The Wacky World Of Outlining
Tips on outlining a fictional story
Outlining an entire story can be a daunting experience, I mean you’re basically planning out what’s going to happen in your story, who’s going to be in your story, where it takes place, what elements need to woven in, and the list goes on and on.
Not to mention that if you’re not a plotter, or you’re generally unfamiliar to outlining stories things can seem pretty weird, dare I say wacky? I mean where do you start? What should you focus on? Which way is left? Which ways is right? It’ll leave you feeling like Alice in Wonderland! (Okay I’ll stop 🙂 )
Here are a few tips that’ll hopefully make outlining seem less weird and abstract, and more simple and straightforward.
1.Know your genre and audience.
What’s your genre? Contemporary? Fantasy? Thriller? Historical fiction? Horror? Urban Fantasy? Sci-fiction?
Who is your audience? Teens? Horror fans? Fantasy lovers?Adults? Kids? People who like action blockbusters? People who adore magic school stories? People who love a boy and his dog stories?
If you pin these who aspects down it can help you determine how you should outline or write, and maybe even the length of the story.
You won’t write the exact same way for kids and adults because they have two different mindsets. It’s the same thing with genres, a high stakes crime thriller for adults won’t read like a goofy comedy adventure for kids. Now can an adult like things written for kids or visa versa? Of course, we see all the time with not just books but movies, but even in these cases, the writers target specific demographics. So I implore you to find out, if you haven’t already, your target demographic.
2. You’re going to need to have these six things ready (or at least some general idea of these):
1-Plot: The series of events and scenes that make up the story.
Plot Examples: Red riding hood: A girl tries to deliver pastries to her grandmother unaware she’s being stalked by a wolf.
Three little pigs: Three pigs build houses of different material to protect themselves from a wolf.
2-Character(s): The people or beings in your story.
(Simple) Character Examples:
The tortoise and the hare: Hare, Tortoise, Animals.
Cinderella: Cinderella, Stepsisters, Stepmother, Fairy godmother, Prince, etc.
Three little bears: Goldilocks, Mama bear, Papa bear, Baby bear.
3-Conflict(s): The problems in the story, it can be internal, external, or both, I have examples for both below.
Internal Conflict Examples:
Someone has a secret crush on a classmate.
Someone has to commit a crime but doesn’t want to.
Someone must hide a terrible secret.
External Conflict Examples:
There’s a missing artifact stolen from a museum.
An ancient evil is awakening.
A fire breathing dragon is attacking a small village.
4-Setting: Where the story takes place.
A bustling city. A magic kingdom. A dense jungle. A distant planet.
5-Theme(s): Abstract meaning or moral message in the story.
Theme Examples: Good vs. evil. Freedom. Courage. The human condition.
6-The Point Of View: The point of view or P.O.V. is the perspective your story is told in. There are four types, first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient.
No matter which you choose to use you must stay consistent, as in you shouldn’t bounce between the different POVs. Though there are exceptions to this rule as there are who are able to transition smoothly between the two, but these are exceptions, meaning this usually isn’t the case and writers tend to fall flat on their face when they try to do this.
Switching from one way of telling the story to another can be jarring or disorienting to the reader because the writing styles are so different.
In first person, the narrator is a character telling or experiencing the story.
“I slowly made my way across the bridge.”
In third person, limited (the narrator isn’t part of the story,) readers follow one character and hear one character’s thoughts.
“Andrew slowly plodded across the bridge.”
You can only imagine how confusing it would be to randomly switch between first person and third person limited perspectives in a single chapter, so don’t. (Or at least be careful if you do.)
3. Make a skeleton outline/diagram.
This is going to be your very basic and scarcely detailed outline for your story. The purpose of this is to basically plan out the events of your story and arrange events in order.
It’ll give you an overall feel of your story and quite possibly work as a reference to make sure you’re on the right track for your writing. Once more this isn’t heavily detailed, this outline will most likely consist of only important plot points or important scenes so expect a lot to be left out.
-Making one of these skeletal outlines can be done in many ways such as:
>Sticky notes: Arranging scenes with sticky notes or note cards with scenes or plot points on a board or flat surface.
>Outline sheet: Make a timeline like an outline on a sheet of paper about the events that take place in your story in order.
>Plot diagram: This is your typical rising and falling action layout you can search up and print.
>Other: There are many ways to make a brief skeleton, I personally tend to just whip out a sheet of paper and just start writing events in order, there’s really no one way to do this.
If you’re a pantser this is probably your jumping off point here. From this point forward you just start writing your story and see where it takes you. (Bon voyage!)
If you’re a plotter or planster you’ll probably want to move on to our next step.
(If you’re confused on the difference between plotters, pantsers, plansters, to be brutally blunt plotters are writers who prefer very detailed outlining, while a pantser prefers freely writing without a detailed outlining. Plansters are sandwiched somewhere in between. I’ll be making a future post going into further detail.)
4. Make a detailed outline.
This is basically when you make a much beefier outline with events and details based off of your previous outlining and planning. Expect to mention specifics/details of scenes, elements, characters, etc.
By the time you finish this outline you’ll know most of, if not all the events that take place in your story. While you write your draft you’ll probably be closely going off this outline you’ve made. The look of this outline can vary also because there are so many ways to go about this, including the methods I listed for skeletal outlining. I’d recommend looking up some ways to outline and seeing what’s the best fit for you
5. Check for consistency.
When your outlining check to see if events make sense in the order they’re in. Make sure there aren’t issues like characters who are missing from scenes, inconsistent story elements like wrong locations for scenes, missing maguffins, character name mix-ups, etc.
Check to see if there’s gradually rising action and keep an eye out for parts where the story gets a bit dull or starts to drag on.
That’s all I have on story outlining, I hoped this helped and happy writing!
Until next time! 🙂