Outlining a story before you delve into the act of writing it is a crucial step in the writing process that many authors find beneficial. An outline serves as a roadmap for your narrative, offering you an aerial view of your story terrain and helping you chart the course your plot will follow. It is essentially the skeleton of your story, on which you’ll build the flesh and substance in the form of characters, themes, settings, dialogues, and descriptions.
Creating an outline can offer several advantages. First and foremost, it provides structure. This structure will serve as the framework of your story, ensuring that your narrative flows logically and coherently. It helps you keep track of key events and ensures that they are organized in a meaningful way, making your story more compelling and engaging.
Second, an outline can enhance your productivity and efficiency as a writer. By having a clear plan in place, you can streamline your writing process and reduce the amount of time spent figuring out what happens next in your story, preventing the dreaded writer’s block. It can also make it easier to manage complex narratives with multiple plotlines, characters, or timelines.
Third, an outline can help ensure consistency. By planning out key plot points, character arcs, and themes ahead of time, you can ensure that these elements remain consistent throughout your story. This can be especially beneficial for long stories or novels, where it’s easy to lose track of details.
Finally, an outline can serve as a tool for experimentation. It allows you to play around with different plot ideas, character developments, and narrative structures, and see how they work before committing to them in the writing process. You can easily move parts around, try out different sequences of events, and see potential problems or plot holes before they become ingrained in your narrative.
However, it’s important to remember that an outline is a guide, not a strict rulebook. Many successful authors allow their stories to evolve naturally as they write, using their outlines as flexible guides rather than rigid instructions. In fact, allowing for spontaneity and organic growth can lead to surprising and exciting developments in your story that you might not have planned for. The balance between planning and improvisation is different for every writer, and part of the writing journey is finding the approach that works best for you.
Identify Your Premise: This is your starting point, your fundamental idea. Think of it as your elevator pitch – the answer to the question, “What’s your story about?” An example premise could be: “What if a teenage girl in a dystopian future were chosen against her will to participate in a televised fight to the death?”
Define Your Characters: Consider each character’s:
- Background: Where does your character come from? What is their family like? How has their past shaped them? For example, Harry Potter’s orphan status and his parents’ history deeply influence his character and his journey.
- Motivation: What does the character want more than anything? This could range from survival to love, revenge, personal growth, or achieving a lifelong dream.
- Strengths: What is the character good at? What traits will help them in their journey?
- Weaknesses: What are the character’s flaws? These should be something that truly hinders their progress and adds to the conflict.
- Role: What purpose does the character serve in the story? For example, a mentor character like Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings” provides wisdom and guidance to the protagonist.
Setting: The setting significantly impacts the mood and can become a character in itself. “The Hunger Games” wouldn’t have the same tone if it were set in a peaceful utopia instead of a dystopian society. Your setting can influence the language you use, the conflicts that arise, and how characters interact with each other and their environment.
Define the Conflict: The conflict is what drives the story. It’s what your main character is fighting against. It could be a physical entity, like Voldemort in “Harry Potter”, societal norms, like in “Pride and Prejudice”, or even inner demons, like Elizabeth Gilbert facing her personal issues in “Eat, Pray, Love”.
- Act I (Setup): Introduce your readers to the world and its characters. What is normal life for your protagonist? Then, introduce the incident that disrupts this normal life – the call to adventure. In “The Hobbit”, Bilbo Baggins is enjoying his comfortable life when Gandalf and the dwarves arrive to whisk him away on a quest.
- Act II (Confrontation): This act involves a series of complications and obstacles that the protagonist must face on their journey. This could include battles, difficult choices, personal growth, etc. The tension should build progressively, and usually, there’s a major crisis or low point at the end of this act. In “The Empire Strikes Back”, the second movie of the original Star Wars trilogy, our heroes are ultimately separated, defeated, and left in a state of despair.
- Act III (Resolution): This act includes the climax of your story – the ultimate, decisive confrontation of your conflict – and the resolution, which shows the aftermath and how characters’ lives are changed. In “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, the Battle of Hogwarts serves as the climax, and the aftermath shows us the survivors honoring the fallen and later sending their own children off to Hogwarts.
Scene by Scene Breakdown: This involves outlining each scene or chapter in your story. For instance, in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, one scene might be Scout and Jem’s first day of school. Here, you would outline the major actions (Scout getting in trouble with the teacher), the characters involved (Scout, Jem, Miss Caroline), the setting (the school), and how it fits into the larger plot and character development (it introduces us to Maycomb’s society and Scout’s headstrong nature).
Theme: This is the underlying message or lesson of your story. It could be about the power of love, the dangers of ignorance, the importance of individuality, or any number of ideas. For example, a theme in “1984” by George Orwell is the dangers of a totalitarian government.
This is a thorough way to outline your story, but remember, each writer’s process is different. You might find it helpful to follow this closely, or you might use it as a loose guide. It’s meant to serve your creative process, not hinder it.
Please note that if you purchase from clicking on the link, some will result in us getting a tiny bit of that sale to help keep this site going