Story Outline Tips

Friday, May 18, 2012
Here are couple neat tips I've learned from skimming Donald Maas's Writing the Breakout Novel workbook about...

Writing Outlines:

  • Try writing the outline BEFORE the story is complete.
    • (I've actually gone back into a finished manuscript and changed it while constructing an outline because I learned what one of the conflicts were and I suddenly knew which parts of the story I need to strengthen. **And just because you write an outline before a story's finished, doesn't mean you have to follow it.  You can always change it once the story is complete** Writing outlines before finishing the book is supposed to help give you direction in what you want your story to work toward.)
  •  Make it a creative act.
    • (If you try to be all professional and "just give the facts, ma'am," you're going to get bored writing it, which means your readers will get bored reading it. Try to give it the voice and flair and mood you gave your story.)
  • Attempt to include these three main parts in your outline.
    • Fundamentals (who, what, when, where plus what the protagonist wants, why they want it, and what's keeping them from getting it)
    • Highlights (instead of doing a chapter-by-chapter spiel of what happens, only highlight the biggest moments in the story of what the protagonist does to get what she/her wants, detail the most important factors that get in his/her way, mention his/her biggest inner conflicts, and maybe toss in one or two very small but impacting moments of dialogue.)
    • Resolution (Mention what changes in the story and tell how the protagonist did or didn't reach his/her goals.)

I've concluded there are three main types of outlines you need to come up with when/before/after writing your story. You need a: 
    • Synopsis (two to ten pages, depending on submission guidelines of the place you're querying)
    • Blurb (around 150 words. This can be a paragraph in the query letter you send or maybe it's the back cover blurb for your book, sometimes both)
    • Tag Line (approximately ten to fifteen words long. A cool tip in the writing-help book Save the Cat by Blake Snyder is "make it ironic" -- ie. Twilight "So the lion fell in love with the lamb")

So I have a story idea brewing in my head. I barely have a few thousands words jotted down in a scattered, unorganized mess. But I tried to think up a quick blurb-type outline for it before going any further. I tried to make it creative and capture the voice of my protagonist. And I tried cramming in the fundamentals, the highlights plus allude to the resolution.This is what I came up with:
If Harry Potter had been a girl, raised in America, do you think this is what she’d say?

As a teen witch, you’d think I totally rock, right? I mean, I’m a witch. Hello. But honestly, I don’t. Example: I hate Emma Greer more than … well I just hate her, okay. But when I brewed a tonic to turn her beautiful golden locks into the color and consistency of broom bristles, I flubbed the whole thing up. Who knew half an extra mushroom would transform my bad-hair revenge into a love potion? Now my hot boy crush is crazy about HER while I’m still the lamest witch this side of the cafeteria.

Just when I swore to myself I would never again attempt another potion, the boy of my dreams—literally—who explodes into my life—again, literally—needs MY help to save the world. Is this my chance to finally prove I’m not a complete failure, or is all human kind doomed under my spell? But more importantly, will I get my first kiss before I turn sixteen or die an old maid like my two strange aunts?

What do you think? Should I pursue finishing this story or not??


  1. You made some good points .I did a little research on the topic and found that most people agree with your blog. Thanks.

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  2. I think it sounds really cute! I don't know enough about YA paranormals to know if it's unique (reminds me of Clarissa, used to love that show!). I like writing blurbs ahead of time, but not synopses or outlines. lol

    1. I'm going to have to look up Clarissa. Never heard of her. I wondered if it was too Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I never watched any of those episodes either. I fear this story will prompt lots of unusual research.

      I like blurbs better than synopses too. Probably why I wrote up a blurb instead of an synopsis for this story!!!

  3. Good points! I might try it with my paranormal trilogy. It might help me keep things straight and organized.

  4. Hmmm, interesting. I'm going to have to try this...I'm so not organized.