Constructing Story Outlines
For those writers who like to plan their stories, story outlines are a great foundation to ensuring the story moves in the right direction and doesn’t stutter.
Outlines don’t have to be complicated. They can be as simple or as detailed as you want. The most important thing is that you capture the main points of your story so you avoid writer’s block, stumbling blocks, ‘saggy middles’, trouble with plot twists, lack of direction and other writing problems.
Every writer is different in their approach, and they will construct their outlines that best suit them. But whichever way you do it, it will still provide a road map from beginning of the story to the conclusion and it won’t leave you frustrated or stuck.
For an outline to work, there has to be a well thought out, well developed plot from which to suspend the outline. The plot is the important framework around which the story is woven. The plot will tell you what the story is about, whose story it is, why it’s happening, and the likely conclusion.
With a tight plot in place, every outline must list the main characters, so you need to have your protagonist, antagonist and secondary characters in place. Don’t worry about peripheral characters or ‘walk on’ characters. The outline needs only those characters that will affect t the story line.
The Synopsis Style Outline
The story outline is similar to a synopsis in that it summarises what will happen. It introduces the main character and his or her objective and it will tell the reader who the antagonist is and what could stand in the way of the main character’s goal.
Thereafter, important scenes or moments are summarised, detailing the conflict, the obstacles the protagonist might face, the likely plot twists and revelations, including all the important characters involved. It should also provide a few ideas for sub plots and it must detail how the story might end.
The List Outline
Many writers are more comfortable making lists because they find them easier to work with and they often help with formulating ideas.
These can list the important story points, characters, plot points, themes, conflicts, sub plots and an ending...just about anything the writer feels necessary. Simple lists help the writer stay organised and on track, so even if you aren’t really sure where the story will go, simple lists will help with the structure.
The Chapter Outline
For those writers who are ‘plotters’, the chapter outline is one for them. It’s a linear process - it starts with chapter one and briefly outlines who the main character is, what the main goal is, who the opponent is and what is at stake. Then it continues with chapter two and three and so on, summarising what will happen in each chapter to form a chronological story and a solid structure to work from.
Each chapter summery should identify key moments, plot twists, likely sub plots, conflicts, dilemmas and obstacles.
Story Maps/Diagrams Outlines
Some people like to use story maps; their minds work better than, say lists or summaries. A mind/bubble map or sketched diagrams help to collate lots of ideas and bring them together into one place. Some writers use the main character as the main point; others use the plot as the main point from which to add lots of ideas around it and work from there.
Some writers prefer to draw or sketch important scenes and work around them to formulate the story. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to outlining a story.
The thing to remember with your outline is that is not set in stone. The thing about outlines is that we don’t have to follow them religiously. Sometimes we follow it loosely, deviate or change the story, sometimes we get better ideas, but the outlines are there to guide us on the road map to story completion, but moreover, it’s a structure from which to work. Outlines prevent writer’s block, the ‘saggy middle’ syndrome, and all manner of problems because there is always some sort of path to follow.
They don’t have to be strategically plotted, methodical or complicated. Sometimes keeping it simple works best. What they do is provide a route from beginning to end, they provide structure and you’ll find they the usual stumbles, stutters and blocks vanish for good.
Next week: Complex Characterisation