It is common for fiction writers to immediately jump into the thick of things when it comes to writing, ignoring sound “pre-writing rituals” that have been proven to make fictional works better. Whether it is novel, a short story or a screenplay, penning a story outline is one valuable practice that drastically improves the quality of the written work. It is an important part of the writing process that is responsible for detailing the core components of the fictional work.
While an established writer with a vibrant career can be excused for not drafting a story outline before writing, an aspiring writer should for no reason whatsoever begin work without first outlining the crux of the story.
Why Writing a Story Outline is Important
Outlining a story before the commencement of the actual writing process can indeed be a very useful practice. Though the principal benefit of this practice is the organizational value it infuses into the fictional work, there are other relevant advantages of outlining a written work of fiction before writing the story.
For starters, a story outline ensures that a writer doesn’t forget what the main plot of the story is. It is common to get the details of a fictional work mixed up during writing; and if there isn’t an outline to go back to, the plot of the fictional work becomes very confusing.
Outlining a story is also crucial to knitting every element of the plot together. The task of moving from the first act in the fictional work to the climax, and of course, the resolution is made easier if there is an outline to the lead the way.
Finally, a story outline ensures the proper sequencing of plot events. This is quite important as a novel, short story, or screenplay with a poor plot sequence will throw readers off, making it difficult to follow.
Story Outline Tips
Though there are no specific rules on how stories should be outlined before being written, the 10 tips briefly elaborated on below should help any aspiring writer master the practice.
Write the Premise of the Story
The first thing that needs to be put in an outline is the premise of the story. This isn’t just a vague description of the story’s plot but a complete summation of the story’s major events. Ideally, the premise should be able to answer very pertinent questions like the identity of the protagonist and antagonist, what the conflict of the story is, what the stakes are, and the impact of the conflict on the main characters.
Write a Dossier on Each of the Story’s Main Characters
Often times, writers just breeze through portions of their fictional works that actively involves characterization, and this can lead to inconsistencies in the mannerisms displayed by the characters in their stories.
If this is to be avoided, a dossier of all the main characters in the story must be crafted in a story outline so that the writer is well-equipped to handle the characterizations and dialogues in the fictional work.
Write a Brief Description of the Story’s Settings
Another component of a written work of fiction that is integral to its plot is the settings. The skill of aptly conveying plot settings to readers is referred to as world-building, and many writers are simply unable to implement this effectively. This is where a story outline comes to the rescue.
It is important to include the settings of a story in the outline as it helps the writer to establish some kind of familiarity with the world that will be depicted in the story.
Write the Sub-Plots of the Story
Sub-plots are critical elements of a story that work in tandem with the main plot. They basically function as building blocks of conflicts that help to keep a story going until the resolution of the main plot.
While sub-plots may play a crucial part in the unravelling of the story’s principal premise, it isn’t a rule that they must impact the outcome of the story.
It is important to create the sub-plots of a story early on in order to avoid a chaotic approach to the writing process. Listing and briefly describing them in an outline helps the writer to infuse them into the story when needed; hence, avoiding any disorganized storytelling that may arise due to their absence.
Beak Down the Scenes
It can be difficult to perfectly implement the sequencing of scenes in a fictional work if it is written off-hand. With sub-plots running together along with the main plot of a story, keeping track of the scenes and identifying all their exact locations can indeed be a very tedious task. This is why including every scene in the outline is a very valuable practice that helps expedite the writing process.
The scenes should be only listed sequentially so that they can be applied easily in the writing process.
Keep the Outline Short
It is easy to get carried away writing unnecessary epistles when outlining a story; one must, however, remember that the outline isn’t going to be read by readers. Thus, it is paramount the outline is kept as short as possible so that it is able to aptly perform its role.
A story outline can be compared to a map that used by a traveller to navigate a path. It, hence, needs to be concise in order to be very effective.
Ensure the Outline Touches Every Component
Even though an ideal story outline must be short and concise, it should also be well-detailed if it is to provide any value to the writer. A writer must, therefore, make certain that the outline touches all components of the story, including plot device, characterization, and settings. No aspect of the story should be left out of the outline as this may lead to a fictional work that is incoherent and flawed.
Outlining a story is an important practice that every fiction writer should consistently engage in. It doesn’t only help to organize the story, it also plays a critical role in arranging the plot from the first act to the final resolution.