How to Write an Outline for a Story
If you are writing a creative nonfiction essay or a fiction story, writing an outline can be a good way to organize your ideas before beginning. An outline for a story, however, is different from an outline for a research paper. Take care as you write your outline not to make it overly detailed as too much rigidity can kill your creative impulse. Instead, loosely outline story-specific items, such as characters, setting, main conflict and plot.
People, Place and Problem
Begin with a character sketch that includes the character's name, age, physical description, career, likes, dislikes, hobbies and idiosyncrasies. Write down any details you know about the person or can imagine about the character. Do this for every character involved, even those who play only a small part in the story.
Outline your setting. Write down where your story takes place; below the name of the city, town or country, describe what the place is like. Include a short description of weather, seasons, size, ambiance and any particularly important buildings or locations.
Decide what the major conflict in your story is, and describe it in five sentences or less. Write down who is involved in the conflict and how it manifests itself in his life.
Outline some of the main events of your story. If this is your first step in writing the story you may not know everything that is going to happen. Outlining your story helps you organize your thoughts so it is OK to begin writing with an incomplete or loose outline. Allow your story room to change in future drafts.
Begin at the scene or point of conflict that makes the most sense to you, and begin in the middle of the scene, with the action of a character. Even if you are writing a factual account, shaping it like a story in this way will hold the attention of the reader. Sketch out the basic events of your beginning and leave room to flesh it out later when you write your story.
Sketch out the basic events of your story's plot. If you are writing a mystery, this is especially important as you will need to know where you are headed. For other stories, you may not know exactly what your characters are going to do. Jot down some important events that you are planning to have happen.
Include relevant information about the characters' pasts in your outline. A backstory such as this is the story behind the main conflict. Even if you do not write the entire backstory of your characters into the story, it is important for you as the author to know it. This will help you deepen the conflict and, consequently the events of the story.
Keep the story's conflict in mind as you continue toward the end. Think about how the conflict will be resolved throughout the events of the story. Sketch out the event you believe you will end with, and see where your writing takes you.
Don't worry about the order in which you write your outline. You may choose to start with the main conflict of the story, then do a character sketch, or skip from the beginning to the end and fill in the middle later. The points of your outline are to create a foundation for your story and to organize your ideas. Do it in a way that makes the most sense to you.
- Don't worry about the order in which you write your outline. You may choose to start with the main conflict of the story, then do a character sketch, or skip from the beginning to the end and fill in the middle later. The points of your outline are to create a foundation for your story and to organize your ideas. Do it in a way that makes the most sense to you.
Emma Wells has been writing professionally since 2004. She is also a writing instructor, editor and former elementary school teacher. She has a Master's degree in writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English and anthropology. Her creative work has been published in several small literary magazines.