Storytelling guide

Story outline: plan now, save hours of writing later

Ever found yourself caught staring at a blank page, unsure of where to start? Or perhaps you dove right in and landed in a plot quagmire halfway through? Well, I’ve got a solution. Let’s delve into the art of the story outline and discover how a touch of preparation streamlines your writing journey.

1. What’s a Story Outline, Anyway?

Imagine a story outline as a dinosaur’s skeleton in a museum. It might not resemble the full creature, but it provides a structure.

An outline acts as your story’s roadmap. Here, you’ll find the primary events, the dramatic twists, and those crucial dialogues—all set before you splash on the colors.

Recall Harry Potter? J.K. Rowling didn’t wing it. Instead, she charted out those plot points well before “The Sorcerer’s Stone” graced bookstores. Without such planning, who can tell? Harry might have landed in Slytherin!

2. Why Should You Bother Outlining?

2.1. Gain Clarity from the Start

An outline ensures you know your destination. Take “Little Red Riding Hood” for instance. A good outline would highlight the visit to grandma’s, the cunning wolf, and the climactic rescue. With this clarity, there’s no chance Little Red decides to detour to a candy store.

2.2. Sidestep Writer’s Block

We all know that wall. You’re in the zone, and suddenly, blank. Where to now? Armed with an outline, you can switch scenes when one stalls.

2.3. Smooth Out Edits

Editing without an outline can feel like untangling holiday lights. But with one? It’s as if the lights are neatly wrapped and labeled.

Take “The Lion King” for example. Simba’s voyage stands clear: loss, exile, growth, return. Had an impulsive thought cropped up, like a trip to the moon, the outline would have flagged its mismatch.

3. Crafting Your Outline

3.1. Start with the Foundations

At its heart, every story has a few pillars: characters, setting, and the big events. Like in “Toy Story”, the pillars could be Woody and Buzz, Andy’s room and Pizza Planet, and the escape from Sid’s house. Jot these down, and you’ve got a starting point.

3.2. Delve Deeper

Next, chop up your story into chapters or sections. If it were a comic book, think of these as panels. What happens in each? In “Spider-Man”, one panel could be about getting bitten, another about discovering powers, and yet another about the first showdown with a baddie.

3.3. Refine and Rearrange

Don’t be afraid to shuffle things around. Maybe that epic dragon fight in your fantasy novel fits better in the middle than the end. Always be open to tweaking.

4. What if Outlining Isn’t Your Jam?

Hey, it’s okay. Outlining isn’t a strict science. Maybe you’re more of a free spirit, like those improv actors on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”. But even they have a basic theme to start with. Your outline can be as detailed or as loose as you want.

In the grand adventure of writing, think of the story outline as your trusty map. With it, you’ll dodge those pesky writing pitfalls, cruise through edits, and maybe, just maybe, save yourself a whole bunch of time.

And for other help with understanding story and narrative, be sure to check out other posts in my storytelling guide.