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Effectively Outlining: The Purpose of an Outline

Strong planning can help create a strong storyline.

What is a story outline?

An outline includes planning information about:

  • Structure
  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Scenes
  • Events
  • Conflict

Outlines provide a skeleton or map of the full story.

Having skeleton or map can help writers visualize the big picture of the storyline, organize story details and keep the story on track, create full character arcs, plan scenes and structure them in a way that keeps the story moving.

Outlines can also help improve writing efficiency by preventing writing blocks, dead-end plot lines or subplots, and allowing the writer to research needed aspects beforehand rather than during the writing process.

Questions and outline should answer:

  • What is the main contract made with the reader?
  • Are all promises resolved by the end?
  • What pressures are working on the characters?
  • Does the pressure grow more intense as the story progresses?
  • What is at stake for the main characters?
  • Are those stakes high enough that failure inspires stress or anxiety for the reader?
  • Does the ending make logical sense and fit with the rest of the story?

When a question can’t be answered by an outline, dig deeper or step back and consider why a certain question has no answer. Does the storyline need to be altered, or is there an issue with the character that prevents an easier answer? Unanswered questions are prompts for additional development and can provide a writer with new avenues to explore!

Apologies for disappearing from the blog for the past couple months. Writing graduate school and getting through the holidays were kicking my butt and I needed to take a step away.