Writing a story people want to read involves more than just sitting at your desk and putting pen to paper. It requires a lot of imagination, great organization skills, and a mastery of the language to bring all the elements together. Since there is no set-in-stone formula to help you achieve such flow, most writers turn to the Story Outline Template.
Story outlining – like writing itself – is a skill that you get better at over time. In this article, we look at story outlines, how to create and use them, and some approaches you can adapt to your work.
What Is a Story Outline?
A story outline is a simple overview of the events in a story, prepared before completing the actual final draft. You can use it when writing a short story or novel to outline your ideas, so you have somewhere to refer to during the writing process. Essentially, this simple document forms the bridge between your ideas and a readable piece of fiction writing.
What Is a Story Outline Template?
A story outline template is a model chart that helps you map out the scenes, plotline, characters, and ideas of your story, forming them into a coherent outline. It is designed to help you capture plot points and ideas, so you know how to start, continue, and end your fiction piece.
Essential Elements of a Story Outline Template
Most fiction stories follow the same plot structure, even when the stories and outcomes differ. Similarly, all story outlines consist of similar elements, which include:
- Premise: This section identifies the characters, location, and circumstances of the story. They tell the reader what they need to know before they delve into the plot.
- Plot: This refers to the sequence of events in your story and how they progress to accomplish your goal. It usually begins with an inciting incident, followed by rising action, climax, falling action, and finally, resolution.
- Character: These are the people, things, or players that advance your story. If you are writing in the first person, characters become a central part of your story as they dictate the point of view.
- Prose: This refers to your word and sentence structure choices.
- Theme: The theme is what you want the reader to take away from the story.
How to Write a Good Story Outline (Step-by-Step)
The primary purpose of using a Story Outline Template is to transform your idea into a complete product. You essentially begin with a skeleton list of plot points then flesh them out by expanding the components into readable work. Here is a guide to help you achieve this:
Step 1: Write a Premise
The premise of your story is a short summary – 1 to 3 sentences long – explaining what will happen in the story. It should identify the location, characters, and conflict. Additionally, it should mention what makes your story worth reading.
Step 2: Introduce the Characters
Once you have a summary, identify the characters in your story. What do they wear? Where are they from? What are their beliefs, and how will their personalities respond to the conflict?
Step 3: Flesh Out the Scenes
Next, describe the location and setting of your story. You want to be as detailed as possible, describing the roads, trees, animals, sky, etc. You also want to capture how the characters respond to the setting.
Step 4: Write Your Outline
With the character, premise, and setting in mind, organize all this information into a linear summary. Let’s review how to do this in the next section.
Story Outline Templates
Story outline examples are sample pieces that organize characters, scenes, ideas, and themes to create a summary outline for short stories and novels.
Novel Outline Templates
Novel outline templates are customizable model charts from which you can arrange the possible events of a story to create a linear guide.
Book Outline Templates
Book outline templates are customizable documents you can use to capture the structure of each chapter in a book you are writing.
Plot Outline Templates
A plot outline template is a model summary of the suggested events in a book, novel, short story, or screenplay. It is shorter than a step outline but longer than a standard synopsis.
Approaches to Writing a Story Outline
Story outlines can bear some similar elements, but they will never be exactly the same. The following four approaches to preparing an outline are suggestions, and you can play around with each or combine one or two until you find a strategy that works for you.
This is the most common outlining strategy. It involves creating a numbered or bulleted list of your main plot points, that is, the main events of the story. Once you have your list, you can fill it in with an information letter so that your story is always built around the main plot.
This approach focuses on the themes and ideas of the story and is an excellent choice if you already know what you want your readers to take away from the story. All you need to do is list down your main themes chronologically, e.g., despair, love, hope, conflict, death, etc.
This approach follows the plot-based outline strategy but focuses on the setting and scenes. It is a great choice for short story writers where the story’s central element is the setting.
Freytag’s Pyramid approach helps you create a basic story structure that isn’t too detailed; it affects your creativity. The basic elements of Freytag’s pyramid are:
- Inciting incident:
- Rising Action
- Falling Action
Frequently Asked Questions
Should you outline your story?
Outlining your story helps ensure you don’t go off topic when writing, ultimately improving your timing. That said while outlining has immense benefits on the outcome of your writing experience, it is generally up to you whether you wish to do it or not.
Does Stephen King use an outline?
No. Stephen King does not outline the plotlines in his books. He once called outlining a ‘last resort for bad fiction writers.’ However, every writer’s process is different.
What is a short outline?
A short story outline is a simple visual representation of the storylines, character arcs, themes, and flow of a short story.
Using a Story Outline Template is an excellent way to ensure the smooth transition of your story from an idea to a complete piece. It can help jumpstart you when you get stuck on a plotline by highlighting the themes, arcs, and characters you plan to focus on in your work. While some people feel like outlines stifle creativity, they can actually increase your productivity and help you stay on track.