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Last updated on Dec 19, 2022
How to Outline a Story: 7 Steps to Creating Your Book Outline
A book outline is a template that lays out the structure of your story. It can function as a roadmap that tells you where to go next and includes information about your plot, characters, themes, and conflicts.
There are dozens of different ways to create an outline — and no single correct method. Whether you prefer using a program like the Reedsy Book Editor or a good old-fashioned pen and paper, getting the outline out of your head is the only thing that matters. This post will help you take your initial ideas and create an outline that will set you to work. How to outline a story:
1. Solidify the premise of your story
2. create your core cast of characters, 3. develop your setting, 4. choose your outline template, 5. plan out your individual scenes, 6. create your outline, 7. reread your work and troubleshoot any issues.
Working on a nonfiction book? Check out our post about creating a nonfiction outline !
Before you can write a compelling plot, you need a good premise. Think of this process as building a house. This is the first stone that will make up the foundation of your novel — and you want it to be sturdy.
In a nutshell, the premise is your book’s central facts and the answer you will have to give when editors ask about your story. If all you’ve got is a sense of the themes you want to explore (e.g., grief, trauma, coming-of-age), it’s best to start by grounding those themes in concrete details. Take a step back and ask yourself another important question: Why do I want to tell this story?
Then work your way through the 5W (and H) questions to flesh out these core facts:
- W ho are your main characters?
- W hat are their goals?
- W here is the story set?
- W hen does your story take place?
- W hy is this story important, or alternatively, why is this story happening?
- H ow will all of this happen?
You’ll expand the answers to some of these questions further in the outline, but keeping each point in mind throughout will allow you to create a well-rounded story.
When you’re done, you should be able to complete this sentence:
[Character] must [do something] to [story goal] or else [reason why the audience should care] ?
Essentially, this will help you understand who your protagonist is — how they got to this point in life, how they think, their goals and desires.
Bear in mind that literary fiction , which is often voice- rather than plot-driven, may not fully fit this sentence — but it’s still worth trying to establish as many of these central pillars as possible. Ultimately, your outline will give you a path you can follow as you draft, so you don’t get lost.
One good place to start is considering their motives. Ask yourself what your protagonist's goal is and what drives them to achieve it. For example, in The Hunger Games , Katniss is driven by her desire to protect her sister and create a fair and peaceful world.
Once you know who your characters are, you can start considering what they will do in the story. This is when you start thinking about how each character interacts with the world and plot and the characters around them. Get outside your protagonist’s head and look into their relational dynamics.
The following questions will help you flesh out your characters even more:
- What are the stakes involved for the characters throughout the story?
- How will each character play off one other?
- How will they disrupt each other?
Another way you can do this is by creating “What if” scenarios and considering how your character will react to them. These don’t have to be things that happen in the plot but a way of understanding how someone will react in certain situations. For example, you can learn more about your character by asking, “What would happen if they were faced with their greatest fear?”
To help you develop your characters and keep track of their unique traits, download and print our free character profile template below
Reedsy’s Character Profile Template
A story is only as strong as its characters. Fill this out to develop yours.
Setting is its own character in some ways, adding just as much personality and intrigue to the plot as anyone else. It can help set the tone, bolster the theme, and in general, create a more realistic reading experience, even if your story takes place in a galaxy far, far away .
In an outline, your setting should focus on the big picture. You might want to consider what kinds of political or social dynamics are at play and how they affect your characters and the progression of your story. Essentially, ask how your setting affects the plot and keep that in mind as you build your plan. Detail isn’t important at this stage, so don’t make the mistake of spending too much time on worldbuilding and never making it to the next step (fantasy authors, we’re looking at you).
Some questions you can ask yourself as you develop the setting are:
- What is unique about your setting?
- What are the larger social, political, and cultural forces that affect the world?
- How does the setting connect to your overall premise?
- How do your characters relate to the setting?
You can learn more about worldbuilding and its intricacies by checking out our extensive worldbuilding guide or downloading our free worldbuilding template below!
The Ultimate Worldbuilding Template
130 questions to help create a world readers want to visit again and again.
✋ Stop and evaluate!
- Do you have a strong premise you believe in?
- Do you have your cast of characters (and an idea of how they will play off each other in the story)?
- Do you have an idea for a setting that interacts well with the plot and characters?
If you answered yes to all of the above, you're ready to move on to the next step.
Pro-tip: if you'd like to skip creating the outline yourself, we recommend using the pre-made templates in the free Reedsy Book Editor! Simply create your account with one click below and start creating the building blocks of your story — right away.
FREE OUTLINING APP
The Reedsy Book Editor
Use the Boards feature to plan, organize, or research anything.
1. The Hero’s Journey
Based on Joseph Campbell’s monomyth theory , this structure has 12 stages that an author can follow to take their character on a journey. It works incredibly well for writers who want more plotting guidance than you would get from the three-act structure and who want to zero in on the story of a singular character.
Plus: Works well across mediums and genres, can use it to subvert the audience’s expectations
Minus: It can quickly fall into cliches if you’re not careful, for certain storytellers, it can be limiting
Free Download: Hero's Journey Template
Effortlessly plot your story with our customizable template. Enter your email, and we'll send it to you right away.
2. Three-Act Structure
The three-act structure is exactly what it sounds like: outlining your novel in three acts, much like a play, beginning with an inciting incident, then following with a midpoint, and finally, a climax. Each part is subdivided into three beats, adding up to nine in total. This structure’s broad strokes are helpful for any kind of author, whether you’re unsure where you’re going or already know your entire plot.
Plus: Ensures each scene starts and ends with a clear purpose
Minus: Doesn’t offer guidance on how to move your story forward
Free Download: Three-Act Structure Template
3. dan harmon’s story circle .
This eight stage story cycle was developed by Dan Harmon, the co-creator of Rick and Morty , and follows a character as they pursue a goal outside their normal world. The Story Circle is great for authors writing a character-focused story.
Plus: Suitable for any genre and medium, less complex than the hero’s journey
Minus: Not as structured as other methods, not well suited for plot-focused stories
4. Save the Cat
Perhaps the most detailed of the story structures we cover, Save the Cat is a 15-step beat sheet developed by screenwriter Blake Snyder. It takes moments that are common to most stories and puts them in an ordered list that also tells you at what point of the story (or page of the screenplay) it should happen. This format is for you if you’re looking for extra guidance when crafting your story.
Pros: Balance is built directly into the story structure, creates a story people will instantly recognize
Cons: Some authors might find this format too restrictive
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Not sure which structure to use? Take our quiz to help determine which best fits your story and style!
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Take our one minute quiz to find out.
After choosing your structure, it’s time to get down into the nitty gritty details and start planning scenes.
While scene and structure are connected, they aren’t the same thing. Story structure deals with the big picture — think of it as the architect’s plan. And the scenes are the individual rooms within the plan, each with its own purpose.
So how do you plan out your scenes? There’s no method to the madness, but if you’re not sure where to start, here are a few different techniques. Pick the one that best suits you.
The “tent pole” method
Here, you sketch out key scenes and sequences first — the “tent poles” that prop the novel up — and build the rest of the book from there. To get started, brainstorm scenes that will be the centerpieces of your plot, which may include anything from major turning points to the climax of the entire book. For pantsers, writers who find that their instincts resist too meticulous outlining, this may be the point where you stop and allow the story to unfold naturally, as you type it out.
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The chronological method
If you’re more of a straight thinker, this will be the obvious way to break down the scenes of your book: start from the beginning and proceed linearly. Be sure to preserve your narrative arc as you go to give your story purpose and direction.
The Snowflake method
The Snowflake Method encourages you to start thinking about your scenes from a granular point of view — and then build up from there. To learn more, this post goes in-depth into the benefits of this particular kind of outline.
Don’t overthink it at this point — jotting down quick notes as your scenes come to you will do.
At every point during the scene creation phase, go back to your “foundation” and ask yourself:
- How will your scenes advance and build upon your premise?
- How will a scene reveal your characters? How will it further the character development?
- How do your scenes fit into your narrative arc?
Next up, let’s flesh out these light scene sketches.
It’s time to roll up your sleeves and start putting the pieces of your novel outline together.
Pick the variables that you want your story outline to track throughout your story. The outline is not final, so you can always change and swap the elements in each scene as you write your story. So long as you keep the outline updated, you can always see your story's big picture.
- Scene# : the order of the scene in your outline
- Date: where the scene falls in the context of your story
- Scene Description: a brief sentence that states the gist of the scene (i.e. COURTING THE PRINCE, BATTLE OF THE FOUR ARMIES, or THE FIRST MEETING)
- Scene Summary: an expanded description of the scene
- POV Character: which character's perspective tells the story
- Character: the character involved in the scene
- Setting: where the scene takes place
- Theme: the themes present in the scene
- Subplots: the subplots present in the scene
Prioritize your story outline’s variables based on what you think is key to your storytelling. If you’re writing a story with a huge cast of characters, you may want to include a column that tells you where each character is in every scene. If you’re juggling a lot of subplots and character arcs, use your novel outline to trace that.
You can use notecards, post-its, or spreadsheets to make your outline: whatever works best for you and your story. No matter what medium you choose, make sure to back it up digitally, keep multiple copies, or take a photo of any work you do on paper so it’s easier to work on the go. You’re prepared for any unforeseen disasters.
To give you some inspiration, we created a few novel outline templates, so you can download them and alter them however you need!
- Book Outline Template #1 : A basic story outline that includes all of the common variables
- Book Outline Template #2 : A plot-oriented outline that tracks each scene’s relationship with your plots and subplots (inspired by J.K. Rowling’s novel outline)
- Book Outline Template #3 : A simple scene list
The great thing about outlines is that they can make any glaring plot issues apparent, so it’s helpful to pause before you start writing and evaluate your outline one more time.
To approach your outline with fresh eyes, take a break and relax for a few days before returning with a highlighter and an appetite for ruthlessness. Highlight any areas where:
- An idea is left hanging in a scene
- Two scenes need a bridge
- A scene is redundant or gratuitous
- A wild plot hole appears
If you find that you’re struggling before you’re even done planning, there might be larger issues with the overall story that you’ll want to look into. The Reedsy marketplace has dozens of editors that will be able to help with this later, but it’s good to catch any inconsistencies or pacing issues before you put pen to paper. A few potential problems (and solutions) are listed below.
Your story doesn’t really go anywhere
The problem here may be a weak premise. Consider going back and perfecting it to a T. What story question will compel readers to flip the pages? (For instance: Is Katniss going to survive the Hunger Games? )
Get our Book Development Template
Use this template to go from a vague idea to a solid plan for a first draft.
Your pacing is uneven throughout the novel outline
Mapping your story directly onto the structure of a story arc is one way to fix awkward scene placement and order. Here’s a free 10-part course on the 3-Act Story Structure if you want to learn more about it.
You don’t know what should come next
Try to return to your characters to drive the plot. What would they do next if this happened? Where would that then take the story? If this is a persistent problem, it’ll probably be worth revisiting the character development phase and honing your understanding of your characters. Here's a free course on character development if you'd like to dive into it.
No matter what kind of story you’re writing, an outline can help you get organized and find a path forward. But it’s important to remember that an outline is just a guide you build for yourself. You don’t have to rigidly adhere to it if it’s not working or you suddenly have a new idea. Just take it as an opportunity to explore and discover before jumping straight into your book .
Good luck and happy writing!
Bhakti Mahambre says:
12/06/2018 – 08:19
An informative article along with useful story development aids, I heartily thank Reedsy for their efforts to put this together! #mewriting
08/05/2019 – 12:28
Whew so much to read on here I'm at the Premise right now and didn't even have to look at the links to finish it. :D I must be getting somewhere then! (Trying to fix a mostly written book that has a few hick ups. [Merryn] must [steal the book of P. with the trapped god] to [bring it back to the elder adapts back home in Dentree.] or else [Her and everyone else will disappear as the crazed and corrupted god will restart the world.]
kwesi Baah says:
08/02/2020 – 04:30
Reedsy is and I think will be the best thing that has happened to my writing career . thank you so much in so many ways .........i Love Reedsy
Comments are currently closed.
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Your Step-By-Step Guide To Writing A Story Outline
Writing a whole novel can seem like such a daunting task.
But it’s far easier to complete a novel if you break it down.
Writing a book outline is a really helpful way to break your story down into more manageable parts and to give you a clear guide on where your story is going and what to write next.
Let’s look at how to write a story outline, and we’ll give you some story outline examples to help you get started.
What Is a Story Outline?
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A novel outline is like a roadmap for your book. Just as you wouldn’t set off on a long journey to an unfamiliar destination without a map, writing a book outline can help you get from setting off from your home to reaching your destination.
Your novel outline is basically the skeleton of your story, including the structure, main plot points, and more, depending on how detailed you want to make it.
However, it’s not supposed to be a rigid, stifling, or limited document you’re not allowed to deviate from.
It’s supposed to be a helpful, loose guide that still leaves room for your imagination.
Don’t worry if you don’t already know everything about your story. You can still create a good outline and fill in the gaps as you go.
It’s also possible that however good your outline is, your characters will turn up and throw it out the window.
If that happens, go with it. It’s your characters that should drive the story. You can always tweak and adjust your outline as you get further into your story.
Things to ask yourself when you’re creating your outline:
- Who are your main characters ?
- Where are they when the story starts?
- What is your story’s setting?
- What is the inciting incident?
- How will your characters change over the story?
- What do your characters want?
- What is stopping your characters from getting what they want? The villain? Something internal? A combination?
- What are the stakes for your main characters?
- What is your theme?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, or somewhere in between. An outline can still help you write your story.
Plotters may want to get really detailed and plot out each individual scene and pantsers can still write a helpful outline but leave more to be decided as they write.
An outline can be anything from a simple list of handwritten plot points on a page to a whole wall of sticky notes or index cards.
Some people prefer the visual format of a mind map, some would rather use writing software, like Scrivener, and yet others work best with a typed, ordered list of scenes.
Why It’s Important to Create an Outline for a Story
It’s not compulsory to create an outline for your book.
You don’t have to if doing so doesn’t work for you, but if you can make it work, there are a lot of advantages to writing a book outline before you start writing your story:
With so many books out every month, it can be hard to stand out. One of the best ways to get attention is to use rapid release for your stories.
But one thing that tends to slow people down when writing is that they don’t know what happens next, and they have to spend time thinking about it before they can crack on with the story.
Write a novel outline, on the other hand, and you can speed away with your story because you’ve already worked out the whole thing from start to finish.
You can then release your stories more rapidly and keep your readers happy.
Not only can you write quicker, but it’s also easier to write and to ensure you don’t miss anything that needs to be there if you already have an outline of at least the story’s main points.
Hands up if you’ve ever started writing a novel and then realized that either you have no idea what happens in the middle at all or that what you’ve got just isn’t enough to keep the story flowing to the end.
That’s the saggy middle, and it’s not something you want. Use your outline to plan your middle and avoid the dreaded sag.
With a well-planned outline, you have a clear path from start to finish, and it’s easier to stay on track when you’re writing and ensure you’re still heading to the big finish you planned.
In most stories, the main characters grow and change over the course of the story. You can use your outline to map these changes out and then write your story without losing any of those changes.No more writer’s block.
Kick writer’s block into touch with a clear outline that you can easily follow to see what to write next and what comes after that.
That doesn’t mean you have to write in order if you don’t want to, but it should mean that you aren’t left staring at a blank page with no idea what to do next.
A great outline can save you a lot of time on editing. You might find that once you’ve written your story, there isn’t as much to change to make sure your story flows well and that you don’t have to edit too much in terms of the story structure.
You might also save yourself some money here because there may be less for your developmental editor to do.
9 Ways to Write a Story Outline: Your Step-by-Step Guide
At the end of this post, we’ll share some story outline examples where you’ll discover there are as many ways to outline your story as there are writers.
But that’s a very good thing. It means that if you want to outline your stories, you can find a way that works for you.
It might take some trial and error on your part, but you will come up with a way of outlining that helps you plan your novel and keep track of all the parts of your plot.
Your premise is the basic idea for your story. What happens and who does it happen to? Remember those questions we gave you in our section, What is a Story Outline? This is where you need them.
Start asking yourself about your story, who your main characters are, and what happens to them.
Look at the inciting incident that sets your main characters off on the path of following the story through. What are the obstacles along the way?
Who is the villain, and what are they up to? How will they try to stop your main characters from achieving their goal?
What is your story about? What is your theme? What tropes will you need to include to fit the genre?
Take some time to answer these questions and think things through, then write yourself a paragraph that summarizes your novel.
We’ve already mentioned the inciting incident – the event that takes place that propels your characters into taking action and doesn’t give them any choice in the matter.
In this step, think about the main elements of your story.
- What happens at the beginning when you introduce your main character? Where does your character start?
- What is the mid-point or mirror moment?
- What happens at the climax of the story?
- How does your story end?
Once you have these major points nailed, you are a good way toward having your outline done, and you have the major points to hand your scenes on.
You can’t finish your outline without knowing your characters really well. Your story should be character-driven, and action and dialogue should come about because you know what your characters would do next and how they would react to each challenge or occurrence in your story.
Use character sheets if it helps, and write down their basic information, such as physical description, any marks, scars, tattoos, eye color, hair color, and more.
If you’re very visual, try to find a photograph of an actor that would play your character in the movie of the book. That can help solidify your character in your mind and let you see and hear them.
Look at your story skeleton from step two and think about how your characters will react to these major points. You may well start coming up with scenes and dialogue at this point, which is great! Jot those down too.
Know how your characters change and grow over the course of the story. Most characters do develop and change in novels. There are very few characters that stay the same.
Get to know your settings as well as you do your characters. You want to be able to describe things in detail for your readers and bring them into the story.
In some cases, some settings may also contribute to the story and be either a part of the solution or a part of the problem.
If you’re familiar with the story of Odysseus or Jason and the Argonauts, for example, you’ll well remember the journey across the sea when they faced Scylla (clashing rocks) and Charybdis (the whirlpool), in a very narrow strait of water.
Don’t just think about what your settings look like. Add more description and help place the reader firmly in the story by thinking about what your settings feel like, smell like, and sound like.
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Some writers only discover the theme of their stories as they write. If that’s you, don’t worry. You can still write an outline and then add in the theme later once you’ve discovered what it is. Just leave this bit blank for now.
If you’d rather decide on your theme before you start to write, or even better, if you already know what it is, write it down here.
It’s good to keep the themes of your story in mind both as you write your outline and as you write your story. You can then ensure that your story fits with your theme and what you want to say.
We’ve shown you some story-outlining examples above, but those are just some of the ways you could outline your story.
You could choose a specific outlining method, such as the Snowflake Method, follow the three-act structure, or you could create an outlining method that’s all your own just because that’s what works best for you.
Start to bring everything together here from the above steps. Go back to step two and start to add other major plot points, scenes, notes, and more to your list of the major plot elements.
Keep expanding your outline and adding in more details, including your character arcs, beats, and anything else you find helpful until you’re at a point where you think you’re done, and you’re ready to start writing.
While plotters may want to get into all the details in their outline, pantsers are more likely to want quite a light outline that they can then use to guide them as they discover the story as they write.
Give it a day or two, and then read back over your outline. Make sure every plot point and scene leads naturally up to the major plot elements and that the story flows.
See if there are any gaps and fill them.
Add in any other notes, scene ideas, and bits of dialogue that come up as you do this.
You’ve done it. Your outline is complete, and it’s now time to put it to use and write.
Use your outline as much or as little as you want as you write. Don’t forget that your story follows naturally from who your characters are and what they would naturally do under given circumstances.
If you find that your characters are going in a different direction or that you get better ideas as you write, then go with them. If things don’t work out, you can always look back at your original outline for help.
Story Outline Methods and Examples
Honestly, there really isn’t one best way to outline your novel. There’s only the best one that works for you. Here are just some story outline examples to show you how you could outline your story.
Try different ones to see which one you prefer, or try adapting the parts that work for you from different methods.
This method was invented by Randy Ingermanson. He was a software architect, and when it came to writing novels, he found himself using the same method he used to design software to write his novels.
He wrote this method up to share with other writers, and many writers find this a helpful way to outline.
You start by writing a single-sentence summary of your novel. This should be a compelling hook to draw your readers in. Get it right, and you can also use it in your marketing copy.
Next, you expand the sentence to a paragraph, which includes the start of the story, the major points, and the end of your story. You now have a short overview of your novel.
Next, add a one-page in-depth summary of each main character. Then go back to your paragraph summary and expand every sentence in that summary into another paragraph.
Keep expanding your novel outline until you have a full, highly-detailed outline and character sketches of your major characters.
You can read Randy’s full description of the Snowflake Method on his website .
Save the Cat was originally a method for writing screenplays by Blake Snyder, a Hollywood screenwriter. It is equally effective for writing novels.
It’s called Save the Cat because so many novels have that moment where the main character does something to make the reader feel for them and root for them, for example, like saving a cat from a tree.
With Save the Cat, you follow a beat sheet, which breaks down the three-act structure, and simply fill in a couple of sentences for each beat to describe what you’ll need to know or what happens in each beat.
This then gives you a good overview of your novel and what has to happen at each point.
You can read more and download beat sheet examples at the Save the Cat website .
This method is commonly used for thrillers where you want the reader to feel right in the middle of the action from the get-go.
The first two-thirds of a story plotted with this method are known as “Rising Action.” The next point in the story is the “Climax,” and then what follows is known as “Falling Action.” It’s easy to see how thrillers fit this method particularly well.
Most thrillers start off at break-neck speed and take the reader through fast-paced action that’s all heading in the direction of the climax of the story.
Then, once the climax is reached, the story continues into falling action where explanations are given, the bad guys get their just desserts, and any romance is wrapped up nicely.
The pattern of the Fichtean curve tends to look like this:
Crisis 1, Crisis 2, Crisis 3, Climax, Falling Action.
Think about your story and see how you can plan all the action to fit this format.
This method is exactly what it sounds like. Start at the end and then work your way back to the beginning to see how you’ll get to that ending.
This method can be particularly helpful for murder mysteries and thrillers. You can work backward from “who dunnit” and why, working out the steps they took to commit the crime.
As you go, you can also fill in how the detective or hero/heroine of the story works it out. It’s then much easier to go through and add twists to the plot and plant clues and red herrings for your readers to follow.
When it comes to outlining, there are so many different ways to approach it. Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, an outline can make a big difference when writing your story.
It can help you keep track of everything that needs to happen and allow you to write faster.
However, when choosing the best way to outline your story, don’t think you have to follow what anyone else does. Everyone is different, so outline in the way that makes the most sense to you.
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Create a visual outline to keep your story on track
Follow this step-by-step guide to learn the modern process of outlining your story in Milanote, a free tool used by top creatives.
How to write a story outline in 6 easy steps
A novel outline is often described as a roadmap or blueprint for your story. It helps you see the big picture and plan the sequence of scenes, characters and ideas that will become your novel. It's a simple, flexible technique to help all types of writers stay organized.
There are many ways to outline your story, from the Three Act Structure to the Hero's Journey but this method is perfect for 'visual' writers—those who prefer to see the big picture as a sequence of events. Think of it as the modern, digital equivalent to the corkboard or wall of sticky notes, but much easier to manage. If you're keen to start outlining right away, grab the free Story Outline Template !
In this guide, you'll learn the modern approach to outlining a novel using Milanote. Remember, the creative process is non-linear, so you may find yourself moving back and forth between the steps as you go.
1. First, map out the key scenes
Start by laying out the major scenes or events you know so far. These might be the key turning points, locations, or plot twists. Don't worry too much about the order or details yet, just get the main parts out of your head. This is a quick flexible way to brainstorm the centerpieces of your story.
Create a new board for your outline.
Create a new board
Drag a board out from the toolbar. Give it a name, then double click to open it.
Add a Column for each key scene.
Drag a column onto your board
Name it, then drag any relevant notes or images into your column
2. Add high-level details
Next, add a sentence or a short paragraph for each scene. There are no rules for how much detail to add, do what works best for you. Think about what's being communicated in this scene, the location, and the characters involved. This will help you consider where characters are introduced and how this scene connects with the next one.
Add a note to describe the plot points.
Drag a note card onto your board
Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left-hand toolbar.
3. Get the sequence right
Seeing your story at this level lets you make connections between themes and concepts you might otherwise miss if you went straight into writing. Re-read your outline so far. Look for scenes that feel out of place. Perhaps your transitions need some tweaking or a character appears without a proper introduction. Highlight areas that need more work and move scenes or plot points around to get the sequence just right.
Drag plot points around to get the sequence right.
4. Add imagery or video
While imagery probably won't make an appearance in your novel, this is a great technique for kickstarting new ideas. Experiment by adding images or movie clips that relate to your scenes. If you're the type of writer who creates moodboards, now's the time to see if you've already got imagery that could help evoke the feeling you're trying to capture. Try saving images from Google Images , Pinterest , or Milanote's built-in image library.
Use the built-in image library.
Use the built-in image library
Search over 500,000 beautiful photos powered by Unsplash then drag images straight onto your board.
Embed Youtube videos or audio in a board.
Embed Youtube videos or audio tracks in a board
Copy the share link from Youtube, Vimeo, Soundcloud or many other services. Drag a link card onto your board, paste your link and press enter.
5. Ask for feedback
With any creative technique or project, it’s important to be open to constructive criticism. Now that the first version of your outline is done it's time to ask for specific feedback on the sequence, plot points, and character development. Make sure you stay open to suggestions and improvements and try not to take criticism personally.
If you’re not sure how to deal with the feedback you get, writer Neil Gaiman has some insight: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
Invite a writing partner or editor to provide feedback.
Invite editors to your board
Open the "Editors" menu from the title bar of your board. Add email addresses of the people you'd like to collaborate with—they'll receive an invitation via email.
Start a comment thread.
Start a comment thread
Drag out a comment from the toolbar on the left and place it on your board. Other editors can reply to your comment.
Mention others to get their attention.
Mention teammates to get their attention
Type '@' in any text field to mention someone who has access to your board. They'll receive a notification and be able to respond to your comment.
6. Start a rough draft
Now you have a solid outline for your story and you've gathered constructive feedback, you can start sketching out the details in a draft. Your outline and your drafts are perfect companions. Jump between them as your need, switching ensures your story works at the high level and in the details.
Drag a Document card onto your board and start typing
Now that you've finished a draft outline, you can start writing, confident that your story has a strong foundation. If you're starting a new novel right now, use the free outline template below to start mapping it out or read our full guide on how to plan a novel .
Start outlining your next masterpiece
Get started for free with one of Milanote's beautiful outline templates.
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Writing Advice & Epic Fiction
The 7 Best Ways to Outline Your Novel (with Templates)
There is no “right way” to outline your novel. Every writer has their own outlining method. In some cases, writers will use a different outline process for each novel.
But if you understand all the outlining methods available to you, you can take the pieces you like and craft your own process. I’m about to you the 7 best outline strategies that yield novels your readers will love. Read this, and you will know exactly how to outline for your next novel.
Should You Outline Your Novel?
Yes, because a good outline will keep your story tight and focused.
If your stories don’t make an emotional impact…
Or if you have a trail of half-written novels in your wake… outlining will help you finally achieve your writing potential.
Best of all, outlines boost your writing momentum. A good outline drives your novel to the most climactic moment of your story with that special kind of “let’s do this” energy.
Good Outlines Are Predictions, Not Maps
Outlines can be wrong. Never be afraid to veer off the path if you find a more interesting route to the end of your story.
Discovery is the joy of writing. As you learn about your characters and your world, you may discover that your outline was wrong, and that’s okay. Revise your outline, and keep exploring.
Remember: you’re the writer. You’re in charge.
The 7 Best Ways to Outline Your Novel
These are the best outlining strategies you need to know before you start outlining your next story:
- The 1-Page Outline for quick, easy outlining.
- The Three C’s Outline for writers who don’t want to overplan.
- The Snowflake Method for turning an idea into a complete novel.
- The 3-Act Structure for stories designed to have a climactic ending.
- The 4-Act Structure , a variation on the 3-act structure.
- The Hero’s Journey for novels that are focused on developing heroes.
- The Beat Map Outline for novels built around the most emotionally-charged moments.
Let’s hop into our first example…
1. The One-Page Outline
If you have never outlined before… TRY THIS.
The one-page outline is fast and easy to update as you write. It keeps your story focused on what matters most: the emotions that lead to a big, climactic finish. No distractions.
It also takes less than five minutes to create.
Want to follow along? Get the free “One-Page Outline” template here .
How to Outline Your Novel in One Page
- Write Down Your Main Character’s Destiny
I’ll use The Hobbit as my example here:
Bilbo, a small, unlikely creature who lives in a hole in the ground, will get swept up in a grand quest to slay a dragon.
- Motivate Your Characters with Conflict
All characters need powerful motivations , because action makes a story move forward. But those actions should come from difficult choices and a strong sense of conflict.
Bilbo is caught between his respectable nature as a hobbit and his secret desire for adventure. He wants to go with the Dwarves, but rare are the Hobbits who leave the safety of home.
- Map the Most Important Moments
Write a bullet point for each major plot point that raises the stakes, or changes the course of the story.
The idea is to write out a dramatic arc that ascends towards a single, climactic moment.
- After traveling a while with the Dwarves, and almost getting eaten by Trolls and kidnapped by goblins, Bilbo gets separated from the group. Under the goblin caves, he steals a ring of magical power from a dangerous under-dweller. This gives Bilbo a unique power to confront the Dragon alone.
- After regrouping, Bilbo and the Dwarves get attacked by spiders and captured by Elves in the forest. This sets up the real conflict of the story: the Dwarves are not perfectly innocent in the destruction of their old home.
- The Dwarves accidentally awaken the Dragon too early, causing it to rampage and destroy most of the nearby human town. In the end, the humans end up slaying the Dragon. This further develops the central conflict of Dwarves vs. Everyone Else.
- The Elves and the Humans march on the Lonely Mountain to claim their share of the Treasure. But the Dwarves refuse, almost igniting an all-out war between Men, Dwarves, and Elves.
- But something else is coming: a dark horde of orcs and goblins and evil beasts are on their way to claim the mountain.
4. Tie the Beginning and End Together
Now that you know where your story is headed… it’s time to find out where it starts and where it ends.
We’re going to craft your beginning and ending at the same time, so we can guarantee a satisfying conclusion.
Add a single sentence at the top of your outline that explains where the story begins…
Start: Bilbo is winding down for the evening in his quiet Hobbit hole when an old Wizard knocks on his door and calls him to a grand adventure.
Last, add one final sentence about how your story hits its crescendo. You do not need to know exactly how the story ends, only what the final conflict is about.
Crescendo: Bilbo, once a peace-loving Hobbit, must somehow salvage the broken truce between the good races before the armies of evil arrive.
Notice how the beginning and end tie into each other? We’ll get more into this when we talk about the Hero’s Journey, but suffice it to say this creates, not a random series of events, but a satisfying, complete story.
The one-page outline is the simplest strategy and my personal favorite. I keep one on hand every time I start a novel. It’s an integral part of my NaNoWriMo preparation strategy , too.
In case you missed it, you can download the free One-Page Outline template here . Try it out on your next outline, and let me know how it goes.
2. The “Three C’s” Outline
This is your fastest outlining strategy . It’s perfect for creating intense, rapid-fire stories.
I first heard it from Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code . In his MasterClass course , he talks about the “Three C’s” that every outline should include:
- Contract: What is the main promise of your story? What answers will your readers get by the end of the story?
- Crucible: What are the stakes for your heroes, and how do those stakes grow?
- Clock: How much time is left?
Dan starts his outlines with a character who is destined to change. For example, in The Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon is destined to transform from a know-it-all lecturer to a man of action.
Then, he fills in the outline by answering his three C’s.
But the true secret to his addicting storytelling is “braiding.”
First, you start with multiple storylines. One focuses on the hero, another on the villain, and another is a red-herring or a storyline just for a side-character.
Each storyline has a separate beginning. You slowly braid them together until they all twine together in a final, climactic moment.
If you want to learn how to do this, I strongly recommend you try Dan Brown’s MasterClass course . These are so easy to watch and rich with valuable writing advice.
3. How to Outline with the Snowflake Method
The Snowflake Method is the best way to expand your unconnected ideas into a complete novel.
It’s the perfect blend between outlining and discovery. If you know what kind of story you want to tell… but you don’t know the specifics yet, try this method.
Here’s How the Snowflake Method Works:
- Start with a single idea that sums up the core conflict of your story:
Harry Potter, a half-abused orphan, must attend a Wizarding school and stop the man who killed his parents.
- Create your main characters, your setting, and 3-5 of the most important plot points.
- Harry Potter makes a discovery that even his harsh caretakers can’t hide: he is actually a wizard
- Harry Potter sets off to Wizarding School where he meets his two best friends (Ron and Hermione) and some new enemies, including the hateful Professor Snape
- Harry and his newfound friends will uncover a dark plot to steal the Philosopher’s Stone and give it to the Dark Lord who orphaned Harry – a plot which only they can stop.
- Expand your descriptions until you have 2-5 pages of character ideas, plot points, and important scenes.
The snowflake method starts with a few major ideas and builds to an intricate, complete story concept. I find it extremely helpful for brainstorming new novel ideas.
You can also grab an in-depth Snowflake Outline template here .
4. The Three-Act Outline
The three-act structure is designed to set up and answer a single dramatic question.
It’s perfect for screenwriting and for new authors because it provides simple, rigid guidelines.
For this one, I’ll use The Shawshank Redemption as an example. Spoilers, ahoy.
Act 1 – Set Up the Question
- Introduce the Character & the World
Andy Dufresne, a mild-mannered banker, is convicted of murder, and sentenced to two life sentences in prison.
The dramatic question is not “did he do it?”
Instead, we’re focused on, “What happens to a man who believes he has been wrongly convicted?”
- Inciting incident
Andy Dufresne is sitting outside his house in his car, drinking and holding a gun. To the viewer, it seems obvious that Andy, after finding his wife has been cheating on him, had an intent to kill.
- Turning Point
Andy is sent to Shawshank Prison, a place where everyone is guilty… including the warden. After this, everything is different.
Act 2 – Wrestle with the Question
Character faces the dramatic question —> Midpoint catalyst —> Point of no return
- Facing the Dramatic Question
At first, prison is hard for a man as soft as Andy. But over the years, he perseveres because he believes he is innocent. He even starts to create a cadre of friends and unlikely allies, including the Warden himself.
- Midpoint Catalyst
Andy finally gets proof that he is innocent… but the Warden, who has been using Andy to launder money, refuses to let Andy pursue his legal claims. The innocent man is firmly trapped, there is no escape.
- Point of No Return
Andy refuses to give up hope until the Warden kills Andy’s friend – and the only other person who knows about Andy’s innocence. With no choice, Andy begins to accelerate his plans to escape.
Think of this as the bridge to the climax.
Act 3 – Resolve the Question
- Final Buildup
This is your chance to increase the momentum to breakneck speeds.
In the Shawshank Redemption, this culminates in Andy acting in increasingly strange ways, including blasting illegal opera music for all the inmates to hear, and asking his friend Red to get him a rope.
As the viewer, we are lead to believe Andy is about to kill himself. This appears to finally answer our question: when an innocent man is considered guilty, surely he must break down.
But then, we hit the climax…
The morning after Andy asks for the rope, the Guards can’t find Andy in his cell. The whole prison gets turned upside down, and dogs are brought in to chase Andy down.
Where could he have gone?
- Bridge to the Future
In a long reveal, we discover that Andy never gave up hope. He knew he would have to fight for his innocence, and so he spent the last decades digging an escape tunnel.
If you’ve seen the movie or read the book (both are incredible!), you’ll know that Andy also leaves a special gift for his friend Red – a bridge to their future lives.
This finally answers our dramatic question: when you know you are innocent, never stop fighting.
Key Point: t he Three-act Structure Thrives on Change
At the end of each act, and at the midpoint, something happens which changes the course of the story. This generates an incredible amount of momentum that steamrolls the story into the climax.
The Three-Act structure is perfect for new writers and for writers who prefer to outline only the most important parts of their story.
It leaves plenty of room for creativity, and it forces the writer to consider how their characters will adapt to sudden, dramatic changes.
Here’s a fantastic 3-Act Novel Template from author Abbie Emmons. Notice how many different ways there are to cut up the three acts? No matter which outline strategy you choose, it will always be unique to your novel.
5. The 4-Act Structure
Some writers disagree with the 3-act structure. They argue that the Midpoint is actually the split between Act 3 and Act 4.
Instead of one dramatic question, they believe that each act is it’s own story – building up to the final act and resolution. Here’s a fantastic video that explains the concept:
The 4-act structure can be outlined like this:
- Act 1: Character’s current world is interrupted
- Act 2: Character develops a new strategy to deal with the interruption
- Act 3: Character’s strategy fails. Miserably.
- Act 4: Character develops a better strategy that works… or, if you’re writing a tragedy, that makes everything irrevocably worse.
If you’ve already attempted the 3-act structure and found it lacking, try out the 4-act structure.
It’s more specific and I love how the 4-act structure focuses on plotting out smaller objectives and questions that build towards the climax.
6. How to Outline Using the Hero’s Journey
One of my writing professors believed there were only two types of stories:
- A character comes to town
- A character goes on a quest
If you believe this theory, then the Hero’s Journey perfectly outlines all quests. The Hero’s Journey is essentially an expanded version of the 3-act Structure.
There are very specific beats you’re supposed to hit… but again, outlining is a prediction, not GPS directions.
Here’s how it works :
- Hero has a problem with the current world
- Hero is called to action and must enter a new world
- Hero returns to the world, having gained the power to overcome the original problem
If you’re trying to learn how to write better heroes …
…try the Hero’s Journey. Despite all it’s prescriptions, it’s still surprisingly flexible.
Every fantasy or science fiction writer should outline with the Hero’s Journey at least once. You will find yourself using the landmarks in this monomyth for the rest of your writing life.
7. How to Create a Beat Map Outline for Your Story
There’s an old trick to outlining called “beat mapping.”
You write a list of the main emotional “beats” you want in your story. Then, you arrange them into an ever-increasing arc of rising emotions.
The power behind beat mapping is that emotional momentum. Start with simple beats, add layers of events that create conflict, and watch your story rise to a powerful, emotional climax.
What is a “beat?” A beat is an emotional event that changes the course of the story. For example:
- A boy finds a magic sword in a stone
- The lead detective is found dead in the street
- Two star-crossed lovers realize they were meant for each other (finally!)
The hard part is figuring out how granular you want to get with your beats. In a romance novel, the first kiss is probably an extremely important beat. But what about the second kiss? The third?
There’s a fantastic book called Save the Cat! that I strongly recommend because it details the beat mapping process. It will give you an idea, along with numerous examples, of how to beat map any story.
Conclusion: Your Novel Outline Process is Unique to You
An outline is the single most powerful tool for completing your story. Whether you’re writing a rapid-fire thriller or a slow-burning romance novel, your work becomes 10x easier the moment you create an outline.
The perfect outline will:
- Show you the whole story
- Prevent you from getting stuck “in the middle”
- And help you actually finish your story
Start with a simple one-page outline. And if you find that feels good, try one of the other outline methods listed above.
Remember: you are the master of your outline… and your outline process. Pick and choose the elements that feel most important for you, and you can go back to focusing on the best part of writing: telling a damn good story.
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Ebooks, Publishing, and Everything in Between
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How to Write a Compelling Story Outline: A Step-by-Step Guide
- on Mar 13, 2023
- in Writing Tips
- Last update: October 8th, 2023
- at 12:48 pm
Every great story is like a journey, and every journey needs a map. That’s where a story outline comes in. Just as maps help travelers navigate unknown places, a story outline helps writers navigate the twists and turns of their stories. It’s the backbone of the narrative, providing a framework for the plot, characters, and themes.
Many writers agree that using outlines makes them more productive and gives them a better chance at finishing their projects. An outline can also help writers avoid common pitfalls like writer’s block and plot holes, ensuring that their story is cohesive.
So, to help you cohesive and successful story, we’ll examine in this article how to write a story outline and show you some examples by famous authors.
What Is a Story Outline?
A story outline is a structured plan that guides you as you write your manuscripts. It typically includes a summary of the major events of the plot, the main characters and their motivations, the setting, and any other main themes or ideas that the story explores. It can be as detailed or as brief as you need it to be, but it has to be clear enough to provide a framework for your novel.
A well-constructed outline can help you stay organized and focused while writing, avoid plot holes and inconsistencies, and ensure that your stories are cohesive and engaging.
Why Do Authors Need an Outline Before Writing a Novel?
While writing your novel, you’ll inevitably encounter various obstacles, and one of the ways to avoid them is to develop a comprehensive outline. Here’s how this outline can help you:
- Saves Time and Helps in Avoiding Writer’s Block
One of the main causes of writer’s block is a lack of direction or uncertainty about where the story is going. When you have a well-structured outline, you have a roadmap that provides direction and helps you stay focused on the narrative. You’d then know what needs to happen next, which can help you overcome the blank page syndrome and keep the writing process flowing smoothly.
- Prevents Dead Ends
Have you ever started writing a certain plot twist only to discover thousands of words later that you’ve reached a cul-de-sac? You then start to revise your story or create new subplots to evade the brick wall you slammed into.
By creating an outline first, you’ll be able to stay on track and avoid the pitfalls of dead-ends and inconsistencies. Moreover, having a clear understanding of the structure and flow of events allows you to quickly identify and resolve potential plot holes before they become major issues.
- Encourages Creativity
Having an outline can allow you to fully explore the creative possibilities of your story. While some writers may view it as a rigid structure that limits their creativity, the outline can actually be a helpful tool as it provides a framework that allows you to experiment with different story elements and see how they fit together.
It can also help you brainstorm new ideas for the story by identifying areas where more development is needed. Besides, having a clear idea of where the story is going can free up mental energy that might otherwise be spent worrying about the plot or structure. This can give you the confidence you need to explore new creative ideas and take risks in your writing.
How to Write a Story Outline?
Plotting a novel can be a challenging task, but with a solid outline in place, it becomes much more manageable. And now that you know all the benefits of creating one, it’s time to grab your notebook (or keyboard) and follow these simple steps to master the skill of outlining.
Step 1: Develop a Premise
Having a clear premise provides a foundation for the entire novel. The premise is the central idea or concept that the story revolves around, and it helps guide its direction. When the premise is clearly developed, it becomes easier to identify the main characters, their goals, and the conflicts they will face. This, in turn, makes it easier to create a plot that is consistent with the central idea.
A clear premise also helps in keeping the story focused and preventing it from becoming too convoluted or scattered. Without it, you might find it tempting to include too many subplots or unnecessary details, which can make your novel feel disjointed and confusing.
To create a compelling premise, consider the following questions:
- What is the essence of the story that you want to convey to your readers?
- What is the central question or conflict that will keep them engaged and turning the pages?
- What are the emotions you want to evoke in them as they read the novel?
Step 2: Create Your Character Profiles
Next, start thinking about your main characters. Creating character profiles is a critical element in crafting a well-rounded story outline. By understanding the personalities, backgrounds, motivations, and goals of the characters, you’ll be able to better craft the plot and the conflict of the events.
For example, knowing the characters’ strengths and weaknesses can help in developing plot points that challenge them and force them to grow or change. A well-crafted backstory can also add depth and richness to the character, giving a more nuanced understanding of their behavior and choices as the plot unfolds. Additionally, knowing the characters’ motivations and goals can help you establish the stakes of the story and create a clear narrative direction.
Here are some steps to follow when developing character profiles:
- Identify the main characters: Start by identifying the main characters in your novel. Typically, this includes the protagonist, antagonist, and any major supporting characters.
- Develop their physical characteristics: Describe each character’s physical appearance, including their height, weight, hair color, eye color, and any other distinguishing features.
- Outline their personality traits: Determine the personality traits of the character, including their strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and habits. This will help you come up with characters that are realistic and relatable.
- Establish their backstory: Create a backstory for each character that describes their past experiences, including any significant events that have shaped their personality or worldview.
- Determine their motivations and goals: Identify what each character wants and why. This can help you create a clear and compelling narrative arc .
- Consider the relationships between that character: Reflect on the dynamics between each character and how their relationships evolve over the course of the story.
Step 3: Create Your Plot
The plot is the sequence of events that make up the story, and it provides the structure that the outline will follow. Once you have a general idea of what your novel is about and what your characters are like, you can start developing the plot by figuring out the major events and turning points that will occur in the story. This can include things like the exposition, the climax, the resolution , as well as any other key moments that you want to include in the story.
As you develop the plot, you will start to see how the story unfolds, and you can use this information to create a rough outline. This can help you see the big picture and fill in the details as you go. You’ll then be able to ensure that the events flow smoothly and that all of the pieces fit together in a way that makes sense.
Step 4: Determine the Setting
The setting is the when and where of the events in your novel. Deciding on the setting provides a clear and concrete background for the events and actions that take place. This, in turn, can help you in ensuring that the story is consistent and believable, and that the events make sense in the context of the setting.
Additionally, the setting influences the mood and tone of the novel, as well as the behavior and motivations of the characters. By establishing the setting early on in the outlining process, you can ensure that it’s fully integrated into the story and that it enhances the overall impact of the narrative.
Step 5: Build the Scenes
Now it’s time to bring all the above elements together and start building the main scenes. When done right, this will provide a clear structure for the plot. By identifying the major events and actions that move the story forward, you’ll be able to organize your ideas and ensure that it flows logically and cohesively. Furthermore, knowing the main scenes allows you to avoid unnecessary deviations or subplots that can distract from the main storyline.
Having a clear idea of the main scenes will also facilitate developing the characters; by considering how each character responds to the key events, you’ll be able to create more dynamic and believable characters with a clear motivation for their actions.
Step 6: Fine-Tune the Outline
The last step in perfecting your outline is ensuring that all the elements of your novel fit together and that the flow of your story goes smoothly. All you need to do now is identify any areas that are redundant or have major plot holes. And don’t forget to make sure that premise of your story is reflected in the outline in a logical and meaningful way.
What Are Some Common Outline Formats?
While the steps we provided above will help you in writing a compelling outline, it is not the only way. In fact, there are many formats that writers use in crafting their outlines. The best format for a particular author will depend on their individual writing style and the specific needs of their story. But to give you a general idea of the most common ones, let’s take a look at these four examples.
- The Synopsis Outline
Usually used by authors to pitch agents, the synopsis outline gives a broad idea about the novel and how it progresses. However, many writers use it to outline their thoughts and ideas before they start the writing process.
To make the best out of this outline format, start by creating a short document, usually a page or two, that provides a broad outline of the novel’s premise and structure. You can then include a description of the characters, conflict, and narrative arc.
You can break down your synopsis into a few paragraphs:
- The first paragraph should introduce your two main characters (the protagonist “hero” and antagonist), how the story begins, and the setting of the story.
- The next few paragraphs include the plot twists faced by the hero. You may want to introduce other essential characters as well, such as sidekicks.
- In the final paragraph , you should explain how the major conflicts are settled, and give a glimpse of how the novel ends.
Here’s a downloadable example of the synopsis outline .
- The Snowflake Outline
If you prefer to focus on the big picture in your outline, then this method is ideal for you. Created by author and writing instructor Randy Ingermanson , this technique allows you to start with a basic summary and add elements from there. Just as you start drawing a snowflake with a single line, your story outline starts with a simple sentence.
Here’s how it’s done:
- Start off with a sentence summing up the novel’s premise in 15 words or less.
- Then expand it into a paragraph, adding the characters and the narrative arc.
- Proceed to create character summaries and gradually build the summaries into full character profiles.
- Create a list of the major scenes and organize them into a logical sequence. Then write a paragraph describing each scene.
You can now combine these parts into a document and expand upon it to write your story. To better understand this outline format, take a look at this one of J.K. Rowling’s novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
- The Summary Outline
This format involves estimating the number of chapters and creating a beat-sheet document, listing the sequential plot events. Each chapter is then summarized with a distinct purpose, encompassing descriptions of characters, settings, and timings.
This method allows you to focus on the big picture of the story while giving you a clear idea of what should happen in each chapter. You’ll find it most useful if you prefer a flexible approach to writing and don’t want to be too rigidly tied to a specific structure or plot.
You can also download this example of the summary outline of The Great Gatesby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
- The Hero’s Journey
The Hero’s Journey is based on the idea of a hero’s transformation through a journey. It isn’t a format per se–rather a story structure–but it is used by many writers to create an outline and guide the development of the plot. It is particularly useful for stories that revolve around a character’s personal transformation and growth, as it offers a framework for creating a compelling narrative arc that captures the hero’s journey from a state of naivety to one of experience and wisdom.
This journey typically consists of three main sections: departure , initiation , and return . The departure stage involves the hero leaving their ordinary world, which is followed by the initiation stage, where they face various trials and tribulations. The return stage sees the hero return to their ordinary world, transformed by their experiences and equipped with new abilities and insights.
Each of these stages contains a number of steps that describes the hero’s transformation into a wiser personality by overcoming certain obstacles. To understand more about these steps, take a look at this outline example .
Tips for Creating a Story Outline
Crafting a story outline can be a daunting task, especially if you’re not sure where to begin. Fortunately, there are several tips and tricks that can help simplify the process. Here are some effective strategies for creating an outline:
- Decide on a Story Structure Before Outlining
When you first start writing your outline, it will be very tempting to jot all your thoughts down in an unorderly fashion so as not to lose any of the ideas in mind. However, having a clear understanding of the story structure will make writing the outline much easier.
This structure shows how the events are organized into a clear beginning, middle, and end. Knowing how your story unfolds will help you know where to place the scenes and events to produce a logical and coherent storyline.
- Use a Template
Using a template to outline your novel can provide a structure and guide that you can follow, which can help organize your thoughts and ideas more effectively. A template can also ensure that important elements (such as character development, plot progression, and setting details) aren’t forgotten.
Additionally, a template can save time and energy, as you won’t have to create a new outline from scratch every time you begin a new project. And if you’re stuck on the format of your outline (or simply want a jumpstart), a template is all you need. You can use any of the examples we’ve provided in the previous section as a guide to create your own outline, or click here to find more templates that fit all types of stories, novels, and other written work.
- Visualize the Story
There are many tools that authors use to visualize the outline of their stories. For example, you can use mind maps or sticky notes to plan how the story progresses.
Using mind maps is a popular way to outline novels and stories. This method can be a fun and creative way to brainstorm ideas and organize your thoughts. It allows you to see the relationship between different ideas and scenes and can help you create a cohesive and engaging story.
Other writers prefer using sticky notes with several colors to visually outline their novels. Sticky notes of the same color are used to represent the main chapters and are placed side by side. Then, using different-colored ones, notes that represent scenes in each chapter are placed below the corresponding main chapter. This can help you clearly see the flow of events and identify any plot holes the novel might have.
- Take Inspiration from Other Writers’ Outlines
Try getting a glimpse of the outlines of famous and successful authors. Seeing how they approached creating their own outlines can give you valuable insights and a fresh perspective on how to create your own. For example, take a look at J.K. Rowling’s outline for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, or Joseph Heller’s outline for Catch-22.
All in all, outlining is an essential tool that facilitates the writing of any novel. It helps you tackle numerous obstacles associated with writing such as writer’s block, redundancy, and plot holes. It also facilitates your writing process and keeps you focused. Keep in mind that each writer uses a different approach to outline their work. So always experiment and try new methods; eventually, you’ll reach the outcome you desire.
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Can this be used to create a documentary about a woman who founded an amazing village?
Absolutely! The principles of creating a story outline can be applied to various forms of storytelling, including documentaries. Start by outlining the key events, characters, and themes related to the woman who founded the amazing village. Then, organize these elements into a structured narrative that tells her story effectively.
Best of luck with your documentary project! 🙂
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How to Write a Plot Outline
- 10th October 2021
Writing a novel is a big undertaking, but creating a plot outline is a great way to generate ideas and get organized. What exactly is a plot outline, though? And how do you write one? In this post, we’ll explain the basics.
What is a Plot Outline?
A plot outline is a summary of your story. The four key components are:
- Premise – Start by writing a short summary explaining the premise of your story. Briefly introduce your protagonist and other essential characters, the setting, and the central conflict of your story.
- Characters – Next, create a list of the major characters that will be a part of your story. Think about their back stories, physical descriptions, needs and motivations, relationships with other characters, and the role they will play throughout your story. You don’t have to do this for every minor character (e.g., there’s no need to add “shopkeeper” to your list just because you plan to have a scene in a shop at some point). But if they’re a named character who will do something of note in your story, make sure to list them here.
- Setting – Include a section with notes on where and when your story is going to take place. You can even create a list of key locations, complete with descriptions, that you can use while drafting your story.
- Scene-by-scene breakdown – The core of your plot outline is a scene-by-scene breakdown of what will happen in your story. This will provide a helpful overview of your narrative, helping you to plan the drafting process and spot potential plot holes, inconsistencies, etc., from the outset.
We will look at how to develop this final section in more detail below.
Writing a Plot Outline
Okay, so how do you actually outline the plot of your story? There are many ways you can approach this, but we suggest starting with the big picture and then building on it with specific details. For example:
- The setup (i.e., what is happening before the action of the story begins and the inciting incident that introduces a source of conflict).
- The rising action (i.e., how your characters respond to the inciting incident and the journey they take to achieve their goals).
- The conclusion (i.e., the climax of the action and how the main conflict that has been driving the story will be resolved).
- Step two – Break down each of the main acts into a series of scenes. Summarize who will be in them, where they will happen, and what will happen to advance the plot. You’ll probably find that the second act is longer than the first and third acts, taking around half of the story.
- Step three – For each of the scenes you have outlined, go back and flesh out what will occur. Think about how each scene or plot point will be resolved, and the impact they will have on your story and the characters involved.
For variations of this system, you can try another way of conceiving your narrative structure. For instance, you could try using Freytag’s Pyramid or the Hero’s Journey rather than a three-act structure. Or you can try a more visual approach, placing each plot point along a story line rather than simply listing them with bullet points.
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The key is to choose an outline format that suits your needs. As such, feel free to experiment with different styles and see which one works for you!
Updating Your Outline
It might be that you’re only creating an outline as part of the planning process for your novel. But it may also be worth updating your plot outline as you write.
You can then incorporate any changes you make to the story, setting, or characters while drafting. This means you can use your plot outline as an aid while editing your writing. Or you can share it with an editor or proofreader if you hire one.
And if you are looking for help with editing a novel or even just a second opinion on your plot outline, our team of expert editors is available 24/7 to help proofread books, short stories, etc. Try uploading a trial document today to find out more!
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How to Write a Story Outline that Works [FREE Script Outline Template]
f you want to write a script, and finish it, story outlines are helpful. Why? Because once you have waded even knee-deep into the writing, it’s easy to lose sight of things. Even worse? Predators named fear and self-doubt will be stalking you.
Yet, there is a tool that can spare you this fate. The story outline – it is going to be your machete and your map.
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Story Outline that Works
1. why this story outline template.
That's a very good question.
There have been countless volumes written on how to write a story. From Aristotle to Robert McKee.
So why is THIS the one that'll help YOU?
A couple reasons.
First reason: it's simple. Simple to understand, remember, and to use when creating a story.
That alone puts this method of writing a story outline in a league all its own. Joseph Campbell wrote the definitive 'boiling down' of all storytelling when he created the monomyth.
It was, among other things, an attempt to simplify writing a story outline.
This is even simpler. Of course, this also incorporates much of his philosophy and approach to creating a story.
This story outline boils down all that came before it into the simplest of bite-size chunks. One word chunks. Eight of them, to be exact.
Those chunks come to us curtesy of Dan Harmon's story circle.
Dan Harmon's Story Circle
Which brings us to point number two:
IT ACTUALLY WORKS
I have proof!
Some of this script outline template I learned from reading McKee, Syd Field, and something called ' the sequence approach' .
And to a lesser extent... Save the Cat.
But a lot of those methods are complicated. While each is valuable in their own right, they aren’t conducive to a script step outline; something that can be a tool by your side
Before he wrote Community and Rick and Morty , Harmon hosted a monthly festival of 5-minute shorts I participated in called Channel 101 . There we all learned how to create 5-minute stories, the story circle way.
That little festival launched many a career. From The Lonely Island to Justin Roiland , to Adult Swim's new show Hot Streets .
Behind so much of that is this script outline.
So you can trust me.
It's simple. It works.
writing a story outline
2. find out how to write a story.
To truly do this, you need this script outline.
Even if you already know how to write a story , this plot outline template and its guidelines will help you take your knowledge and mastery of plot outline to even deeper levels.
Already feel you know that?
Well this script outline template will still make your writing process 10 times easier to complete.
But even if we ignore that… You still need to master and understand this plot outline template.
you need this to make sure your writing connects.
What do I mean by that?
Well for starters, this story outline template applies to more than screenplays. As mentioned, it's pretty effective when writing for television as well. Think of it almost as a story outline worksheet for you to use.
Yet the application goes beyond even that.
CREATE STORY CONFIDENCE
The ideas and structure that teach us how to write a story are actually universal . These have been the steps to storytelling since early cultures inked animals on cave walls while retelling the hunt.
If you don't believe that, take Joseph Campbell's word for it .
The universality of this story outline structure will let readers know they are safe in your hands. Even without knowing it, the subtle cues of the script outline will tell them that this story will satisfy.
Trust me, executives and agents know immediately if a script or even script outline is following along the expected script outline beats. They won't move forward on any project that doesn’t.
Even if your ideas are amazing, they may not bring you on the strength of that alone. They’re not in the business of teaching people how to write a story outline.
They might not even get far enough to know if your ideas are good though.
The harsh reality is that they will stop reading as soon as they feel the steps of a script outline aren't there.
Is it fair? No. Probably not. But that's the way it is.
So before we break down each step of the plot/story outline, here is a look at the overview in "story circle" form.
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3. act one: set up.
Every story has a protagonist. The first step, or sequence, is about establishing the protagonist and their world.
When you wrote your log line , you had to come up with who your protagonist was. It's also smart to have a strong log line before you start filling out a plot outline template.
Typically your protagonist should want something , and that desire should run in contrast a with who or where they are .
This creates an 'irony'. Good stories need irony.
Whoever your character is, and whatever type of world he or she inhabits, is your sequence one.
The simple one-word name for the sequence: YOU. Who is the “you”?
Is it a farm boy on a desert planet? Is it a girl who lives in Kansas with a little dog? A New York cop visiting his estranged wife in LA for Christmas? A billionaire by day, crime-fighting vigilante by night?
You get the idea.
4. The creation of the story
"A story is about someone who wants something very badly and is having a hard time getting it."
Ever hear that one? Well even if you haven't, it's a common expression when starting to figure out how to write a story outline.
Campbell referred to this area as the 'Herald'. Sometimes in a story, a herald comes with the first signs of the adventure the hero must undertake.
R2D2 was the herald that brought Luke his adventure. Luke needed to get off the planet and save the princess/destroy the death star.
It was a combination of what he wanted, even before he met R2D2, and what R2D2 brought with him (the message).
You will sometimes see this part of the script outline labeled "the point of attack".
It's where something to the world of the character, and it creates an active and urgent need.
This is where the character develops their need. Without a need, there is no story. It's just status quo forever.
Not super exciting...
This is why when you think of a character like Batman, for example, you might think a good plot outline would center on Batman fighting crime.
However, what makes The Dark Knight so excellent is that the status quo is Batman fighting crime. As soon as the "need" section of sequence two kicks in, we find that Bruce Wayne kinda/sorta wants to retire.
THE ACT ONE "NEED"
You can read a lot about how to address the "need".
“Make it primal" is something you'll hear. That is to say, the more relatable and basic your protagonists need is, the more dynamic the rest of your plot outline will be.
The general idea is that what your character wants, what they think they need to address something in their status quo, will send them on a journey.
This is where the script , and script outline start to take shape.
In a lot of cases, a protagonist will have two needs. One is an external goal, and one is an internal desire.
John McClane has the external need of saving the Nakatomi Plaza from terrorists. But he has the internal need of repairing his marriage and fixing his family unit.
To manifest his goal of retirement, Bruce Wayne has the external need to clean up Gotham once and for all. The internal need is to be with Rachel.
At the end of sequence two in our story outline template, we must define the main tension. The need is in clear focus, and where the character has to go to achieve it becomes apparent.
Batman must extradite a criminal, for Harvey Dent to prosecute, to help finish off the crime syndicate of Gotham.
The need is clear, it brings us to act two and step…
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how to write a story outline
5. act two: confrontation.
An urgent need demands an action. Your character has to "go" somewhere.
A story phrase often used is "the crossing of a threshold". Another term you'll come across is a “threshold guardian.”
Imagine a character has to cross a bridge, and a troll guards it. That is the threshold and its guardian.
Once your protagonist has their need firmly established, they have to go resolve it. That means leaving the world they know for a different world entirely.
This world is the upside down part of the circle. It's the dream state, the inverse of the safe world. The technicolor to the black and white that leads to "we're not in Kansas anymore".
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS IN THE SECOND ACT.
Luke has crossed the threshold into adventure
For Luke Skywalker, this is the part of the movie where he meets Han and Chewbacca. He gets into a bar fight. He starts learning how to use his lightsaber. He "goes" into space on his quest.
For Batman, this section of the journey is more of a "why things will become difficult." (another common phrase used to describe sequence 3).
He "goes" to Hong Kong to extradite the criminal, Lao. He thinks it will be easy to hand the task of protecting Gotham over to DA Harvey Dent...
But the Joker has other ideas. He crashes the Dent fundraiser, starts killing, and threatens to kill until Batman is unmasked.
Different stories handle the section of the script outline differently, but the idea is that these are the first steps into the journey.
Batman was always a crime fighter, but now he's trying to fight a different kind of criminal, with new and higher personal stakes.
Tip: Try seeing your story outline template as a worksheet where you can fill in ideas about what section might be. You may find some new ideas come to you in that process.
- Internal vs External Conflict →
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- Logline Examples for TV →
a story outline that works
6. the road of trials.
For there to be a story, reaching the objective has to be hard.
Upon crossing the threshold in sequence three and into act two, our protagonist will face a lot of crazy new challenges. It might take a little getting used to this new world.
By sequence four, it's time to focus again on what we came here for.
More exactly, to search for it. This section is the main characters first real attempt to accomplish their goal. In the Hero’s Journey this could be “the road of trials”.
Which means this is when you’ll pack your story outline template with tons of set pieces.
I think this section is best understood with examples.
In Star Wars it becomes the search for Princess Leia and a way off the Death Star.
Batman is searching for a way to stop the Joker. This is where Alfred will tell him "Some men just want to watch the world burn".
FIRST ASSAULT ON THE MAIN TENSION
Bruce decides that he must end Batman. He plans to come forward to end the Joker's killing spree. Ready to hand the city over to Harvey Dent's form of law enforcement.
He comes to this conclusion with another memorable line of dialogue "I know what I have to become to defeat him".
(Bruce won't become that. For now...)
Side note: one reason certain moments of dialogue like these became so memorable is that they put a button on a point of the story outline template.
"I want to learn the ways of the force and become a Jedi like my father."
"We're not in Kansas anymore."
"We'll always have Paris."
These lines and countless others are defining plot moments. They are memorable because they accompanied or emphasized a major turn in the story.
People often make the mistake of thinking it was the phrasing, or the line of dialogue itself that made them feel something.
It wasn’t. It was the execution of the story outline.
The search section leads us to...
7. The midpoint
At the midpoint of the story outline template is at 6’o’clock on the story circle. Our character finds something here. It's not necessarily what they set out to find.
It may be a humbling lesson they learn as they failed in their first attempt to win their ultimate goal.
Sometimes referred to as "the belly of the whale". The adventure of act two has taken a toll. Now that we're halfway done, our character has been swallowed whole. Think about Luke and friends in the Death Star trash compactor.
He's got the Princess, but they're all about to get squished and die!
This is better seen as a turning point in the story outline.
One story has ended here, and a new one is about to begin. Luke's quest to find the princess is complete. A new quest, a secondary and larger quest, has begun.
This all takes hold in the next sequence:
8. The meeting with the Goddess
This sequence has an important job. It has to provide a jolt to carry us through the extra long second act.
We're halfway in, we've met and dealt with some of the main tension, embarking on the second half of the journey.
We need some help.
Aren’t you a little short for a story outline?
Writers often turn to a new character here for help. Campbell calls it the meeting with the goddess, and often in ancient myth a hero would actually meet a goddess here.
Certainly when Han and Luke find Princess Leia, it is traditional “meeting with the goddess” timing, and she takes over the story for a bit.
That does not need to be the case. Let's take a different, more modern example of great storytelling. William Goldman's screenplay for Stephen King's Misery .
At the midpoint, all hope seems lost for protagonist Paul Sheldon (James Caan). He has made an attempt to escape and failed. Now what?
Now we follow a character on the outside. Buster (Richard Farnsworth) who is looking into some of the unconnected dots of Paul Sheldon's disappearance.
Buster's quest proves fruitless. But it helps in a very important way. It gives the second act a much-needed booster.
In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent subverts expectations and claims he is Batman. This sets up a trap for the Joker.
The rest of the sequence plays out mostly in action, as the Joker attempts to kill Harvey, and Batman ultimately catches him.
In an interrogation scene, the Joker pushes Batman near to his breaking point on his personal code and rules.
The sequence ends with the Joker revealing to Batman that both Rachel and Harvey are trapped, and he can save only one...
9. Final Assault
Our hero found something in the midpoint, at the start of sequence 5. Now our hero takes that something, whatever it is.
A golden fleece, a sword. In classical mythology, it's something of this nature.
That's why Dan Harmon's story circle refers to this step as "take."
Do they actually have to take something they found?
No. But it's good to know the basic concept behind the step so you can elaborate in your own way.
The “take” step is about going up against the main tension once and for all. For all the marbles, so to speak.
Next time you go see a tentpole action-adventure movie, take note of how there is often a major battle around the end of act two that is NOT the final battle.
This is often the 6th sequence. The crossing of the return threshold into act 3.
And it leads to what we call a 'false resolution'. It's false because the movie isn't over yet.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
TAKE OR "THE MAGIC FLIGHT"
In Star Wars you could say this is where Luke and Han 'take' the princess off the death star.
The end of the sequence (and act) we're building to is the self-sacrifice and loss of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
So going beyond the obvious and physical, what did Luke Skywalker really "take" from the death star experience?
What was the moment that started to define him in a new way?
Luke stares down death in this sequence. His "take away" is that he can survive. He's come out of the Death Star stronger, and ready to take on bigger challenges.
Batman also suffers a major loss. He chooses to save Rachel, but the Joker tricked him and he gets to what's left of Harvey. Rachel dies.
The Joker starts creating chaos on Gotham with his threat that if a particular man isn't killed in one hour he'll blow up a random hospital.
The threat of the Joker's crime has become that he will turn all of Gotham into a criminal. Bruce Wayne decides to save Reese, but as Bruce, not Batman. The "take away" for Bruce? That he has to be Batman.
In either instance, these lessons propel the protagonist into their third act and step 7…
10. Act three: resolution
Once again, you don't need to take the name of the step too literally.
The character doesn't need to return anywhere physically, so long as they are returning to something.
It could be a return to face down the primary antagonist. A return to their old job.
If act two was a journey into the 'upside down' state, then act three is the resurfacing in the normal world. Our character, having been through the adventure, has learned.
The "took" what they "found" on their journey. And now they are back.
In classical mythology, a hero would often leave their home to find something, and bring it back. Whatever they brought back would be a "boon" to their people.
There is even a step in Campbell's Hero’s Journey called "the ultimate boon".
Okay but let's talk about writing scripts again. What does this return step look like in the movies we've been discussing?
For Batman, it's a return to fighting crime but now with a new approach. He uses the 'tool' of his super surveillance without batting an eye.
Batman spying on everyone...
Atonement with the father.
The word atonement is literally at-one-ment.
Atoning with the father, in mythological terms, is meeting your maker.
Coming to terms with your mortality.
Batman does catch the joker and seems to defeat him.
And Joker gives one of those classic "we are not so different, you and I" speeches that villains often give heroes.
The people of Gotham opt not to kill one another on their ferries. All seems concluded...
Hey so remember that idea of the "false resolution". Well, this is it.
We might think for a moment, that whatever showdown took place was final. The state of things at the end of act two drove our character to this final act that would set things straight.
Luke and Han defeated the tie fighters during their escape from the Death Star. Moments later we learn that Darth Vader "let them escape" and planted a tracking device on their ship.
arkin and Vader let the heroes escape.
The story isn't over. Leia even says "it's not over yet."
The Joker has poisoned Harvey's mind and turned him into a killer. Just when Batman has defeated him he reveals this to Batman in a classic "we are not so different, you and I" type monologue .
This return to safety, or normalcy, but under the guise of a false resolution leads us to…
writing an outline
11. the twist.
The twist isn't always a record scratch "whoa he IS Tyler Durden" kind of twist.
The twist reveals that the resolution was indeed false.
Batman did not defeat evil. He did not save Gotham. There is still one task left.
Luke must face down the Death Star against incredible odds. Obi-Wan is dead, Han Solo has decided to take his money and run.
The twist? Obi-wan is still speaking to Luke through the force.
For Batman and Gotham? That evil still lurks. The joker has turned Harvey mad, and he's been on a killing spree.
In every story there is still something very important and very difficult left to do. Something that will require
12. the master of two worlds.
At step one all we had was a "you", in what we described as a status quo.
For our story to be complete, a change must occur. An important one.
For Luke, this change is putting away his 'targeting computer' and trusting the force. The technology that has come to represent evil (Vader, the Death Star) is rejected.
Luke relies on faith.
And his faith is rewarded. Not only does he make the shot, but Han bursts out of nowhere to help him in a desperate moment.
Luke was never alone. He had the force, and he had his friend.
Not all hero’s quests end this well.
How about a not so happy ending?
Batman rushes to see what Harvey is up to only to find the disfigured "two-face" now threatening to kill a defenseless boy.
Harvey Dent, the man who Bruce hoped would render his Batman identity obsolete, is now a criminal. The very worst kind, at that.
The 'war for Gotham’s soul' seems lost. Gotham's "white knight" of Harvey Dent is corrupt at the hands of the Joker.
Even worse? To save the boy, Batman breaks his one sacred rule. He charges at Harvey knocking him down and killing him.
Can he save Gotham from what Harvey became?
He can. By taking the blame for Harvey's murders. Batman has changed and become...
CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN
Why does that moment resonate? Why is it so powerful?
Because Batman was truly forced to change.
A good story must reflect true change in the protagonist. They must be pushed to the brink, and change is the only way to survive.
That's the potential power of plotting your ideas carefully along the steps all great stories follow.
Batman’s journey inverts elements of the Heroes Quest. It’s proof that following the formula doesn’t mean your story, or take, need be formulaic.
Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, counter clockwise on a circle.
It all comes back to joseph campbell.
This is another take on the story circle concept. From the original source itself, Joseph Campbell.
Many of the sections of Campbell’s monomyth apply to this final section, and don’t always have to go in the order above.
One phrase and section I find very useful when thinking about the story outline is ‘the master of two worlds’.
Because the journey has been, without a fail, a journey into another world. The character who returns ‘changed’ after the end of every section must be now a master of two worlds.
But the real meaning behind the ‘two worlds’? Usually it indicates that the character has confronted death, and come out somehow immortal.
We’re getting into some next level story philosophy stuff- but keep that in mind next time you watch a movie, or think about a good story.
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Tips on Writing Better Dialogue
From "The Epic of Gilgamesh" to Star Wars to The Dark Knight , the steps and the story outline are the same. Of course there are no steadfast rules, but many times, outlines do help.
As you use the story outline, and break down other stories with it, you’ll begin to see that it applies to a lot more than movies and screenplays. Once you have your story outline down, check out our next post on writing better dialogue.
Up Next: Tips On Writing Better Dialogue →
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Great stuff. This has been really helpful.Keep up the good work
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Story Outline Examples
It might be difficult to plot out your entire story. You've had some time to start establishing your universe, plot, and characters, as well as your moral grey area and primary issues, and now you're faced with the difficult challenge of piecing it all together into a cohesive story—and keeping a reader's attention. And this is where the story outline examples will help you by giving you an idea on how to properly concise your information into a cohesive story.
Time spent on a story outline gives you foresight into your book. Consider yourself a boulder, peering up at a high cliff. Simply leap onto the ledge and watch what happens. You could get to the top this way by planning it properly.
What is a story outline?
A story outline is a file that includes crucial planning information on the structure, storyline, characters, events, situations, and other aspects of your novel. It's the framework of your story.
An outline can range from a one-page formal document to a multi-page visual mind map that employs diagrams to depict the relationship between data and concepts. If you have enough room, put your phrases on index cards and tape them to the wall to make it simpler to see and manage the components. Each incident should be described in a simple, concise sentence.
How to write a good story outline?
Although no two outlines are the same, there are a variety of ways to get the book outline process started. From a summary to a detailed outline, or using Randy Ingermanson's snowflake method or the bookend method to approach the craft, there's something for everyone.
Aside from detailing characters and plot elements for tale structure, your outline should provide you with a basic feel of your novel's direction, as well as the main conflicts and tensions that will keep readers interested. While drafting your outline, keep the following questions in mind:
- What is the story's major contract? By the end of the story, you must have fulfilled the commitments you have made to your audience.
- What kind of time constraints are you putting on your protagonists?
- What is at risk for the novel's main character? Is the primary protagonist's stress level increasing as the story progresses?
Example 1: Harry Potter
It is an adaptation of the book written by J.K. Rowling's blockbuster children's novels about Harry Potter, a young boy who discovers on his 11th birthday that he is the orphaned son of two great wizards and has his magical abilities. As an unwanted child, he is taken from his household to study at Hogwarts, an English wizarding boarding school. There, he meets a group of students who become his closest friends and help him figure out what happened to his parents.
Example 2: Shawshank Redemption
- The entrance of a convict called Andy Dufresne, whose stint at Shawshank had an impact on everyone's life, is recounted by Red, the narrator. In 1947, Andy was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of his wife, Linda, and her boyfriend. Despite all the evidence pointing to his being at the crime site on the night of the killings, Andy has only ever defended his actions, which Red finally accepts.
- Andy has considerable problems adapting to prison life at first, especially because many of the other inmates regard him as snobbish. Despite the difficulties he experienced in prison, Andy never complained or lost faith in himself, and he continued to plot his escape.
Example 3: White Chapel Vampire
- Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes investigate rumors that a vampire is on the loose in London. The killings are thought to be the act of a vampire who has recently returned from a job in Guyana. They have a continuing dispute over the supernatural while they examine the deaths, with Watson having faith in vampires and Holmes staying suspicious until he can establish the killings were committed by a real person rather than an undead entity.
- To truly understand the killer, Holmes disguises himself as a monk and explains that the vampire was Brother Abel, who was seeking vengeance on the monks. Mrs. Hudson offers Holmes his pipe on Baker Street that was brought up by the guy who saved Holmes from an accident, and the movie concludes at that scene. When Holmes asked Mrs. Hudson claimed that his name was Reginald Church.
Example 4: Romeo & Juliet Act 2
Act 2 is primarily on the main character's emotional roller coaster. Because conflict is so important in this act, give your protagonists a variety of hurdles to conquer. Struggle does not always imply a physical conflict; it may also refer to a variety of hurdles that prevent the protagonist from accomplishing his or her objective or ambition.
In exchange for her love, Romeo admits himself and promises to give up his identity. Romeo seems nonchalant when Juliet warns him that if he is seen with her as a Montague, he will be slain. The two proclaim their love for one another and agree to marry after much contemplation. Romeo promises to send a messenger the next day to notify Juliet of his wedding arrangements. As the morning rises, the drama comes to a close, and Romeo exits to seek help from Friar Laurence.
Juliet makes a marriage proposal to Romeo. That afternoon, Friar Lawrence agrees to marry Romeo and Juliet. Tybalt writes Romeo a letter in which he expresses his desire for vengeance for the Montagues' collapse of the feast. Friar Lawrence wedded Romeo and Juliet in secrecy.
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How to Outline a Short Story [Template Included]
When most people decide to write a short story, they usually assume that it’s going to be duck soup.
They just grab a pen and paper or their laptop and get straight to it.
No outline. No sketch. Nothing!
If you’re “most people,” you probably have a lot of unfinished short stories that you abandoned after getting completely stuck halfway.
Or you’re just an aspiring author who’s got no idea that an outline is like a treasure map that can lead you to that great short literary piece.
Why Should You Outline a Short Story?
Clichés, anyone? Alright, here we go!
“Failing to plan, is planning to?”
Outlining is both timesaving and enables you to have some sort of a road map—it gives you the freedom to unleash your artistic genius rather than focus on trivial crinkles of the story itself.
Although short story writing is narrower in terms of scope than a novel, it still includes many elements that wordsmiths input into a full-size novel.
It needs a multidimensional main character, a clear character arc, a comprehensive plot, and a gripping closing set of events. This somehow makes writing a short a bit laborious.
An outline can save a lot of the stress by helping you put together the jigsaw puzzle before the writing process really starts.
Outlining a short story
Key elements of a good short story outline.
As a writer’s roadmap, a short story outline is supposed to include details you can utilize to track character arcs, storylines, thematic content, and logical consistency.
Therefore, a good short story outline must address the following elements:
1. A Situation and Conflict: the state of affairs—the beginning of the story—that either changes for the better or takes a very bad turn (usually, it’s the latter). As the story progresses, it has to have a conflict. The conflict arises from the interaction between the protagonist (who has an objective) and the antagonist (who stands in the way of the protagonist and his objective).
2. The Solution to the Conflict: some creative writers like to start writing a story without knowing the ending themselves. Writing this way keeps the intrigue alive for the writer but having a predetermined solution to your story’s main conflict gives you a clear direction of the narrative.
3. Character Development: Characters are what bring the action in your story to life. When making notes for your story, make sure you define the protagonist and antagonist and give them more dimensions. Add backstories to the characters too, even though some of the backstories won’t make it to the final draft of the story—due to the limited scope of a short story.
4. Other Critical Points : The conflict and the solution that I have covered in (1) and (2) are some of the critical plot points that an outline has to cover. A story starts from an exposition; then the conflict arises; there’s rising action; then comes the climax; after that, is the falling action; and finally, the resolution concludes the tale.
The Short Story Outlining Process: Tips and Template
Now that we’ve seen some of the key elements of a short story, let’s take a look at the actual short story outlining process.
The process always starts with crafting your story’s premise and going all the way through to a full list of scenes.
One thing you ought to know about outlining methods is that there is no objectively correct or incorrect way of doing things. Most writers that I have encountered have personalized their outlining methods to a format that works for them.
If by chance this technique fails to do the job for you, you can adjust the process and find a method that works for you.
Having gotten that out of the way, let’s take a look at the outlining method that has worked for me and a couple of other writers in my writing circles, starting with tips on how you can approach the outlining process to churn out top-notch outlines.
1. Start Simplistic
To give your short story outline a good structure, you have to start from the bones.
You can utilize a technique called the Snowflake Method. Using this method of writing, a wordsmith begins with a simplistic deep theme and gradually adds meat to the story, making it more complex over time.
What you actually do is begin with an arrow-shaped idea and build on it afterwards. It’s exactly like what I said, start from the bones and add meat until the sentence becomes a matured story.
2.Create a Quasi Outline
This quasi outline is like a draft outline—a freestyled guideline for the final outline. When you write this draft, focus on the general ideas and major plotline events: the inciting action, the climax, the resolution.
You may leave holes whilst you write the quasi outline. You’ll patch them later; for now, focus on completing the panoramic view of the whole of your short fiction.
3. Use Unpredictability and Conflict to Spice Up the Plot
If a reader is able to predict—more than once—a set of events before they happen, they’re likely going to be discouraged from reading your story any further.
A good story uses unanticipated twists and conflict to sustain the much-needed tension.
This technique is effective in every genre, whether it’s romance (break someone’s heart unexpectedly) or horror (slash a baby’s throat, out of the blue).
4. Utilize the Protagonist’s Internal Monologue
One of the attributes of a good story is its ability to suck the reader into its world or settings.
One way of achieving this is the main character’s thoughts and mumblings to make the reader understand the protagonist’s mind and empathize with them.
Craft natural persona, needs, and character arc to absorb the reader slowly. Of course, this is harder to achieve with the limited scope of a short story but, that’s why the outline is indispensable.
5. Use Software to Outline Your Story
Regular word processing software—MS Word and co.—come with features that writers can utilize to outline a short story or larger types of prose.
However, there is sophisticated and dedicated software that has been designed to help you build a clean and comprehensible outline.
One such software that I would recommend is Plottr —an easy-to-use visual outlining and book planning tool. With this software, you can take your story from a simple synopsis to a book series.
Once you start “creating a book,” you can create a timeline, a list of characters and character arcs, plots and subplots, construct chapters, and put scenes inside the chapters (tuck characters and locations in the scene cards), et cetera.
Software like Plottr are time savers and make the entire outlining process smoother. Authors have been using these tools for short stories and larger texts like Novels (which—I think—is the type of prose that people mostly associate the tools with).
Story Outline Template
Once more, I would like to stress that you can write your outline whichever way you deem suitable.
But if you are not sure about it, I have made a condensed and downloadable template for you. Download it here or just study the thorough step-by-step outline method below.
Feel free to add extra elements to the ones that I have come up with.
Step 1. Create the Premise: A premise is basically the idea from which your story springs. Make sure that your premise is well defined and more than the basic idea; add condiments to the idea to make it provide a satisfying story guidance.
Your outline needs to be introduced by a condensed but creamy premise sentence that carries insights into the following things:
Step 2. Describe Setting: in this part, describe the environment within which your story takes place. Before writing a complete outline, you need to have a firm idea of where your story is taking place.
Is it happening in a mars-bound spaceship? Is the story about a kid in the projects? Perhaps the setting is an apartment complex in the Cayman Islands?
In a play or a movie, I think they call this a mises en scène. It covers things like:
Step 3. Come up with the Main Character: Who is the protagonist? Come up with the persona that is going to be your main character. You can also—optionally—decide on the antagonist. Since the antagonist is antipathetic to the MCs’ objectives, they’re easy to come up with if you’ve already created the MC—a writer just needs to feed off the polarity between the personas to create the adversary.
Cover all these questions (maybe more), then condense them into one or two sentences that unwraps the core of the whole story.
Step 4. Objective, conflict, and resolution: this part is where the story is given the meat—it’s where you develop the story. There are a couple of questions that your outline needs to answer in this sections, questions like:
i. What’s the protagonist’s goal or objective?
ii. What conflict arises as a result of the MCs’ quest to attain the goal?
iii. What scenarios and effects are going to get thrown in to tense up the conflict?
iv. What and how will the story’s climax be? Will the protagonist be successful? Will he fail to attain his goal?
v. How will the conflict end? What will the resolution be?
Step 5. Character Development: lastly, give each important character in your story a life. The next step involves bringing some of the characters to life—i.e., developing the protagonist’s persona, needs, and character arc.
There are crucial details that need to be added to your characters, whether or not they appear in the story.
To do this, you need to ask yourself some questions or immerse yourself in the story and interview the characters.
What led to the character’s current situation? What events happened in their past, and how can it affect the way they resolve the conflict? What other unsolved issues could affect the protagonist’s objective and conflict resolution?
You have to dig deep, where and how is a matter of personal preference.
You may choose to use a pre-set list of questions shared by numerous published authors, or you may tweak some details and ask your protagonist a series of questions to find out the heart and soul of your character.
Step 6. Sketch the Plotline and fill it with Scenes: With the premise polished up, you can now set about to develop your ideas for this story.
Before outlining, you usually have sketchy ideas about the story. Write down all those sketchy ideas you have about your story.
What you want to do is record all the details so that you don’t forget anything. Add even the scenes that you are not sure about. Most of the time, things just fall in place—organically—once the story starts going.
This is the part of your creative process that involves a ‘no holds barred’ mentality. During this writing stage, you must focus on emptying your ideas and letting your thoughts out without sweating about any of the tenets of the Queen’s language— punctuation, grammar, or spelling. You need to keep plucking your most creative ideas and thoughts and adding depth to your story’s potential.
One thing that sets a good storyline apart from the basic ones is unpredictability. If you think a scene feels too familiar or predictable for readers, reconstruct it or throw it away altogether.
How to Start a Short Story?
Of course, I’m not going to ramble about the whole process of writing a short story, but the least I can do is to give you some insights on how to start a captivating short story.
You might be saying to yourself, “Yeah, I know how to outline a short story, right? But how do I start writing a scintillating story?”
The secret formula involves getting the reader’s attention quicker they expect and getting them settling into the story as it unfolds in its infancy.
To drive the point home, I’m going to borrow some of Anthony Ehler’s tips on how to start a short story:
Start as close to the action as possible . On this method, Ehler uses F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, Three Hours Between Planes, to demonstrate how the author scrapped the man’s arrival into his old town and immediately placed the man in a phone, looking up his old sweetheart’s number.
Set the tone of the story . For example, Ehler uses Ian Rankin’s spine-chilling crime story, Someone Got to Eddie , to demonstrate how a good short story starts—Rankin used a fictional character’s sequence of thoughts to instantly and crisply speak to the reader. With a well-constructed interior monologue, a good start immediately absorbs the reader into the main character’s mind.
Focus on your main character . Lastly, he uses Gina Berriault’s story, The Stone Boy , to back his point: a good story should immediately move the reader to identify with the main character. This makes the reader crave more and anticipate the story’s next event and twist—the reader plunks for the main character and is keen to see what will happen to the mc.
So, you’ve written your story, and you’re all set to start writing a future classic; always remember the golden rule of writing fiction—show, don’t tell.
The best part about outlining is that you won’t have to submit it to anyone. It’s for your own convenience.
That’s the easy part.
The hard part’s writing the story. When you start writing the story, you’ve got to put yourself in the reader’s mind and see if it sounds exciting or if it’s natural and convincing.
“If you think it’s boring, it probably is.”
What is a premise in writing why should you write it first, how to write a good climax (narrative) – professional tips, how does the setting contribute to the story, what is a love square.
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How to Write an Outline
Last Updated: September 9, 2023 Fact Checked
This article was co-authored by Emily Listmann, MA and by wikiHow staff writer, Danielle Blinka, MA, MPA . Emily Listmann is a private tutor in San Carlos, California. She has worked as a Social Studies Teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, and an SAT Prep Teacher. She received her MA in Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2014. There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 3,935,186 times.
An outline is a great way to organize ideas and information for a speech, an essay, a novel, or a study guide based on your class notes. At first, writing an outline might seem complicated, but learning how to do it will give you an essential organizational skill! Start by planning your outline and choosing a structure for it. Then, you can organize your ideas into an easy to understand outline.
Quick Outline Slideshow
Planning Your Outline
- Some people process their ideas better when they write them down. Additionally, you can easily draw diagrams or examples, which might help you conceptualize the subject. However, it might take longer to write out your outline, and it won't be as neat.
- Typing your outline might be easier if your notes are already typed on the computer, as you can just copy and paste them into your outline. Copying and pasting also allows you to easily rearrange your sections, if necessary. Also, it will be easier to copy and paste information from your outline into your paper if you type your outline. On the other hand, it's harder to jot down notes in the margins or draw out organizational diagrams.
- If you’re working on a creative project, such as a novel, identify your concept, genre, or premise. Then, allow the outlining process to help you structure your work.
- It’s okay if your topic is somewhat broad when you first start, but you should have a direction. For example, your history paper topic could be French life during the German occupation of France in World War II. As you write your outline, you might narrow this down to the resistance fighters called maquisards .
- For a school assignment, review the assignment sheet or talk to your instructor. If the outline is for work, use an existing outline as a model for yours.
- If you are the only person who will see the outline, you can choose formatting that works for you. For example, you might write your outline in shorthand.
- Paraphrased ideas
- Historical facts
- Freewrite as ideas come to you.
- Create a mind map .
- Write your thoughts on index cards.
- For example, you may be writing a paper about policy change. Your thesis might read, “Policy makers should take an incremental approach when making policy changes to reduce conflict, allow adjustments, and foster compromise.” Each of the 3 reasons listed in your thesis will become its own main point in your outline.
Structuring Your Outline
- Roman Numerals - I, II, III, IV, V
- Capitalized Letters - A, B, C
- Arabic Numerals - 1, 2, 3
- Lowercase Letters - a, b, c
- Arabic Numerals in Parentheses - (1), (2), (3)
- 1.1.1 - Each side presents a case before the vote
- 1.1.2 - Citizens voice their opinion
- 1.2 - Neither side gets everything they want
- You might use short phrases to quickly organize your ideas, to outline a speech, or to create an outline that’s just for you.
- You might use full sentences to make it easier to write a final paper, to make a good study guide, or to fulfill the requirements of an assignment.
Organizing Your Ideas
- If you jotted down your ideas or made a mind map, use different colored highlighters to identify ideas that belong in the same group.
- Sort your index cards, if you used them to brainstorm. Put cards with related ideas together. For example, you can put them in stacks, or you can line your cards out in rows to make them easier to read.
- For example, your main point might be that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein champions emotion over reason. Your subpoints might be that Victor Frankenstein is restored by nature and that his scientific efforts create a monster. As supporting details, you might include quotes from the book.
- If you're writing a story or presenting a historical argument, a chronological order makes sense. For an essay or speech, pick the subtopic with the most supporting materials, and lead with this argument. From there, order your major subtopics so each one naturally flows into the next.
- Your broad ideas should connect back to your thesis or controlling idea. If they don’t, rewrite your thesis to reflect the main ideas you’re putting into your outline.
- Hook to grab the audience
- 1-2 general statements about your topic
- Phrase outline: II. Frankenstein champions emotion over reason
- Full sentence outline: II. In Frankenstein , Mary Shelley champions the use of emotion over reason.
- Depending on the purpose of your outline, you might have more subpoints. For example, a novel may have many subpoints. Similarly, a study guide will likely have several subpoints, as well.
- In an essay, this is often where you “prove” your argument.
- For a creative work, you might include essential details you must include in that scene, such as an internal conflict in your main character.
- Similar to subpoints, you may have more supporting details, depending on your purpose. A novel or study guide will likely have more supporting details.
- Roman Numeral
- Capital Letter
- Arabic Numeral
- Lowercase Letter
- Arabic Numeral in Parentheses
- Restate your thesis.
- 1-2 summarizing sentences.
- Write a concluding statement.
Finalizing Your Outline
- This also gives you a chance to look for missing parts or ideas that aren’t fully fleshed. If you see areas that leave questions unanswered, it’s best to fill in those gaps in information.
- If you are making an outline for yourself, you might not worry about this.
- It’s a good idea to have someone else check it for errors, as it’s often hard to recognize errors in your own work.
- While you edit your outline, refer back to your assignment sheet or rubric to make sure you've completely fulfilled the assignment. If not, go back and correct the areas that are lacking.
- You can use more layers if you want to include more information.
- You might also include additional layers for a long creative work or a detailed study guide.
- Be concise and straightforward in your outline. This doesn't have to be perfectly polished writing; it just has to get your point across. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Don't be afraid to eliminate irrelevant information as you conduct more research about your topic and narrow your focus. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- You can use outlines as a memorization tool . Choose concise words to trigger a concept. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Generally, you should avoid only having one point or sub-point on any outline level. If there is an A, either come up with a B or fold A's idea into the next level up. Thanks Helpful 3 Not Helpful 2
- Your outline should not be your essay in a different form. Only write down the major assertions, not every single detail. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 1
You Might Also Like
- ↑ https://www.iup.edu/writingcenter/writing-resources/organization-and-structure/creating-an-outline.html
- ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/writingprocess/outlining
- ↑ https://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~cinichol/271/OutlinesHowTo.htm
- ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/544/02/
- ↑ https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/7-steps-to-creating-a-flexible-outline-for-any-story
- ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/544/03/
- ↑ http://writing2.richmond.edu/writing/wweb/outline.html
About This Article
The easiest way to write an outline is to gather all of your supporting materials, like quotes, statistics, or ideas, before getting started. Next, go over your materials and take notes, grouping similar ideas together. Then, organize your ideas into subtopics and use your materials to provide at least two supporting points per subtopic. Be sure to keep your outline concise and clear, since you’ll have to refer to it later! For more help on how to plan and organize your outline, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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How to Make Glitter Glue: 13 Steps
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Creating a compelling story requires careful planning and organization. One of the best ways to ensure your story flows well and remains engaging is to write an outline. Outlines can help you visualize your story’s structure, keep track of character arcs, and establish the pacing and rhythm of your narrative. Here are four ways to write an outline for a story.
1. The Freytag’s Pyramid Method
Freytag’s Pyramid is a classic storytelling structure that divided stories into five distinct sections: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. To use this method for your outline:
– Begin with the exposition (introduction) where you introduce characters, setting, and the primary conflict.
– Move onto the rising action (build-up) where you develop the conflict through a series of obstacles faced by your protagonist.
– Reach the climax (turning point) where the protagonist faces their most significant challenge or decision.
– Transition to the falling action (resolution) where tensions decrease as conflicts are resolved.
– Conclude with the denouement (final outcome) where loose ends are tied up, and resolution is achieved.
2. The Snowflake Method
The Snowflake Method is ideal for authors who appreciate starting small and expanding upon it. In this process:
– Start with a one-sentence summary of your story’s main idea.
– Expand that summary into a full paragraph that includes plot points and character motivations.
– Develop each plot point into detailed individual scenes or chapters, creating detailed summaries for each aspect of your story.
– Flesh out character backgrounds, arcs, motivations, and relationships to enhance their roles in your narrative.
3. The Chapter-by-Chapter Outline
A chapter-by-chapter outline involves breaking down your story into individual chapters and describing what occurs in each one.
– Begin by identifying how many chapters your story will have and what you anticipate occurring within each.
– Outline each chapter in detail, indicating key events, character developments, subplots, and pacing.
– Adjust the connections between your chapters as necessary, ensuring they build on one another and maintain a cohesive flow.
4. The Character-Focused Outline
For character-driven stories, consider outlining your story based on the individual arcs and motivations of your main characters.
– Begin by identifying your central characters and their roles within the story.
– Develop detailed character profiles, highlighting background information, motivations, goals, relationships, and unique traits.
– Create a timeline of each character’s personal journey throughout the story, noting how their arcs intersect with the overall plotline.
– Use these timelines to map out your story’s structure and flow.
Regardless of which method you choose for outlining your story, remember to stay flexible with your planning. Outlines are tools meant to guide you in crafting engaging and well-structured stories, but they should not limit or confine your creativity. Allow yourself room to experiment, revise, and grow your ideas as you write.
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With just over two months until the nationwide nominating contest kicks off, the former president is in a dominant position over his rivals in the state.
URBANDALE, Iowa — A larger-than-life cutout of Donald Trump’s disembodied head floated on the wall, watching over stacks of thousands of signed caucus pledges at a campaign office. Nearby, 16 supporters attended a training to become caucus captains when Iowa holds the first Republican nominating contest in January.
They were charged with turning out Trump backers to their caucus locations and speaking there on behalf of the campaign. Their enticement: a limited edition white-and-gold MAGA hat. Their mission: to overcome complacency from polls showing Trump far ahead and help deliver a show-of-force win.
“When we deliver President Trump that 50-, 60-point victory, it’s just going to suffocate all the air out of the room,” the instructor said. “When we swamp ’em here, this thing’s over.”
With just over two months until the caucuses, Trump, who has rallied enthusiastic support as he faces 91 charges across four criminal indictments, is in a dominant position over his rivals in the state, interviews with local GOP strategists and officials, voters, campaign advisers and polls show. Below him sits a traffic jam of lower-tier candidates, including several intensifying their focus in Iowa. The dynamic leaves Trump for now insulated from any breakaway challenger and eying a knockout blow, while others look for a strong enough showing to survive beyond the state.
In the state many anti-Trump Republicans hoped would expose his weaknesses, Trump has instead maintained strength this year, running with near incumbent status and legal problems that have only galvanized his base. The widely respected NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll this week showed Trump with 43 percent support among likely GOP caucus-goers, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and an ascendant former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley , tied at 16 percent. The poll also found that Trump’s supporters are more enthusiastic and committed to Trump, compared with Haley’s or DeSantis’s.
“The race in Iowa is between Haley and DeSantis for second and for a combined vote of more than Trump’s,” said David Oman, a former state party co-chair who’s been involved in the GOP’s Iowa caucuses since they began in 1976, and is not committed in this race. “Trump talk of 40-, 50-, 60-point leads isn’t true and won’t be true in Iowa.”
The former president’s rivals continue to argue that if Trump is to be stopped or slowed anywhere, it’s Iowa, a state he lost in 2016 before going on to win the Republican nomination. Trump has criticized the state’s popular Republican governor, Kim Reynolds. He has clashed with evangelical leaders over abortion and other issues. And the super PAC backing Trump has stepped up its ad spending in Iowa, including on attacks against DeSantis, which DeSantis operatives see as a sign that the Trump team views the Florida governor as a threat.
Still, several Republican operatives argue that unless the field narrows, Iowa remains Trump’s to lose.
“The former president is going to run away with this if there is not consolidation amongst the rest of the field,” said Jimmy Centers, an Iowa-based Republican consultant who was previously a spokesperson for the Branstad-Reynolds gubernatorial administration. “If Iowa is the hill to die on, I hope you have a lot of provisions. Because as the field currently stands, there is no path to beating former president Trump.”
While George W. Bush was the last Republican to win Iowa and go on to win his party’s nomination in a contested GOP primary, Iowa’s first-in-nation status gives it a critical role in winnowing the field. And this cycle, it could take on heightened importance: a big win for Trump could build insurmountable momentum for him heading into New Hampshire and the other early states. Yet rival campaigns hope that even a close second-place finish or against-the-odds upset could change the trajectory of the race. DeSantis’s campaign is moving a third of his staff to the Hawkeye State; Haley recently expanded her operations; and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) declared this week that it’s “Iowa or bust.”
Candidates have tailored their speeches to the state. Trump touts that he “fought for Iowa ethanol,” stood up to China and delivered subsidies to farmers, an apparent reference to his administration’s decision to subsidize farmers hurt by his trade war with China. DeSantis notes on the trail that he’s the only candidate who’s committed to visiting all of Iowa’s counties and leans into issues popular with Iowans such as restricting Chinese nationals from purchasing farmland. Haley, in her Iowa remarks, praises GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley, joking he would run circles around everyone else in the room while discussing her pitch for mental competency tests for politicians over 75. She also mentions Iowa when discussing China’s expansion into the U.S., referencing the purchase of the largest pork producer.
All of it is toward a goal of convincing a small slice of a population of about 3.2 million to participate in a unique process, where the number of caucus-goers can swing wildly from cycle to cycle and voters sometimes change their minds late. Roughly 187,000 people participated in the GOP caucus in 2016. In 2020, about 176,000 Democrats participated in the caucuses. Campaigns this year are expecting more than 200,000 people to caucus.
Trump 2024 versus Trump 2016
At a Sioux City rally this weekend, Trump told the crowd that he owed them an apology, because he’d been predicting that he would easily win Iowa: “My people say you cannot assume that,” he added. “Well we are, I think we’re up by 47 points or something … They said, ‘Sir, it would be nice if you didn’t say that — because you can’t just assume, you know people may get upset.”
Yet Trump’s advisers are projecting confidence about their path forward, noting the difference between his bare-bones operation in 2016 when he lost by roughly 6,000 votes to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and today’s efforts, which include caucus trainings and a database of voters. A senior campaign staffer said it has collected 41,000 pledges so far.
The campaign sees its work as more heavily anchored in turning out loyal supporters than persuading them and in Trump making one-on-one personal connections. During a Dubuque County GOP meeting in October, the county GOP secretary, Jayne Uelner, recalled her experience riding in the former president’s motorcade, calling it “the most phenomenal thing we’ve ever done in our life.”
Outside of a Trump “Commit to Caucus” event in Waterloo on a chilly Saturday morning, Jeanne Grimm, 66, and her sister-in-law Dalen Grimm, 71, did not identify as Republicans before Trump and did not caucus in 2016. But they plan to next year.
“It’s probably the most important election we’ve had in years, in decades,” Dalen said. In Urbandale, a show of hands indicated about half the trainees were first-time caucus-goers. Several doubled as the precinct chairs who would be in charge of running the caucus at their locations.
The campaign is targeting several different groups of voters, according to advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy, including reliable caucus-goers who have participated since 2016; those who caucused in 2020 but didn’t vote in the 2022 midterms; and donors and rally attendees. The campaign is relying on peer-to-peer texting, as well as phone calls from volunteers and staff, advisers said. The Trump campaign also went up in Iowa and New Hampshire this week with a new cable ad, seeking to contrast with Biden.
The campaign said it has recruited 1,300 caucus captains, with multiple captains for some of Iowa’s 1,656 precincts. Lois Gorman from Altoona has been a precinct captain and poll watcher before. When canvassers from other campaigns would show up at her door, she would invite them into her living room to show them a wall covered in Trump paraphernalia: a Trump flag, a photo, an autographed scrapbook, books by him and Melania Trump.
“I get these phone calls, ‘We’re taking a poll, who’s your second choice?’ ” she said. “Don’t have one.”
DeSantis battles to be the alternative
DeSantis, once seen as the candidate best positioned to challenge Trump, has faded this year, and is now in a heated competition with Haley. DeSantis operatives argue they are laying the kind of groundwork that pays off late in the race, echoing the organizing-centric playbooks of past Iowa victors such as Cruz.
A super PAC supporting DeSantis, Never Back Down, has built a massive door-knocking operation and recruited local chairs in all 99 of Iowa’s counties. And the Florida governor is campaigning with particular intensity in Iowa, on track to hit his 87th county this week. Never Back Down has gathered more than 30,000 commit-to-caucus cards and drew 60 people to its first precinct captain training last week. Never Back Down has also filled about half of the precincts with captains and has thanked those who have committed to caucus with care packages and handwritten thank you notes from trainers. Meanwhile, the DeSantis campaign is running its first television ad of the race in the state this week.
“They can pound their chests all they want, but they know they will never be able to build the operation needed to win the caucus, nor can they repair the damage Trump has done with Republicans in the state,” said Never Back Down chief operating officer Kristin Davison, speaking of the Trump campaign.
Lisa Johnson, 43, from Ankeny is the kind of caucus-goer who will be crucial for DeSantis — part of a large swath of voters who are open to both Trump and other candidates. Johnson doesn’t care about Trump’s “attitude” and says “he got stuff done.” But she’s still learning about DeSantis and says that so far she’s impressed. “Who knows — I might switch,” she said.
Sue Higgins, a former Trump supporter who calls herself independent, said she’s already sold on DeSantis — because the former president has accumulated lot of “baggage” and that “we need a clean start.”
DeSantis has aggressively courted evangelical voters. Pastor Michael Demastus of Des Moines, who sees the race as between Trump and DeSantis, said there’s a “swath of evangelicals” who will remain loyal to Trump. “They see the litigation that’s happening against him as persecutorial, and so he’s kind of held in a martyr sense,” Demastus said. Yet he added: “There’s a lot of people when it comes to Trump, they are tired of having to explain away his behavior.”
This week’s Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom poll had DeSantis and Trump tied for the largest share of caucusgoers selecting each candidate as their first choice, second choice or actively considering them — and echoed other surveys suggesting that Trump would gain if DeSantis dropped out.
“If we weren’t doing well, we would not be the focal point of the attacks,” DeSantis told conservative talk host Hugh Hewitt this week.
Chris LaCivita, a Trump campaign senior adviser, responded: “Of course our opponents are worried about any money we spend in Iowa. Because it illustrates that we’re serious about kicking their a--.”
Never Back Down has outspent other candidate-aligned groups on television ad buys in Iowa since the start of the year , investing $15.6 million, followed by Trust in the Mission PAC, which is backing Scott and has spent $12.7 million, according to data from AdImpact. SFA Fund, which is supporting Haley, has spent about $11.7 million and MAGA Inc., which is pro-Trump, has spent $7 million.
Haley on the rise
Haley is seen by many Republicans as a more natural fit for New Hampshire and her home state of South Carolina, where she has spent considerable time campaigning. But she is upping investments in Iowa, opening a headquarters in Clive and hiring two new staffers with Iowa experience earlier this month: Hooff Cooksey, Reynolds’s 2018 campaign manager, and Troy Bishop, the field director for Grassley’s Senate race last cycle.
The former South Carolina governor has courted independents who plan to caucus with the Republicans in Iowa. In the latest poll, 22 percent of independents listed her as their first choice, up from 10 percent in August, but Trump still leads with the group at 33 percent. Haley leads DeSantis among those with a college degree 22 percent to 16 percent and women 44 and younger by a slightly wider margin, according to the survey.
During a mid-October swing through Iowa, Haley stressed her foreign policy experience and focus on national security. Her experience as a U.N. ambassador won over many in the room, who cited increasing concern for the unfolding war in the Middle East. Several attendees said they had been deciding between Haley and DeSantis until recently, and that her foreign policy expertise is what won them over.
Vivek Ramaswamy , who came in at only four percent in the Iowa poll, recently rented an apartment in Des Moines and a campaign official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans said to expect a shift in focus to the state after next week’s debate — both in terms of resources and the candidate’s physical presence.
Yet Linda Upmeyer, co-chair of the Iowa GOP, said it’s hard to envision someone other than Trump winning Iowa.
“I wouldn’t put my money anywhere else just based on numbers, not that polling is all perfect,” she said. “But this isn’t like a seven- point gap, or a five-point gap. This is significant separation between President Trump and any other candidate.”
Dylan Wells and Emily Guskin contributed to this report.
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Israel-Hamas war: List of key events, day 27
As the conflict between Israel and Gaza enters its 27th day, these are the main developments.
Here is the situation on Thursday, November 2, 2023:
- Gaza’s only medical centre for cancer treatment, the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital, was forced to shut down on Wednesday after fuel ran out, according to its director.
- Foreign passport holders in Gaza are exiting into Egypt through the Rafah Crossing . About 500 people were allowed to leave via the crossing on Wednesday, while 596 more are expected to exit on Thursday, according to the Gaza Borders and Crossings Authority. Some injured Palestinians have also been allowed to leave for medical treatment.
- Israel carried out deadly air raids on the Jabalia refugee camp over the past two days, bringing the death toll there to about 200 and injuring nearly 800 people in just 24 hours, according to Gaza’s Government Media Office. More than 100 people remain missing. Satellite images from Maxar Technologies show how intense bombardment left a crater in the neighbourhood. Israel’s military claims the second attack killed a senior Hamas leader.
- Another phone and internet blackout swept Gaza on Wednesday, according to Palestinian telecom provider Paltel.
Human impact and fighting
- Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) said more than 20,000 injured people are still in Gaza.
- There were predawn Israeli air raids across the Gaza Strip, including in the vicinity of al-Quds hospital , said the Palestine Red Crescent Society. Missiles and shells fired by Israeli warplanes and tanks also killed several people in neighbourhoods like Tal al-Hawa, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA. Ambulances have been struggling to reach the affected areas due to continued bombardment.
- On Wednesday night, the Israeli army claimed it killed Muhammad A’sar, identified by them as the head of Hamas’s “antitank missile units”.
- Al Jazeera Arabic reported “Violent clashes” between Palestinian fighters and Israeli forces in northwest Gaza City on Thursday morning. Palestinian armed groups have killed an Israeli soldier in a firefight, according to the Israeli army. Hamas’s armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, also told Al Jazeera Arabic that they fired antitank shells, targeting at least two Israeli tanks and bulldozers.
- Fighting is also continuing at the Lebanon-Israel border as Hezbollah claimed it shot down an Israeli drone for the second time this week. Israel’s army confirmed its drone was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.
- For the first time since October 7, United States President Joe Biden called for a “humanitarian pause” in the Gaza Strip, according to The Associated Press news agency.
- Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel as a protest against the war on Gaza, according to a statement from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
- In Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei called on Muslim states to cease oil and food exports to Israel in response to their bombardment of Gaza.
- On Wednesday, Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, said Israel and Palestine should adopt a two-state solution, according to Reuters news agency. On Sunday, he had also called for a ceasefire in the war.
- Saudi Defence Minister Khalid bin Salman Al Saud met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday to discuss ways to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East.
Clashes in the occupied West Bank
- The death toll in the occupied West Bank since October 7 now stands at 130, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
- On Wednesday, a senior Fatah leader was arrested in an Israeli raid on Jenin, according to Al Jazeera correspondent Imran Khan.
- Armoured Israeli vehicles were spotted driving through Nablus, while Israeli forces were seen carrying out an operation outside a residential neighbourhood, according to Al Jazeera Arabic.