Sunday, August 29, 2021

How to Grow Your Story with a Word Tree

by Molly Jo Really @MollyJoRealy

Did you know word tree is a real thing? I didn’t.

But my subconscious must have. Because late one night last week, I saw it.

Halfway between wanting to write and needing to sleep, the concept of my story started to group itself together in ways I hadn’t imagined before.
Now, I’m an organic writer. That just means my tale tells itself naturally, and I to try pay attention and put the words togetherness best I can. I don’t often have an outline, and when I do, it’s more like a thought cloud. Ideas that could should would tie in together if I do my job write. Oh, I mean, right. (Insert winky face here!) These words tend to float around in my head, like high clouds. Some are dark and mysterious. Some are bright and bold.

So before I introduce to my word tree, let’s see what it really is:

Basically, a word tree is a teaching tool to show younger writers how to diagram sentences, and associate the proper verbiage in doing so. The trunk is the structure. The leaves are meant to fill in the blanks. Is this a noun or pronoun? What’s the verb? Yeah. You get the idea. If the sentence is correct, the leaves fill in the spaces. Except it still leaves quite a few spaces, which makes for a fairly barren tree.

My word tree is a little different.

The roots and trunk are the story. Let’s face it, if my story isn’t strong, that baby’s gonna topple over as soon as a Spring breeze kisses it. Amiright?

But here’s the thing. A tree doesn’t grow trunk then branch then leaf then a smaller branch… No, way! It all grows concurrently. One branch over here widens and leaves pop out, while another branch over here doesn’t have too much greenery but does have several promising shoots. Then there’s the one you think may turn into something, but then again, maybe not. And the more these branches grow, the more leaves that flourish, the wider the trunk and the deeper the roots. And everything entwines around each other, just as a story isn’t a telling of events but a combination of experiences.

“Great visual, Mojo, but how does that help with my writing?”

I’m so glad you asked.

If you’re an outliner, turning your story into a Word Tree can give you a visual of your strengths and weaknesses. Organic/pantser? No problem. Same benefits.

A word tree can help you break down the elements of your story. Do they flow together? Should they? Maybe your branches are too clustered. Or maybe they are a work of art as they entwine. Maybe you have too many leaves on the east but not enough on the west. A Word Tree helps you understand what you’re growing, and how to prune it.

“So, how do I create a Word Tree?”

Easy peasy, my writerly friend!

Whether you use a computer or hand-draw your word tree, there are several ways to do so.

The first is to find the system that works for you. I prefer the notepad and stickee note method. Why? Well, because I’m a sloppy note maker. And like the holiday window clings of our past, stickees can be shifted.
  1. Draw your roots, trunk and primary branches. Don’t be fancy. 
  2. List the primary elements of your story on the trunk: main characters, setting, plot. 
  3. Branch off the sub-stories and secondary characters (they may grow stronger, but it’s okay if they don’t).
  4. Use leaves for short but important details: character descriptions, motivations, locations, events.
What’s exciting about Word Trees is the ability to see your words come to life as you create the story. It’s an artistic outlet that still focuses on your WIP.

Word Trees can be used not just for novels, but any style of writing. Unless it’s a technical manual. In that case, use a word ladder that builds on each previous step. Or, if you’re like me, just don’t.

I’d love to see your Word Trees. Share them on Instagram and tag me!

Happy growing, y’all!
Come alive, stay wild, and always, savor the journey!

How to Grow Your Story with a Word Tree - @MollyJoRealy on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Author of the romantic location mystery novel, NOLA, Molly Jo Realy is an award-winning writer and author coach. Known as the Bohemian Hurricane, she encourages people to embrace their unique talents to come alive and stay wild every day. Addicted to cats, coffee, and pens in no particular order.

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for more fun!


  1. Thanks for sharing the word tree! By the way I couldn’t like your like…listed as private!

  2. This is a great idea, Molly Jo. It will help me stay on point, even in my blogs and discipleship lessons. I'm a rabbit chaser per excellance! I can see a few sticky notes in my future - and some "that really doesn't apply here" notes, too.

  3. A different way to look at Mind Mapping.

  4. A different way to look at Mind Mapping.