How To Write A Story Outline
In my last article, I briefly talked about how to start writing a book. In that article, I briefly went into creating your plot line (or outline). Here I will take you on an in-depth journey in how to write a story outline.
Once you have read this article you will know how to:
- Have a main plot
- Have side plots
- Flesh out all plots
- Create a definite story arc
- Move your plot about with ease
If you have any questions please leave me a comment in the section below and I will endeavour to answer them.
Have A Main Plot
This would seem like the most obvious job on your to-do list, you can’t have a story without a plot afterall.
But, if you happen to be here lacking a plot, I am not going to leave you wanting.
What is a plot? According to a dictionary the plot is the main events of a play, novel, film, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence. However, I prefer to think of a plot as a trainline. A story is a train, a plot is the tacks the train runs along.
Step 1, therefore, is to create your train tracks. What is your story about?
You may have an idea, you may have no idea, you may want to visit a generator to get some ideas. For the purpose of this post, I will do just that.
I went with a dystopian and this is what I got to work with:
I’m not totally happy with it but i can work with it.
Here is the plot I am going to flesh out for the purpose of this post.
Using Balmoral castle as a base, Harry sets out to stop Prof Dick and his gang from terrorizing the people. he put up with all the nonsense until Prof Dicks thugs broke his hand, as a Hairdresser this was the last straw for Harry. The Seventh Spouts were born.
Terrible, I know. But you’ll be surprised. By the end of writing this plot I may even want to write the book someday.
Have Side Plots
Most books have more then one plot. Side plots help to keep the story flowing.
Side plots are little trains that run parallel to your train. These trains don’t have as many carriages, they don’t carry a lot of weight, but they can affect the outcome of your story in little ways. For instance, a love story. If you have a romance as a side plot, if that romance turns sour, your hero may not want to survive the last battle.
Some examples of sideplots:
- Mass Effect 2 and the Story of Garrus and his team.
- Harry Potter, the friendships between Harry, Ron and Hermione.
- The Little Mermaid 2, Mother daughter relationships.
- Nightlord Sunset, Understanding Magic.
- Fairy Tail, Family
- For Love of a Cause, we are all human and deserve a chance.
You noticed how these look a lot like themes? How else is a theme carried through a story. Trust, loyalty, love, these are all themes that can be embedded in your story through side plots.
If used wrongly your story can become far too complicated, but used correctly you can create an awesome tale that would pull in any reader.
So, taking my above generated plot I will create a side plot.
Harry was once married, he has since divorced. His wife left with their child, his child now works for the enemy. He wants to show his child the right way forward.
Flesh Out All Plots
Start by writing out the main events that happens in your plots. Start on one page and write everything that happens in your main plot. This is all the main events that you can think off:
Quick example (by no means an exhaustive list of events – depending how long you want your story to be your list may be longer or shorter).
- Introduce Harry and his work as a hair dresser
- Introduce bad guys make people hate them
- Harrys hand gets hurt
- Bad guys cause a scene Harry has had enough and begins rebelliion
- Those who survive rebellion make a bond
- Survivors camp at ruins of balmoral castle and start to rebuild
- Call out for all who wish to stand against enemy to join them
- Enemy tries to uproot them
- Harry decides to take the battle to them
- Harry sees his kid and gets caught
- Harry is rescued
- Information that has been learnt is shared
- Make a move to free other captives
- Supporters swell in number
- Battle comes to balmoral
- Harry has face off with enemy
- The Kid intervenes
- The dust settles
I’m not sure myself what is going on in half these events but I can feel them. Almost see them as I write. I started with one and the others followed in a natural flow taking inspiration from books like Robin Hood and Gladiator, games like Fall Out. It’s a mess, but it is a good mess and a firm foundation for a heart wrenching story about family ties, love and loyalty. Hell, I want to read it! Tip, if you do not want to read the plot you have written, scrap it.
Once you’ve done that look at your side plot and write it out on a completely separate piece of paper.
- Introduce the kid
- Show kids relationship with Dick
- The kid hears about rebellion
- The kid realises dad (harry) is rebellion leader
- The kid argues with dad in jail
- Harry gets rescued
- The kid argues with Dick – torn
- Captives freed and the kid helps
- The kid and Dick heated debate
- Battle comes to Balmoral
- The kid intervenes in final battle
- The dust settles
Not as many points. This is good. You do not want your side plot to overtake the main story.
Create A Definite Story Arc
Now you have loads of points it will be easy to get lost in the book. This is why you need a definite story arc to keep your trains on track.
Story Arc as described by the dictionary is a literary term for the path a story follows. It provides a backbone by providing a clear beginning, middle, and end of the story.
A clear beginning, middle and end. In train terms this will be your three main stations, no matter what happens you need to hit these points at these times, they are fixed. Unmovable.
Go back to your plotline, your main plotline. How does the story start? How does your story end? What is the main event in the middle? But wait? Can you remember what happens that stuck out in the middle of the last book you read?
Beginning is easy. Its the event that kickstarts the whole story, in this case the wounding of the Hairdressers hand.
End is also easy. Here we are talking about the climax, where the story culminates and the outcome of that. In this case the final battle. How do we tell the middle of a story arc?
Let’s start by getting one thing straight. An arc isn’t always shaped like a rainbow. In this article I have written about the different types of story arcs, you should find the type that best suits you.
The book I am writing is definitely a rainbow arc here though. It starts with a happy, normal as can be life, it pitches to chaos and then comes back down to normality.
My peak event, middle event, my point of no return in this story where he can only go forward and not back is when Harry lands in Jail. That is my middle event, that is unchangeable and must happen in the middle.
Write these events on a separate sheet. They are unchangeable.
Move Your Plot About With Ease
Now for my favourite bit of advice.
Get a multipack of sticky notes. Choose a colour and write your arc on those notes. one note for beginning, one note for middle and one note for end. Stick them on your wall with space between them.
Take all your main plot events and stick them on another note colour.
Take all your side plot events and stick them on another colour.
Now you can move your plot events up and down on the wall to ensure they fit right before you start writing and rewriting.
Here is a picture of one of the times I did just that:
Trust me, you cannot underestimate the usefulness of this technique.
You’ve perhaps noticed I have more then 3 main events in this one above (Blue). That is because Freewill was a complex book experiment of two main plots in one. This book is now being edited and set to be published. If you would like to know the full story of FREEWILL check out the course Write A Book In 30 days due to go on sale by March. The course takes you through a step by step of writing a novel where I spend 30 individual days writing a novel alongside the course. (Why did I choose such a complex one to write? talk about headaches).
WOW You’ve Written A Plot!
You have learned so much in a short space of time. Now go out there, get writing and make yourself proud.
Any questions drop me a line, I would love to hear from you.
Want to try out your new thoughts with a good prompt? Check out the writing competitions!