A story outline is a pre-writing tool used to organize your story. It’s a way to visually see the arc of your story and the major points you need to hit, so you can create a comprehensive plan for writing your book.
Story outlines are helpful for fiction or nonfiction and can be used by both experienced and inexperienced writers.
The purpose of an outline is to help you stay focused on what needs to happen in your book. If you’re just beginning to write, this visual map can keep your thoughts organized and prevent you from wandering off course and not finishing what you’ve started.
For experienced writers, an outline forces you to think about every element of your book.
You’ll have a checklist of things you need to include, which will make the actual writing process easier and smoother.
What Is A Story Outline
What Is A Story Outline?
A story outline or plot outline is a document that describes the important elements of a story and is often the first step in the process of writing a screenplay, a book or other piece of fiction.
The goal of a story outline is to help writers develop their stories, flesh out their characters, and figure out where all the important events in their stories are going to take place.
Telling a good story can be hard, especially when you’re trying to come up with something that hasn’t been done before.
A story outline can help you stay focused on your project and make sure that it stays on track as it develops, bringing together all the elements of a successful novel or short story.
Creating a story outline involves answering questions about all the parts of your story. Here’s some of what you should think about as you develop your story outline:
The Main Character
Who is your hero (or heroine) and what do they want?
- What is their real goal?
- What kind of person are they, and
- Why are they interested in getting whatever it is they’re striving for?
The Supporting Characters
Who are your hero’s friends, family members, enemies, and allies? Does he or she have any special abilities that will come into play?
What Is A Story Outline?
A story outline consists of three parts:
- an introduction,
- the body of the text, and
- a conclusion.
You can use these parts as guidelines when brainstorming ideas for your book. They’ll provide a road map for you as you move from one idea or chapter to another in the process of writing your book.
When you’re writing a story outline, it’s essential to keep in mind that your story is going to be told visually. You want to create an outline that will provide a clear series of events for your illustrator to follow.
Telling your story in pictures instead of words means you can’t rely on dialogue to explain what’s happening.
So, the first step in creating an outline is to break down each page into its basic elements — characters, setting, and action.
You may have an idea about how you want the page to look, but as a writer you don’t control the actual layout of your book. Your editor or designer will decide how much space you get on each page of your book and how many pages there are in total.
They’ll also choose the size of the text and pick what kind of font is used. All of these choices will have an impact on your finished book!
So, before you start writing your story, take time to plan out a general overview of the story as a whole.
This will help you make sure that each scene leads logically to the next one and that each part helps drive your plot forward. This will also help you decide what scenes you really need and which ones can be left out.
How To Write A Good Story Outline Step-By-Step
Look at this great tutorial that will teach you how to write a good story outline step by step.
Telling a story is one of the oldest and most effective ways to get your message across to your audience.
Whether you are telling the story of how your company got started or you are telling the story of how your product came to be, an interesting story can help make an otherwise boring presentation more engaging. This is especially true if you are trying to sell something.
Stories can have a powerful impact on your audience’s emotions which can make them more likely to buy what you are selling. A good presentation makes use of stories in a way that helps move your audience from one emotion to another.
For instance, you might use a sad emotional tone in your story in order to try to persuade someone that they should feel sorry for you and buy something from you to make themselves feel better about the situation that you were just talking about.
Because stories can have such an impact on people, it’s important that you know how to tell a good story.
If you don’t tell the story well, then your audience won’t get caught up in the emotion of it and will not be as likely to change their behavior as a result. You want your audience to think about how?
Have you ever had the following experience? You sit down to write a story and get going , but then stutter to a halt.
Trying to figure out what happens next is like trying to solve a puzzle with missing pieces. All you can see are the gaps; all you can do is stare at them, wondering how they fit together.
There’s no way around it: Writing good stories requires a solid story outline. An outline doesn’t just provide structure to your story, it also helps you fill in those gaps.
It reveals where your story lacks tension and other essential elements.
Here’s how to write a good story outline step-by-step:
Step 1: Define your Main Goal
Every story has a goal, whether it’s “get the girl”, “save the universe”, or something more specific. Before you can write a good story, you need to know what that goal is.
The easiest way is to ask yourself what your protagonist wants from the beginning of the story until the end (or until a certain moment in the middle).
The answer might be something like “Be able to pay for college”, “Stop bullying”, or even “Figure out why my dog disappeared”.
A strong outline is the backbone of a great story. It can make the difference between a novel that feels like it has been written by committee, and one that is tight, fast-paced, and keeps the reader guessing.
Trying to write a novel without first creating an outline is like trying to build a house without blueprints. You’ve got some vague idea of what you want to do, but you don’t know how you’re going to get there or how many rooms you’re going to have in the end.
It ensures that you’ll be able to build your story fast and efficiently, and ensure that it’s as good as it can possibly be before you start committing large amounts of time (and paper) to your manuscript.
How To Write A Story Outline: Keep Experimenting!
I’ve attended several workshops and classes on writing in my time and I’ve discovered that those devoted to plotting, planning and outlining tend to get the least accomplished.
What I’ve found is that outlining is a good way to start but it’s not the most effective or efficient way to produce a finished piece of work.
When I was learning how to write short stories, I was taught to outline each story first. It made sense.
You want your plot points to line up nicely and your characters to be well-developed, right? When you plot everything out ahead of time you can achieve this much more easily.
But when it comes down to actually writing the story, outlining can become a crutch. It’s hard not to get stuck in your outline if you’re following it too closely.
You’ll have trouble finding the words or going off on tangents because you’re so focused on getting back on track with your outline.
Writing a story outline is one of the hardest parts about creating stories. So let me share with you some tips on how I created outlines for my novel series, The Summoning.
Type of outline. I’ve experimented with various types of outlines.
1. The first type was a regular outline.
I wrote down the ideas I had in bullet points and tried to make it as detailed as possible.
It did help me keep track of everything, but wasn’t useful in helping me solidify my plotline since it was just a bunch of random ideas thrown together.
2. The second type was using index cards.
This method is similar to the first one except it’s better because you can easily rearrange your plotline and move points around without having to rewrite anything.
However, this didn’t help me come up with more ideas either and again, it was very time consuming to rearrange them all the time when I would get new ideas.
3. The third type was writing an actual three act story structure out on paper with notes on each section. This method helped me break down my novel more and eventually gave me some new inspiration for new plot points that I hadn’t even thought about before.
Starting To Write Your Story Outline
I am going to show you a simple process that will transform your idea into an outline for your book. It is important to remember that no matter how big or small your idea is, the process remains the same.
You may not even know what genre you want to write in yet but that is ok. Sometimes it helps to narrow down your genre later in the writing process.
The first thing you are going to want to do is determine your ending point and then work backwards from there. This is where we will be using our 5 senses and our imagination.
We are going to use everything in our power to create a visual picture along with sounds, smells, tastes and feelings.
For example, let’s say my idea for a story is about a teenage girl who loves horses but lives on a farm that doesn’t allow her to have one so she decides to run away from home in order to find her horse.
Now I will break out my notebook or computer and begin brainstorming ideas for this story.
First I ask myself what does my main character look like? What color eyes does she have?
Does she have long hair or short hair? How tall is she? What does her voice sound like? Does she have freckles or braces?
How to outline a novel? There’s no one right way to do it, but here are some suggestions for getting that first draft finished.
The beginning of any writing task can be the hardest part. If you’re starting a new project, it’s easy to feel like you’re staring at a blank screen, with nothing to say and no clue how you’ll ever fill the page.
That’s why it’s important to set yourself up for success from the outset.
The most important thing is knowing where you want your story to end up. You need to know what your characters want and how they’re going to get there — and not just in broad-stroke terms, but in scene-by-scene detail.
For example, if you’re writing a romance novel, you need to have a clear idea of what each main character wants out of life (a love life?), as well as their obstacles (they don’t know each other yet?) and the details of their romantic arcs (will they meet again?).
A great way to give yourself the foundation you need is by creating an outline that goes chapter by chapter through your story. It doesn’t have to be in any particular format — bullet points in a Word document will work just fine — but it should contain.
How Long Should A Story Outline Be?
The answer is, as long as it needs to be.
Worried about the length of your story outline? Don’t be. The general rule of thumb is that you want to plan your outline out so that it corresponds with the length of the novel you’re planning to write.
You wouldn’t write a novel without planning it out first, would you? Of course not.
Then why would you start writing a novel without a solid story outline?
It’s true that some writers will tell you that you should have an outline for each individual chapter of your book before writing it.
But is this really necessary? It depends on the writer and their writing process.
Some writers prefer to have an entire outline done before they start writing, while others like to write a little bit at a time and go back later to fill in the gaps.
It’s fine to do either method, but if you do end up having an outline for each chapter, make sure that your outlines are brief enough so that they can be written quickly.
If you’re worried about how long your story outline should be, remember this: if it needs to be longer than what fits in one page, then it’s probably going to end up being too long for your story anyway.
How long should a story outline be?
That depends on the type of book you’re writing, and whether you have a reason to write a short story or a novel.
Telling a short story in 25,000 words is probably feasible if it’s a simple tale. But if you want to tell your epic fantasy story in that length, I’d suggest rethinking your idea.
We’re talking about three- to five-hundred pages here. It’s going to take more than 25,000 words to complete the story.
In other words, I don’t think it’s possible to tell a complete tale in 20k words without doing an incomplete job. It may be possible to write one- or two-chapter stories in this length, but not an entire story arc that makes sense.
And don’t forget: You’re not just writing for yourself here. Most readers are looking for complete stories, too.
Here’s what I recommend for short stories: keep the word count at 10k – 15k . Short stories should be quick reads, so the shorter the better. For extra credit (if you need it), go higher than 15k , but not much over 25k .
Does A Story Outline Include The Story’s Subplots?
An outline should focus on the main plot, but it should also include the subplots that are essential to the story. This is why it is important for your story outline to be as detailed as possible before you begin writing your novel.
Subplots do not have to be complicated or detailed, but they do need to be there. For example, if your main plot revolves around a man who is trying to win back his ex-wife, the subplot could be about his son, who is struggling with his sexual identity.
While this subplot does not drive the story forward like the other one does, it does add depth and emotion that would not be there otherwise.
It is also important to remember that a story outline should be fluid. If you find yourself struggling with writer’s block, go back and revise some of the details in your subplots.
This may give you ideas for how to continue your main plot.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when creating an outline for their novel is trying to include too much information. Remember that a subplot has only one purpose: To enhance your overall story in some way.
Focus on developing one or two major plots and leaving room for minor details like subplots.
Subplots are story elements that run parallel to the main plot. They are important, because they allow characters to interact with each other.
A subplot also allows you to create a sense of depth in your story by showing how, in certain circumstances, the same person can act differently, or change over time.
To help you decide if a subplot is needed for your story, let’s first look at what a subplot is not. A subplot is not a series of events that take place in between two main plot points.
It is usually more complicated than that, and contains layers of actions and motivations.
Let’s start with an example from a movie: The Godfather.
The Godfather is one of the most popular movies of all time and it has three distinct stories going on at once: Michael Corleone’s rise to power inside his Mafia family; his love triangle with his wife and his sister; and his father’s difficulties in bringing together the family after he is shot by rivals.
These are all subplots but only one is really essential for the movie: the conflict between Don Vito Corleone and those trying to take control of “his” family from him.
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