes stay nice. I can also take this with me elsewhere if needed, too.
Why Sticky Notes?
Now you know where I stick all the Post-It Notes. You know what I write on sticky notes. It helps me keep track of character development, plot points, and settings. I can also summarize each chapter and map out individual scenes.
And that’s precisely why I use sticky notes.
It Helps With Editing
Revising and editing are when authors typically delete scenes, paragraphs, lines, whole chapters, and more. However, writers can add to their novels during editing if something needs more details.
Sticky notes allow me to easily remove, add, or move details from the story.
If a scene from chapter two might be better suited for chapter five, I can take the corresponding sticky notes and move them further down on my Post-It Note chart.
I always have a separate page in my notebook or section on the poster for “deleted scenes.” I won’t recycle the sticky notes unless I’m sure I will never need that idea again.
I Can Create A Timeline
In addition to scene mapping, I have also created timelines with sticky notes. I usually use more minor Post-It Notes and lay them in a notebook.
This way, I can add extra notes to the timeline as I write the book. I can also change dates because I can’t do math.
Finally, I can add to the book’s timeline before and after events. Not only does this help me get a better idea of where and what my characters did before the book began, but it can also help me plan for sequels if I add the aftermath to the timeline.
I Can Plan Out Crimes
(You know, for my mystery novels.)
I like to map out the crimes before, during, and after they happen to note the points of view of the victim, the culprit, witnesses, or anyone else involved.
When my main characters hear of the crime and begin to investigate, I understand the crime better. I can lay out clues and evidence better for the protagonists.
Plus, It’s Fun
Not only are sticky notes easy to lay out and visually see the events of your story, but it’s also fun. Post-It Notes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. You can have your outline also be an aesthetic mood board for your novel. It’s quick to set up and fun to assemble before you begin your book.
Rachel Poli is an indie author, podcaster, and content writer working on her debut cozy mystery novel.
Although she favors mystery, Rachel is a multi-genre author with too many ideas and characters in her head, often experimenting with short stories and flash fiction.
When she’s not writing, she’s reading, organizing something, or playing video games. She currently resides in New England with her zoo.