Start with the big picture by crafting the premise/underlying idea of the story.
Expand on this premise, asking:
- Who is the main protagonist and how will they change from the beginning to end?
- What is the situation and central conflict?
- What are the character’s objectives and wants/needs?
- What are the stakes—what will happen if the character fails or doesn’t get what they want?
Write a one-paragraph summary of the novel
Determine the setting. Setting should relate to the story, either because it directly effects the story or characters or because it sets the right tone/mood.
Research the details and plan how they will interact with the story
- What elements will impact the story?
- What elements will set the tone/mood
Determine secondary scenes.
- Determines which scenes will play out in what settings
- There should be a good reason for each placement
Write character profiles
- Include backstory, current situation, and endpoint
- Determine what the character needs to learn by the end of the story
- Plot the steps the characters will need to take to resolve internal issues
- Determine what external forces will push the character to develop
Develop secondary characters
- Develop limited backstory
- Develop how they influence or support the main characters
- Determine their mini-arc in relation to the main storyline
Construct the plot
- Construct a timeline of events broken into the 3-Act structure
- Act 1: Meet Cute, Refusal/Rejection
- Act 2: Giving in, Testing the relationship, Midpoint crisis, Reconciliation, Falling in love, Breaking up
- Act 3: The sacrifice, the HEA/HFN
Break the timeline events into chapters
- Each chapter MUST have a timeline event
- Don’t cram too many events into each chapter
Develop individual scenes with a chapter-by-chapter outline
- Organize major events into appropriate chapters
- List one major event/scene for every chapter
- Each chapter should have its own theme and major/minor plot point
Add limited details about what will happen in each scene
- Something must happen in each chapter: action or character development
- Each plot point should move the story forward and be relevant
- There needs to be constant progression in the storyline and the characters
Add as much details as necessary to guide the writing
- Develop setting, character traits, backstory, and more
- Focus on the big picture elements first
There are a variety of outlining methods, and which one works best depends on individual preferences and organization styles. Here are four of the most popular methods to try:
The Synopsis Outline
This is a 1-2 page document that roughly sketches the structure of the story and leaves room for flexibility. It hits all the major plot points but does not go into great detail on scenes or character arcs. This method creates a loose framework that can be further developed while writing.
The In-Depth Outline
This is a comprehensive chapter summaries that break up individual scenes. It includes detailed timelines, character details, plot points, and subplots. Scene-level description is usually not included, but full character and plot arcs should be developed with major pinch points noted and the scenes they are included in pointed out. Particular attention should be paid attention to flow between scenes and pacing of the overall arcs.
The Snowflake Method
This method begins with a one-sentence summary of the story idea, then builds into a paragraph, which is then used to create character descriptions and storylines. The structure remains fairly loose and branches into different story aspects. This may be especially helpful for storylines which are not fully fleshed out yet and are in need of brainstorming.
The Bookend Method
In this method, you begin by plotting the beginning and end of the story and the main characters, leaving everything else to be develop during the story writing. It is important to consider how the beginning and ending relate to each other and whether there is a meaningful link between the two that is believable and achievable. While this method does not detail out the steps between the beginning and end, you should have a sense of what steps will be needed to bring the two together.
Regardless of which method you employ, stay focused on creating a strong flow from beginning to end and pacing that will maintain the interest of the reader.
Strong planning can help create a strong storyline.
What is a story outline?
An outline includes planning information about:
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.