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How to Outline a Story

Updated: Mar 12



Outlining; We all hate doing it, but it’s super important to do it one way or another. It helps give you an overall view of your story before you begin writing, and while you may be tempted to write out “a scene” (or ten), don’t do it. You’ll get lost in the weeds and lose momentum.


We all tend to do it because as we go along our brains start going crazy with wonderful ideas (which isn’t a bad thing, just not productive.)


Instead, we must learn to make our brain work for us, not be slaves to it and its whims. This is where outlining can be a big help! Now don’t be scared. Whether you’ve tried outlining before or not, we're confident this will help you.


In the previous post, we learned how to begin fleshing out a plot idea. Here, we’re going to take that idea and build upon it.


To Outline or Not to Outline

Firstly, we need to change how we view outlining. We'll start with how we have always seen outlining:


  1. Write out idea

  2. See it as something that HAS to happen

  3. If I don’t write it, I have failed

  4. Write, erase, repeat


Familiar?


Too many authors get stuck in the same rut when all we need is a perspective shift and a change in our vocabulary. We need to rethink what we know and how we learned to do it “the proper way.” It doesn’t mean we throw it out, mind you, instead, we make it work for us.


So how do we change our perspective? I like to use the word "milestone" because we're looking for mile markers, which are significant events that you'll be writing toward.


Milestones Are Not Set in Stone

We’ve talked briefly about the trap we fall into with outlines, so let’s talk about the traps you can fall into with milestones.


One, milestones are placeholders and are not set in stone. They are moldable, changeable, and can be thrown out. You must work on not letting your brain dictate what things will or will not be in your story, and that means you need to learn not to see things in black and white.


Two, not all milestones are worthy of being in your story. When you write these ideas down, know that there will be many things that you will change, throw out, or tweak just a little as you go along and that's okay!


Setting the First Stone

When we talked about setting goals, you’ll remember one of the ways we broke up our goals was via chapters per Act. When using the Milestone Method, consider how each ‘milestone’ is a chapter heading.


EX:

(Sibling 1) meets (Sibling 2) and they go on the run.


This allows you to know what the chapter is about from a 10,000ft view and helps you move on to the next chapter. Once you get into a chapter, it may change (which happens), but you can then choose to update the next milestone or keep it the same because they flow well together.


Takeaway


If you’ve read the post about setting goals, you should have your word count goals and the number of chapters. First, write out ACT I/ACT II/etc. Once that is finished, you’re going to use your milestones to mark out the chapters in your Acts in a steady progression. Remember, we’re looking at a bullet-pointed type view of things.


With that completed, you will have a rough outline of your whole book from start to finish. You should keep iterating on it as you write because there will be things that change as you go. Expect that. Don’t be surprised. If you view your outline as a living, breathing document that ebbs and flows with you, you’ll find your stories easier to manage in the long run.


If you would like to do the exercises this post is based upon, check out the free worksheets by hitting the button below and downloading them.




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