Writers: Outlining Stories Made Easy

Reading time: 2 Minutes

Okay, who am I kidding; outlining can be hard. I am in the middle of outlining a new novel that I already started with a very basic seven step outline, but I now want to expand. In the middle of writing it, I decided to switch genres, which is good for the novel and bad for me.

I found that outlining can be overcomplicated. I analyze too much, so some of my previous outlines got out of control as I spun the ‘what if’ wheel that caused my outline to be longer than the novel. I knew there had to be a better way.

Outlines are great for my nonfiction books, but hard for me when it comes to fiction. So, I had to really simplify it to only a few things. Here is a simple story outline example that I used and am using for my current novel/short story/novella:

  1. Hook – Married couple with conflicts
  2. Plot turn 1 – conflicts escalate
  3. Pinch 1 – Money is an issue
  4. Midpoint – they decide to get more money
  5. Pinch 2 – Greed becomes a factor
  6. Plot Turn 2 – They reach a point of no return
  7. Resolution – Greed wins

I found it best to use a short story outline template in order to write this book. However, like I said, it took its own turn while writing it, so I will need to modify my short story outline into something a little longer. The finished book will be around 250 to 275 pages, which is roughly between 250 and 300 per page.

When it comes to outlining stories, I found that if I apply the “Keep ISimple Stupid” plan, I am a better writer.  Too big of an outline stops me from creating, but with no outline at all, I am all over the place.

Outlining stories is easy if you remember that every story is simply a reaction to an event followed by a conflict followed by a conclusion. You can break out any story into a manageable outline, even newspaper articles by asking yourself: Who, what, when, where, how and sometimes why.  

How to write a quick outline in three steps:

  1. Lay out the key scenes and what they mean to the story. They do not have to be in order.  Many people have done this on index cards or sticky notes.
  2. Then start adding details to each scene.
  3. Move them where you want them.

Once you have the basics, then you can go in and add the details. There is more to outlining than just this, but for some of us, the K.I.S.S. method works best. Hope this helps you write your first outline. If you need more help or want to delve deep into outlining, then K.M. Weiland has books that will help you plot your course. Start with this one:

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