If you’re an organized sort of person, you’ll probably be the type of writer who loves outlines. Or at least finds them really helpful.
And no matter how you write, outlines can ensure that you remember who needs to be where when, what minor plots need to be explained when, and what important events need to happen at which point in the story. They can allow you to see where your story is going, what scenes are important to include, and keep track of characters and their movements.
I LOVE outlines…creating them is one of my favorite parts of the process of writing a book, simply because the whole story is right there, on one page, ready and waiting to be written.
Plus, I generally also like knowing where I’m going and outlines can really help with keeping a story focused.
But different stories require different types of outlines. And even one story can benefit from a variety of different outline types.
Did I just blow your mind with the idea that different types of outlines exist? I about had a solo dance party when I found out I could map my stories in a variety of ways.
So here are the three types of outlines you’ll probably find most useful for your stories. Each one helps you see the important aspects of your story in different ways…and you’ll never have an unresolved plot hole ever again.
The Scene by Scene Outline
This is the one we’re all familiar with. It goes section by section or chapter by chapter and follows the layout of the book. Depending on your story and if you’re incorporating flashbacks, this type of outline may or may not be chronological.
The way I always like to start this outline is by starting at the end, hopping around and then piecing everything back together to form my outline. You can read more on why I think starting at the end is the best way to get killer beginnings here.
Once you know where your story is going, you can create the first scenes by describing the reverse of practically everything: what your character has or hasn’t achieved, what they’re passionate about, and what they want and how they act.
Next, you’ll want to know how they get from the beginning of the story to the end. What events happen? What journey propels them to the end? Who do they encounter? What do they learn? What significant events must they experience to change from who they are at the beginning of the story, to who they are at the end?
Once you have all these pieces, you can puzzle them back together in the order you want. This is your outline! You now have a roadmap for yourself, telling you what scenes come next and what needs to be established in each scene. Brilliant!
The Line Outline
Grab your colored pencils and a few sheets of printer paper, cause we’re going to draw, folks!
Seriously, this one is so much fun.
The Line Outline works especially well if you’re balancing several plots or characters: this outline form gives you a way to visually see how everybody interconnects.
Pick a color for either each character or each plotline. Make sure you create a key for yourself!
Start with your main character or main plot. Draw a straight line from one short edge of your paper to the other. Then using a neutral colored pencil or a fine-tipped pen, create notch marks for important moments in this particular character’s arc or this particular plot and label each one. Don’t draw in minor plots or events that influence only other characters just yet.
Then pick one of your other colors. Draw another line about an inch below or above your main line. You’ll draw in the same manner as the first line with one exception: if this minor plot or minor character ever interacts directly with your main plot/character, draw the line up or down to meet your main line.
Continue to do this with every character or plot you want to track.
By the end, you’ll have a map that looks a bit like the London Underground, but so useful to your story! This is a great tool to track where each of your characters goes, the timing of certain events and pivotal moments, and allows you to see where everybody interacts.
Brain Dump Outline
I’m not sure if I can technically call this an outline, but I’m going to anyways for the sake of this post.
Braindumps are incredibly helpful when you’ve just been hit with a brilliant idea. You’re coursing through with new ideas and characters and places and they’re all interconnecting.
For this outline, it helps to create a mindmap. Yep, get out those colored pencils and printer paper again!
Start with the main idea or character or plot point. Write it down in the center of your paper and draw a circle around it. As more ideas come to you, connect them to the main circle and build out, writing down more ideas and drawing more circles.
Once you’ve exhausted your idea banks, begin cataloging this map by color coding similar themes. Combine like ideas, relationships, plot lines, so you can see how things interconnect in a clearer way. You can then transfer all of this to a scene by scene outline, or just a bullet-point list.
Either way, order it in a way that makes sense to you. You’re now ready to create a full Scene by Scene Outline, or Line Outline. This helps you see all the seemingly disconnected parts of a new story and connect them in a way that makes sense.
Bonus: The Chronological Timeline
Come on…did you really think I could limit myself to just three outline types??
The Chronological Timeline is a special one. Not every writer will use this, but every fanperson in history would thank the fandom gods if one of these fell into their lap.
The Chronological Timeline works just like it sounds: it’s not a scene by scene take of your story, it’s the actual timeline of every event in your story, including events long before and long after the main plot of your story.
This is especially helpful for fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, and historical fiction writers. You can more easily weave in flashbacks when you know where they take place in relation to your main plot.
So break out your colored pencils and paper and have fun outlining your stories today! Tag me in photos on Instagram @thelexiconwritingblog!