How To Create A Useful Outline For Your Story

By on May 5, 2017

Research and planning are crucial to any story, and before you even begin you should already have an outline written down. An outline acts as the roadmap for your story, keeps you on the straight and narrow and assures you that you can reach the end of your journey without suddenly becoming unstuck.

Now, we acknowledge that some writers are fiercely against outlining their stories - they feel this stifles their creativity, that it restricts them, and they worry that without taking deviations and off-road adventures their writing won’t be as good as it could be.

An outline, however, doesn’t have to restrict writers. Rather it should be a useful way of ensuring that a story is going to work, and it is up to the writer to follow the outline when they need to, but also give themselves the flexibility to veer from it when a creative idea strikes!

So how do you write a useful outline for your story? Let's take a look.

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Write down your premise

The best way to start your outline is to craft your premise. This essentially is your idea for your story. Write down everything you’ve got so far about how you intend the story to unravel.

Brainstorm ideas

Once you have your premise down, now it is time to brainstorm some ideas. Try not to censor yourself during this stage, just let every idea come out and scribble it down. Once you have done this you can start to pull them together, see if there is a theme emerging for your book, and try to put the ideas in a roughly chronological order.

Flesh out your characters

Now it’s time to focus on your characters and get to know them even better. Focus on each character, one at a time. Describe their physical appearance, then get down to the nitty-gritty. How do they speak, what scares them, how to they walk, what makes them unusual? Interview each character and get to know them inside out.

Focus on setting

Try now to create the world that the story takes place in. Start to build locations and settings where you know lots of action will take place. Describe them in as much detail as possible. What kind of places are they, what emotions do they evoke from your characters, what do they notice, hear, and smell when they are there?

Write your chapter outlines

By now you should have a pretty good idea of your story, your characters and the world in which they live. So now it’s time to put that knowledge into practice and write your chapter outlines. Briefly sketch out what happens in each chapter, and when you have done so, sit back and take stock. Does each chapter end on a mini cliffhanger? Are all chapters necessary? Does your story seem like it will be fast paced enough? Go back and change things where necessary until you feel as though you chapter outlines do your story justice. Work out any difficulties until you are confident your story is going to work.

Get writing!

Once you have your outline you can get to work! Remember your outline is there as a guide to help keep pushing you forwards, it’s not set in stone - so if you find yourself going off on a tangent - that’s OK, you can always revise and adjust your outline as you go.

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

About Bethany Cadman

Bethany Cadman is an author and freelance writer. Her highly anticipated debut novel 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers' is available on Amazon as both an eBook and a paperback. You can find it here - http://tinyurl.com/z47t8qf

4 Comments

  1. Andrew

    May 6, 2017 at 12:01 am

    Nice, thank you for the article. I was a major fan of outlining once. Then I realized that all the creativity went into the outline. the fascination of the creativity process and brainstorming ideas and writing chapter outlines truly had me hooked. Then when it came to the actual writing it felt like a chore to flesh out, in a huge way, the outline I made for myself. I hated it when I had to force my brain to kill my creativity to stick to my outline I had previously done, therefore disallowing my characters to save, rather than kill another character (for that would have taken my story in another direction…But a legitimate one!).

    Strangely, I now outline after I write a chapter (yes weird). Because reading, and not writing, is a linear process, I like to just go for it and see what happens. After a few chapters, if it doesn’t work and I delete 10,000 words (not because it is rubbish writing but because it doesn’t work for the plot), I take those words as good practice and keep still get a pretty decent plot at the end! I don’t see it as wasting time. All writing is never a waste of time.

    That’s just my own process though. We all have our little habits. There has and never will be a correct way of writing so each to his own. Nice article thank you. I must get back to writing 😀

    Best of luck with your writing Bethany! 🙂

    • Bethany Cadman

      May 8, 2017 at 3:10 am

      Hi Andrew – thanks for your comments and tips – good luck with your writing too!

  2. Gina Story

    May 15, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    This article gives a wonderful guideline to outlining and made me look at the idea of outlining in a new way. I’ve always HATED the idea of outlining because it felt forced. I typically just sit down with an idea and start writing at Chapter 1 and by Chapter 3 I’m sitting there wondering where I was going. However, the way it was explained here I can see how working this outline might be very helpful and I plan to give it a try tomorrow during my novel writing time. Bethany, I really enjoy reading your columns and you always give wonderful advice.

    • Bethany Cadman

      May 16, 2017 at 8:00 am

      Hi Gina,

      Thanks so much for your lovely comments. Good luck with your writing!

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