It’s no secret that the outlining process can be incredibly helpful when it comes to writing. But for some people, outlining makes them feel overwhelmed or anxious. If you’re one of those people, don’t worry! There is a method that can help make the outlining process more manageable and less daunting: using the flashlight method. In this blog post, I’ll explain the flashlight method and how to use it effectively.
What Flashlight Method Writing Is and How It Works
The flashlight method is a writing technique that can help make the outlining process more manageable and less daunting. The method is simple: instead of trying to outline your entire story or novel all at once, start by outlining just one scene or chapter. Once you’ve outlined that scene or chapter, move on to the next. Gradually, you’ll build up a complete outline of your story or novel.
Imagine you are walking through a forest at night – this can be exactly how it feels when starting to construct a story. Two things are necessary:
- To know the correct general direction: you want to emerge from the forest at the right spot, after all!
- To ensure you don’t trip over loose branches and tree roots!
This is precisely the point of flashlight method writing: you set down just enough of a steer – like a flashlight peering ahead on a dark forest path – to understand the right direction to write a scene or chapter.
One of the best things about the flashlight method is that it allows you to simultaneously focus on a tiny section of your story. This makes the process less overwhelming and allows you to pay attention to important details for that specific scene or chapter. And since you’re only focusing on a small section at a time, you don’t have to worry about forgetting anything or getting overwhelmed by the overall project.
Another great thing about the flashlight method is that it helps you better understand how your story flows. By outlining different scenes and chapters, you’ll see how they connect and how the plot unfolds. This can be helpful when it comes time to write your novel or story.
So, how do you use the flashlight method? Here are a few tips:
- Start by brainstorming ideas for your story or novel. This can be done by creating a storyboard, mind map, or list of plot points.
- Outline one scene or chapter at a time. Don’t try to outline the entire story all at once!
- Be sure to connect each scene or chapter with the ones before and after it.
- Use visualization techniques to help you understand each scene or chapter better.
- Make revisions as needed.
Make Sure You Know the General Direction When Using the Flashlight Method
Although many writers swear by the ‘panster’ method – discovering the story as you write it – the fact is that these writers often have mulled the story over for months or even years before starting writing it.
This kind of discovery writing can also be very helpful to overcome blocks in your writing and sometimes to discover characters and scene ideas.
However, it runs a significant risk of running out of steam halfway through your story – the dreaded ‘midpoint’ – or failing to deliver a satisfying ending because the threads never meet or feel forced.
Therefore, if you use the flashlight method, my advice would be to at least have some kind of overall sketch of the entire story. Even if only a page of bullet points.
Why It’s Worth Outlining Your Novel or Short Story
Outlining your novel or short story can be incredibly helpful for a few reasons. First, it can help you stay on track and avoid getting overwhelmed or bogged down in the writing process. Second, it can help you better understand your story and its characters. And third, it can help you revise your story more effectively.
- It provides a road map for your story. You can ensure that your story moves forward logically and cohesively by outlining your plot points and character arcs. This can help you avoid getting stuck at any point in the writing process and keep your momentum going.
- You can create well-rounded and believable characters by outlining your character’s backstory, goals, and arc. Additionally, by plotting out your scenes and establishing the stakes of each scene, you can create a sense of tension and suspense that will keep readers engaged until the end.
- Having a clear idea of your plot points and character arcs, you can better identify areas that need improvement and make changes accordingly. Additionally, by knowing your story’s tone and themes, you can ensure that all of your scenes are cohesive.
One of the best things about using the flashlight method is its flexibility. You can use it for any type of project, whether large or small. You can also adapt it to fit your style. And if you get stuck somewhere during the outlining process, you can always revise your outline until you’re satisfied.
A List of Scene and Story Prompts to Practice the Flashlight Method
Practice outlining each of these scenes using the flashlight method. Then, repeat this process for each chapter of your story.
For each scene, list the following:
- The name of the scene
- The objective of the scene
- The conflict of the scene
- The ending of the scene
- A character is stuck in a locked room and has to find a way out.
- A person is lost in a dark forest and has to find their way out.
- A group of people are stranded on an island and have to find a way to survive.
- A person is lost in a city they’ve never been to before and has to find their way home.
- A person is chased by someone or something through a dark and scary maze.
- A group of people is trapped in a haunted house and must find a way out.
- A person is lost in a giant building and has to find their way to the exit.
- A group of people is stuck on a train that will crash.
- Pirates are attacking a ship, and the passengers must fight them off.
- A person is lost in the wilderness and is being hunted by animals.
- A group of people live in a post-apocalyptic world and have to find food and water.
- Someone has put a curse on a family, and they must break it before it destroys them entirely.
- A group of friends are having a sleepover at someone’s house and hear strange noises at night.
- Two people are stuck in time loops where they keep reliving the same day over and over again
- A character has a dream that feels very real, and it’s hard for them to tell the difference between reality and fantasy afterward.