I use a simple method when writing that helps me quickly organize everything I am going to put in a piece without requiring a lot of time and effort.
Organization is critical to good writing because it keeps things in order and allows the logical separation of ideas, but when students get taught organization for writing (if they are even taught organization!) it often takes the form of rote formula.
I use a method I call the bubble method. It’s not sophisticated, but it’s scalable and helpful for very simple organization.
The first step is to set the outer extent of a work. This is as large (e.g. a book) or as small (e.g. a 500-word blog post) as it needs to be, but it’s not the largest component.
When I write fiction, this is something like a mixture of a character and event, and is a synopsis:
“The narrator is walking home from the bus station after a first date.”
When I write non-fiction, this takes the form of a thesis statement:
“I will explain the way I organize my writing.”
Once I’ve created my outer bubble, I fill in interior bubbles with all the required elements.
One is going to be the introduction, and one will be the conclusion. When I taught students this method, I’d give them formulaic introductions and conclusions to use as they wrote (e.g. begin with an overview of the topic, move to a relevant detail, provide your thesis; invert that for your conclusion), but I don’t consciously do that with my writing.
For this piece, I would’ve drawn the organizational structure out as an overall bubble (the piece itself) and labeled it with my thesis statement above; then moved into each of the individual components.
For a piece of fiction–let’s use The Laughing Maiden from a few weeks ago–this might take a slightly more complex form.
- The protagonist is seeking the Holy Grail
- They stop in the town
- He scouts it out
- He finds nothing to worry about
- The others are gone
- He retires
- He is the last traveler still awake
- He doubts his abilities and is physically weak
- He meets the Maiden
- She introduces herself
- She knows the secret of the Grail hunt
- She leaves him hanging on a question
- Their conversation is interrupted
- The protagonist ends his recollection with a rhetorical question
You can see that I don’t require symmetry within these bubbles. The structure is flexible, going down to each point as required without being dogmatically required to do much in a single bubble.
However, by keeping things within bubbles, you can track ideas (in nonfiction) or events (in fiction) coherently. There is no chance of the Maiden talking to the protagonist outside the bubble she appears in.
It also gives pacing control. The most interesting parts of the story may have a single bubble that contains multiple bubbles, showing the focus. Less interesting places are important to set up scenes, but don’t have as many sub-points.
I use this organizational method because it’s fairly simple and flexible, so it doesn’t eat into my time and can scale up to larger formats. It is a great tool to keep ideas in their right place and prevent random errors.