All great books were story outlines at one time. Between a raw idea that suddenly comes to your mind and a finished text lies many pages of attempts, editing, rewriting from scratch, and a bit of frustration. A story outline helps you overcome that path easier and faster, and a story outline template brings you clearance and understanding of where to move.
Some people may consider story outlines as obstacles to their creativity. That misconception is popular due to the wrong understanding of a story outline and when a writer needs it.
Spur of the moment splash of creativity can't be stopped or devastated by a plan. No writer must strictly follow the plan if they feel their story no longer matches the first intent. A story outline is a map to help you get to the finish safely while enjoying your road. However, you can change your place of arrival anytime you want.
Did you know that "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley was originally intended to be a ghost story, but it ended up becoming a science fiction masterpiece that explores the dangers of playing God?
Did you know that J. D. Salinger initially intended to write a novel about a prep school teacher, but as he wrote, the focus shifted to the rebellious and angsty Holden Caulfield and his experiences navigating adolescence?
In other words, a story outline is here not to stop your writing or put it into a frame but to encourage and support you.
The xTiles Story Outline Template will help you quickly come up with the main points of your story, provide you with a clear overview of your intent, and save you time on preparation and planning so that you can rush into action.
Also, we offer you a story outline example and a detailed guide on how to write a story outline to help you create your own that may become a great story someday.
What is a story outline?
A story outline is a basic plan for a future story. It's a roadmap that outlines the major events and plot points that will take place in the story.
Sometimes authors add characters, settings, and key elements to the story outline document. That helps to see and analyze the future story clearly on misconceptions, mistakes, deadends, etc.
The outline can be as detailed or as simple as the writer desires. However, the more complicated the story is planned, the more detailed plan an author needs to keep all details harmonized.
No story outline or its negligence might lead to confusion and mistakes in texts. If there is an editor or proofreader, they may find them and fix them. However, even professionals sometimes miss mistakes, and texts get published with inconsistencies.
For example, in his "Heart of Darkness," Joseph Conrad accidentally changes the age of one of his characters from 32 to 38 and back again. Jane Austine, in " Pride and Prejudice," makes the same kind of mistake. Mr. Bennet says that he has been married for 23 years, but later on, it is revealed that he has been married for 24 years.
A story outline won't protect you from all possible mistakes, but it will definitely minimize the appearance of such inconsistencies in your texts.
A story outline structure depends on the story itself and on the author's way of planning. Usually, there are next sections:
- Introduction, where an author outlines the beginning of a story and where the main character or characters appear.
- Rising Action, where an author describes events that will build tension and raise problems to move the story forward.
- Climax, where tension reaches its highest point in the story, and the conflict gets resolved.
- Falling Action, where the events take place after the climax, leading to the logical resolution of the story.
- Conclusion, where the story ends, and the characters move on with their lives.
Not all stories can be put within that list. Literature has overcome a long path to ruin all the possible standards that might oppress people's creativity. Hundreds of innovators spend years trying to show that there are no frames and cages to captivate real talent. It will find its way out via texts of bizarre and flamboyant forms.
That's why the story outline method and story outline templates are just tools to coordinate your writing and keep you concentrated on your idea.
When does a writer need a story outline?
The safest option is to use a story outline for every fictional piece a writer is about to start writing. However, it may not be possible due to different reasons. For example, Ernest Shackleton wrote a book about his Antarctic expedition while stranded on an ice floe.
Some notable writers preferred or at least experimented occasionally with writing stories without a strict outline. Jack Kerouac famously wrote "On the Road" in a stream-of-consciousness style, without an outline or plan. Stephen King has said that he often begins writing a story with no clear plan or outline, letting the characters and plot develop as he goes.
Their experience may be alluring. However, skipping the planning and brainstorming stages is not always the best idea, especially when you're new to writing.
If a novice writer wants to break stereotypes, they need to learn how to play by rules first, and outlining their stories before writing them will help to do it.
Traditional texts have their own rules and demand a certain structure. Usually, it's a before-mentioned five-part structure with an introduction, rising action, climax, etc.
Unless you study literature, whether on your own or in college, you might not define those parts on your own. Without understanding how a text works, you might not build a story that will work for a reader.
Writing a story outline is important for a good beginning. Yet, you may do it at any stage of the writing process, depending on your individual approach, preferences, or current circumstances.
- At the planning stage, when you only begin your new writing project, you may find it helpful to create a story outline as a way to organize your thoughts and ideas, making it easier to develop the plot, characters, and settings.
- At the revision stage, when you review your existing draft, you may outline your story to identify areas that need improvement and find plot holes or weak characters or arcs.
- At the collaboration stage, when/if working with your co-writers or editors, you may create an outline to ensure that every participant is on the same page. It will ease your collaboration on a shared version by providing you with a clear understanding of the story's structure and plot,
- Finally, you may outline your story to manage your time, whether you write in your free time or it's your main job. An outline will help you understand how much time you will need to spend on each part of your text and plan it accordingly to your other activities so that no deadline will be missed.
Additionally, when breaking the story down into manageable chunks, writers can more easily track progress and set goals for themselves. That may be particularly useful for long writing projects, such as novels or screenplays.
Story outline templates
A story outline is a basic framework to make writing easier and more enjoyable without producing text with mistakes, inconsistencies, and holes.
A story outline template is the next step, making the process of writing an outline even more manageable. It will help you plan each part of your future story according to your initial idea and stick to it throughout the writing process.
Creating a document and taking care of its visual elements may be time-consuming. If there's no option to organize everything as you like it, you may refuse the idea of using a story outline at all.
Also, poor customization functionality, like in the story outline template for Google Docs, might complicate the process of creating an outline.
xTiles offers an easily customizable story outline template that you can freely share with everyone on the internet and change whenever you want and need.
The ability to add and embed visual content allows you to create an outline representing your idea on different levels through different expressive means.
The xTiles Story Outline template may benefit writers in several ways:
- It helps to organize the story.
Every story detail is important, whether you're writing a short story outline or an epic novel outline. And every detail has to have its own place to work in your story as you intended. A story outline template will help authors avoid being drawn into details, descriptions, twists, and information about characters and settings.
- It helps save time.
A template is a basic framework to build upon a story. Having a predefined structure, a template ensures a writer doesn't miss important details.
- It helps adapt and modify a story if you change your intent.
Your story may change dozens of times until you finish it. Sometimes a story is so consuming that authors become led by it.
By the way, plots about creators who become consumed by their works are pretty popular. You may find that in Stephen King's "Secret Window, Secret Garden," where the protagonist becomes consumed by his writing and descends into madness as he struggles to complete his latest work, or in Philip Roth's "The Ghost Writer," where the protagonist becomes consumed by the story of his subject.
- It helps maintain consistency throughout a story.
A template helps to ensure that important elements, such as character traits and plot points, remain coherent and cohesive.
- It helps writers stay focused on the overall direction of the narrative and avoid getting sidetracked by tangents or irrelevant details.
As you write, your creativity continues to produce new ideas and details that may be important for your story development. However, you can't put everything because some may cancel others and vice versa. A template will help you from getting astray.
Also, it's a great place to note all your ideas that can't be used in the current story but may make the next one interesting.
- It helps to identify potential problems with a story early on.
If you finished your story, and there were no challenges, no hard decisions, or no holes, you probably need to check it once again, especially if you didn't outline your story before starting.
A template will help you see potential problems with the plot, characters, arcs, and characters and address them before they become more difficult to fix later on in the writing process.
However, you need to understand that you can't protect your story from inconsistencies fully. The larger your story will be, the more you might miss. J. R. R. Tolkien revised and rewrote large portions of "The Lord of the Rings" over many years to address issues with plot and characterization. Margaret Mitchell reportedly rewrote the ending of "Gone with the Wind" multiple times before settling on the final version.
How to write a story outline?
Writing a story outline may be crucial for the writing process, as it helps writers to structure their stories and ensures that they will have clear and compelling narrative arcs.
Many authors don't write a word of their next story without outlining it first. For example, J. K. Rowling is famous for her detailed outlines and planning processes in the Harry Potter series. She reportedly created extensive character profiles and plot outlines for each of the seven books before beginning to write.
Another famous author known for his well-planned plots and settings is George R. R. Martin. He creates extensive outlines and character profiles for his novels and has spoken about the challenges of balancing plot and character development throughout a long series.
Definitely, every author has their own style of writing and their own approach to planning writing. However, when you're new to writing, you need to start with basic principles to build your own upon them.
The xTiles Story Outline Template allows you to create an outline to develop your story step-by-step. We also provide you with a guide and an example to make it easier. The sample is about Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, so there should be no problem understanding plot elements and how they work together.
Here are some general steps you may follow to write a story outline using our template:
- Start with basic information about your story. That section is particularly important if you work on a few stories simultaneously. It will help you easily switch between different plots, characters, and settings. Also, it will help to catch the needed vibe after long pauses.
Start with the name of your story. It may be just a working title that may change later. Try not to waste too much time creating a very eloquent name if there are no ideas. It may come to you naturally while working on the text.
Then shortly describe the settings. You may avoid details like landscapes. A geographical name may be enough to understand where the story takes place clearly.
Don't forget about the time as it may be very important. 8 out of 10 times, inconsistencies we find in books concern timelines. Having it written down handy will help you keep in mind that you can't deviate if it's not a part of the story.
If your story takes place in a few different timelines, write down all of them. You may even add short descriptions to distinguish them better.
Finally, describe with a few adjectives the atmosphere of your story. It may change over the course of the action, so you may need to widen this part.
- Describe your story background. Tell a bit about your characters, how they ended up in the situation you're about to describe, what they did before you decided to tell the world about them, etc.
That step may require previous research to understand where and when everything is happening. That will be easier if you want to write a sci-fi or fantasy book because you can make out most of the attributes of the setting world.
If you want your invented world to relate to your readers, you may need to use some cultures or historical periods as a base. For example, J. R. R. Tolkien used Celtic and Scandinavian mythologies when creating his Middle-earth, steampunk uses a Victorian Epoque, etc.
Historic stories require thorough research because each detail is hugely important. When an author mixes up the age of their characters, it represents a lack of attention. However, when they mix up historical details, it may be considered disrespectful to readers.
- Develop your future characters. If you get to know them better before you start, you will better understand them and their purposes over the course of the story.
Describe the most important point about them, how they look, and whether it has any effect on how they behave and how other people look at them. Think about whether they have some fears, what kind of music they like, what are their guilty pleasures, their first memory, etc.
Become friends with them or enemies. You need to feel something about your characters. This way, you will ensure your readers will consider them real people and not empty and flat profiles with no motivation and background.
Sometimes great characters become very significant parts of the culture. Think about Don Juan, Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, Faust, etc. So, developing your characters is never a waste of time. After all, some tiny detail about them may become a game-changer in the whole story.
- List the central actions of the story scene by scene. Start with the introduction or inciting event.
Many writers concentrate on the first sentence or paragraph of their text too much, thinking that there's no other chance to catch readers' attention than to amuse or shock them from the beginning.
However, developing your first scene is much more important. Judging a book by its first sentence is even worse than judging it by its cover, and a rare reader will do that.
Also, remember that there has to be a smooth transition between scenes to make your story concise and coherent unless you plan to build it against traditional rules of storytelling.
- Finally, describe your story plot, its central conflict and what your characters are trying to resolve, what motivates them to do their job, etc.
That part is a quick summary of your story that helps you better understand your characters and how they feel inside your story.
By now, if you have followed the guide, you have at least a draft of your story outline. If it's not perfect or far from what you wanted it to be, try again. This time you will have a base and previous experience to build an effective story outline.
Also, remember that your story outline isn't engraved in stone. You're free to edit and change it if you feel that your characters lead you in a different direction. Even film scenarios are often rewritten on the set because a team doesn't relate to the previous draft anymore.
A story outline, even the most detailed one, might have holes because, in the beginning, when you write it, you might not have a clear understanding of the entire intent and what will happen at the end.
That's why adding new information to both the text and the outline while working is important. In the end, when reviewing your text, it will be easier to check whether there are some inconsistencies.
Writing is always about attempts and mistakes. Great stories mean a great amount of work and life experience. So, when starting your story, be ready that it might be harder than you expected it to be and that you may start to dislike it after some time as you grow and develop as a personality and writer.
Story outline templates don't resolve all problems writers usually face, yet they minimize their effect on writing, help organize the process, and work in the long run.
The xTiles Story Outline Template is a base for almost any kind of writing and story. However, it doesn't stop you from implementing your wildest writing ideas because it's customizable.