Basic Story Outline   1 comment

by Elizabeth Huff

Many authors are split on if they like to use an outline or not. For me it’s necessary, it’s too easy to get distracted without one. I believe every writer should have some idea where their story or book is going. You can write it down as an outline or keep it in your head, but a basic road map whether detailed and fixed, or easily changed with your whims is beneficial. To help with sorting it all out is the basic story outline I use when writing. Change it as you see fit to whatever forms helps you best.


  1. Establishing Scene – This scene establishes the status quo. It shows what life is like for your characters before the main conflict of your story shows up. This isn’t obvious or necessary to every story, but even if it’s not included in your final draft, you should still have an idea of what the life and background was like for your characters. I suggest writing this and then editing it out as needed.
  2. Catalyst – This is the call to action for your main characters. Something upsets the balance of the status quo that you setup in the establishing scene.
  3. Setup – This is the buildup to the Big Event. Right now your character is going along with the flow acting mostly because of the catalyst. Something bigger is going to happen to your character and these are the scenes that lead to it. Be careful that you don’t give too much away.
  4. Big Event – This event is bigger than the catalyst. It solidifies your character’s desire to act and changes his life in a big way. Suddenly your character is completely out of his/her comfort zone.
  5. Conflict/Complications – These are various problems that you character will encounter. They make up the main part of your story and steadily increase in intensity. Your character should show growth of some kind after dealing with these problems. Note that the main character doesn’t always have to “win”, losing is a good way to teach your character a lesson and can make things more dramatic for the reader.
  6. Temporary Triumph – This is the small (not to your character, of course) triumph that convinces your character that everything is good. Maybe it doesn’t solve everything, but things are definitely looking up.
  7. The Pinch – The Pinch is to Act 3 of your story, what the Big Event was to Act 2. It strengthens your character’s motivation even more. Now your central character is fully committed. It also leads up to The Crisis.
  8. The Crisis – This forces your character to make a tough decision. This is the part where the hero has to choose between saving the president or saving the woman he loves. Or he may make a morally tough decision. Either way it’s a great chance for you and your character to confront their emotions and mind-set. Whatever choice is made should have a profound effect on how your character winds up at the end of the story. He should learn something about himself from this, even if it’s not immediately obvious.
  9. The Climax/Showdown – This is where your hero (or anti-hero) has their final battle. It’s do or die. A word of warning though, in western culture people have come to expect happy endings. It can really turn a reader off if you don’t give them what they expect. If you are going to have an unhappy ending, I would suggest you establish early that no character is safe.
  10. The Realization – This is where we found out what was learned and how the central character has grown. This can be a separate scene, but more often I have found that it is either a few lines worked in at the end of (or during) the showdown, or is incorporated into the epilogue. Since showing is always better than telling, an action that the character does can be more effective than the character delivering what seems to be a well rehearsed speech (many movies do this).
  11. The Epilogue – This is optional and can usually be incorporated into the showdown or realization steps. Basically it concludes any still open subplots, and gives the reader some idea what life is like after the current problems are over. It can also be a way to set up readers to expect a sequel. A character you thought was dead isn’t, or someone mentions they are going off on a quest of their own.

One response to “Basic Story Outline

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  1. Pingback: Story Worksheet « writingstruggles

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