Writing a Story: Basic Outlining

Writing a Story: Basic Outlining

Last post we talked about creating a plot summary. Personally, I’m rather fond of outlines. My preference to outlines comes from my college days. I realized back then that creating an outline allowed me to skip around in a paper. Later, I applied the same techniques to my stories. A great outline means there’s no need to write a story chronically.

A while back, I found a program called Character Writer, which includes a section for plotting a story. Since then, I’ve used its formula as a guideline for developing my stories. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll point you in that direction.

What makes Character Writer really useful in terms of an outline, is it allows a writer to use somewhat of a snowflake effect. It begins by prompting the writer to come up with 8 plot points which are later divided into 3 acts, similar to what I suggested in the last post. What I like is it doesn’t leave you on your own when developing those plot points. It provides hints, such as your character is living his/her life and is unhappy/happy with the situation and is seeking/not seeking an adventure. Simple enough, but a little something to get you thinking and a place to write specifics about your characters and story.

Once the plot points are completed, the outline is generated… but it goes further. Character Writer makes a suggestion of how many scenes should be for each plot development. This allows a writer to be as detailed or generic as necessary.

So, today I’ll leave you with an online tool from the same characters of Character Writer. For the most part, it’s just an online version of the downloadable program. It’ll give you a quick feel for how it works and hopefully get you started on your outline for NaNoWriMo.

Character Writer Online Story Tool

Writing a Story: Plot Summary

Writing a Story: Plot Summary

With NaNoWriMo on the horizon, it seems like a great time to continue with the Writing a Story series I started last month. If you’re looking for a refresh, check out the last post on Creating a Character here.

Writing a novel comes easy for some folk, not so easy for others. I consider myself one of those people who falls in between. Typically, a scene comes to me from out of no where… a dream, every day life, etc. From there, I start formulating an idea. For the most part, the idea is incomplete and needs time to cultivate in my mind… kind of like yeast.

One way to help the idea grow into something more substantial is taking the time to plot a summary. Take your characters on a mini-journey. Since it’s a summary, it doesn’t have to be in detail. Save the detailed scenes for the real writing process.

Dividing your summary into parts

Start by dividing your summary into parts. Think of it as a 3-part play with a beginning, middle, and end. This will help ensure your storyline is balanced, while avoiding a saggy middle.

Part One – The Set Up

The Introduction. Consider how you want to bring your main character(s) into the story. What are the relationships between the characters? How do they interact with one another? This is a time to show your characters’ flaws and strengths. Let the readers really get to know your characters and start to feel for their situations.

Attention Getter. How do you plan to capture the audiences attention in the first few pages. Keep in mind, many readers decide if they’ll read your book after reading just the first few hundred words. You don’t have a lot of time to pull the reader in. So the way you decide to start your story is extremely important. Again, your summary isn’t about details, but creating the over all feel.

The Problem. Part one is also the place to introduce the major problem into the story. You might also consider subplots, but for the summary, try to focus on presenting the main problem. Exactly what is you character facing? What is keeping your character from finding happiness or completing their goal.

Part Two – Avoiding the Saggy Middle

The Adventure. Once your character(s) have a problem and a bit of direction, it’s time to set them on their path. This is where you develop a general plan for your characters. This is where they do the bulk of solving their problems or reaching their goals. This section should be filled with ups and downs, successes and failures.

Character Growth. This is also the place where your character(s) experience changes. They start to learn about themselves through the adventures they experience. Determine what your character(s) should take away from the experience. And don’t forget, the villain is the hero/heroine of his/her own story. So don’t forget to show villain’s character changes also. Also keep in mind, the hero can fall into evil  just as villains can find goodness.

Part Three – The Conclusion

The Resolution. Your characters have come to the end of their adventures and now to set things straight. Misunderstandings are resolved, characters overcome major challenges (which may or may not lead to happy ending), and the solution to achieving their ultimate goal is revealed.

The Final Showdown. This is the moment your characters have some kind of victory. If you’ve read any of my works, you probably know I don’t always write perfect endings. However, the heroes of the story NEED to win on some level… and that something should be big and worthy. That win might even be the realization that letting go is the best outcome. Or as many Westerners like… lead to a happily ever after or happy for now ending.

Wrap up. And then we have the wrap up. This is the moment you get to send your character off into the sunset.

It’s Not Concrete

One of the things I love about plotting is it really gets me thinking about the story. And though the plot is written, it doesn’t have to be followed exactly… or even at all. Subplots form and characters get a mind of their own. What’s important (at least in my creative mind) is plotting gives a little direction and can really help a writer get started.

Writing a Story: Novel Ideas

Writing a Story: Novel Ideas

The world is full of original ideas waiting to be claimed. Even if the idea isn’t original, tweaking can be done to make an idea unique enough to appear original. So where does one start? Where does one go to get an storybook idea?

Keep your eyes open

Become a people watcher. Everyday people living their daily lives can be the start of a brand new story. This is where creativity comes into play. Ask yourself questions.

  • Where are these strangers going?
  • What are they doing?
  • Why are they at the particular place at that specific time?
  • What are they thinking?

Pay attention to details. Over seven billion people live in our world and not a one of them absolutely perfect. Use it to your advantage. For example, imperfect traits can if a fantasy or science fiction feel.

  • Why does that individual have overly pointy ears?
  • Does that man’s forehead protrude just a wee too much?
  • Are her eyes abnormally large to the point of looking alien?

Don’t be afraid to disguise real life. The world is rich in events. There’s a story waiting to written everywhere, because true life is amazing. Change the setting and names and fictionalize it. Look for ideas in:

  • The media.
  • Rumors spreading through the neighborhood.
  • Your personal experiences.

Ideas are EVERYWHERE. The world is your sociology experiment. It’s up to you to rip the ideas from it.


Eavesdropping. On the surface it seems rude, but really, it’s the right thing to do. If people didn’t want you to know about their lives, they wouldn’t talk loud enough for you to hear. A few tips on eavesdropping.

  • For subtle eavesdroppers:
    • Don’t look but be sure to keep one ear facing the talkers so you can hear as much as possible.
    • Keep yourself busy with another activity while listening.
    • If possible, take notes.
  • For bold eavesdroppers (my preference):
    • Don’t be afraid to look directly at the talkers so lipreading can be added to your listening abilities.
    • Ask questions and become a part of the conversation.

Stories in music. Many songs tell a story. Often times the songwriter has an entirely different story in mind than what it invokes in the listener. And that creates a wonderful opportunity to reinterpret a story from a song and make it yours. Some thoughts to keep in mind.

  • How does the music make you feel?
  • Where does the music take you in terms of setting?
  • How can you expand a story which is originally a few hundred words in a lyric into a full blown story?
  • Most importantly: Don’t plagiarize. A song can provide an idea, but the story must be uniquely yours.

Dream a Little Dream

Dreams are fascinating and often a lot more interesting than mundane life. That’s why keeping a dream journal can be a valuable tool when it comes to generating ideas for your story. We’ll skip the bullet points this time around. The biggest advice is to record as much detail as possible and as soon as possible. Dreams are so fleeting, don’t take the chance the thoughts will be lost throughout the day.

Here’s the bottom line with story ideas. Don’t neglect life around you. Stories can come from ordinary mundane things. With a little creativity, you can turn the mundane into something extraordinary.