Story Outlines: Who Needs Them?

story-outlineUnless you’re writing your 10th book you might want to consider creating an outline of the story you are looking to write. Sitting down and writing by the seat of your pants may offer freedom to change directions in a story but it is more likely that a new writer will find themselves stuck or lost in a tangent.

The use of an outline provides structure and a useful framework for filling in the story. The planning involved in making an outline helps produce a well thought out plot. You will become more familiar with the story you want to write and this early involvement allows you to create a powerful plot. You will gain more organization when piecing the story together, ensuring details and ideas are less likely to be left out or badly arranged.

There are those who prefer more spontaneity in their writing process. I use everything from mind-maps to sticky notes when writing. In the end, the choice is yours to make when deciding a personal preference in writing styles.
If you would like to use an outline, I’ve listed four steps for turning an idea into a story.

goalDecide on the story’s goal. What do you want the most overall result of the story to be? Perhaps your character will find love or overcome loss. Whatever you choose, make sure you know this story goal before continuing with your outline. Some authors prefer to begin their outline by starting with the end of the story then back tracking the events that lead up to the ending. Knowing the result of an event ahead of time makes it easier to create the event.

PaintCreate conflict.
Every story I can think of has conflict. If it didn’t, once upon a time would be more like once upon a coma. Think about what is keeping the story’s goal from being achieved. This is most likely going to show itself in the first few pages. Is it a villain or a bad decision? Maybe the main character cannot make a decision? This is the meat and potatoes of the story so work on making this part exciting and believable.


sceneCreate subjects. Adding detailed settings and lifelike characters is your next big step. Writing a list of descriptions for many places and characters will give you more variety to choose from when introducing the subject in the story. Researching specific details that fit in the time and place of the story will add believability and a stronger mental picture in the readers mind. Make as many as you can and if you don’t use them now save them and someday they may be useful.

developmentBuild the plot.
Here you want to write down scenes that you envision of your characters in interacting the world of your story. Learn the purpose of each scene and the order they occur in. Remember, you are not writing the story now, just gaining some insight and reference points to guide the plot. After finishing a list of scenes, make sure the sequence of events can effectively convey the story.


At this point you will have outlined your story’s structure. You should be familiar with the workings of the story and your mind can focus on other details to add while understanding that events need to head in a certain direction. If you have taken these steps you should see your story unfolding and you can begin writing! When you’re discussing your best seller on a TV talk show be sure to tell them about story outlines and why you needed one.

About the Author

forgewrightRobert Hatfield hails from mid-western Ohio. Comedy and Adventure stories are his passion. Editing and Reviewing are the fields of work he enjoys. Writing has been an interest for the past 25 years and he now has the time to pursue it. As a Moderator on, he welcomes any questions or requests for help.

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