Please note, the method mentioned here is the one I find the simplest. Many writers say outlines stifle creativity, and you can’t do what you really want. Many of them have already published and made a name for themselves. If you’re looking at this site, most likely you’ve only written casually.

Putting in things for the sake of cool (cough Inheritance) can really mess up your story. While for the time it may be cool, later on you’ll have to change something, and the really totally super mega awesome ending you cooked up is worthless.

You could also argue that if your characters want to do something different than what you planned, you should let them. While this can make for the most interesting stories, only do it if you’ve really truly made your character(s) a realistic person. If you’re confident with your writing abilities and your characters, letting them do what they want should be fine, especially if your world can compensate. Hopefully you’ve created your characters to fit your story and subsequently your outline, so it might not be a problem.

So now you have your idea. You’ve thought about it for a while, and you’re fairly sure this is what you want to do. Now you want to write a story. While no one method works for everyone, an outline is generally a good idea. Here you can keep your story in check, and avoid potential plot holes.

Outlines don’t have to be the formal (I, II, III; A, B, C; 1, 2, 3) format. This way can keep very good track of your ideas, but it might be too much work for casual use. If you prefer it, then by all means go ahead.

I believe the best way to start your outline is to simply write out your story in large, vague, blobs. Make bulletins or dashes, and mark down the important points of your story in a long list. Here you can quickly read through and see your problems. Avoid using anything too specific yet.


- Kevin wakes up in a spider’s web, finds a dagger, and kills the spider as it approaches to devour its prey

- He finds the exit to the cave, and a passing wizard tells him his father was the ultra-evil Lord Veeshan

- Shocked, Kevin hikes down the mountain, all the while reasserting his image of his father

- At the base of the mountain, he comes upon the town of Verbatim, where he rests for the night

-When Kevin wakes up, he realizes it all was a dream, and he’s still remains prisoner on the second terrace of Purgatory

Here you can get the gist of your story, especially if you don’t trust your memory. Frequently check back on the beginning of your story, especially if you left a mystery to the reader. The outline should play out as a synopsis to your book, from the reader’s point of view. If you want, keep side notes somewhere of all your loose ends, and make sure you tie them up in the end.

Now you have your vague outline finished. You know the story from start to finish, front and backwards, and especially important, upside down. You’ve worked out all the plot holes and possible misconceptions, and maybe even shown it to a friend you trust.

Now you can make another outline! This time, your ideas will be much, much more in detail. Not to the point of dialogue, but close. This time, you’ll break up your story into chapters. Break down your large clumps of information into even smaller doodles of ideas. Make sure your chapters all make sense, and if you name your chapters, be sure the name is important, even if the reader will not instantly understand it. Don’t, don’t, don’t make your chapter information into vague one to two notes. You’ll move backwards from your first outline. You need to go more in detail for each chapter, as if they all were mini-outlines.


Chapter 1 – Awaken

- Kevin wakes up hanging upside down in a massive spider’s web.

- After wondering what is going on, the massive, eight foot long spider appears.

- Kevin finds a dagger stuck to the web, and uses it to slash his way down.

- He fights the spider, and kills it.

The chapter outline should be longer than your first one. Now you can edit more in depth, and spot any mistakes. The level of detail here is up to you, depending on how well you think you know your story. When you think you’ve finished, show that friend again, or this time another friend.

Now you should have a very good representation of your story, start to finish. From here you can choose to do another outline if you really want to go in-depth, or you can start your story. Since you have all your ideas organized, it should be a breeze.


  1. SlyShy on 1 October 2008, 12:28 said:

    Hey Virgil,

    Yeah, there are sort of two camps here. There are the people who think outlining gives good structure and focus to a story, and there are the people who think outlines stifle creativity and surprise. I’m not exactly sure which camp I fall into. I outline the general story, but then let the chapters write themselves. I think going without outlining is probably safe (ie. you won’t include a lot of extra junk) if you just stick to observing your character, and let the scenes natually flow from his/her actions.

  2. Virgil on 1 October 2008, 15:53 said:

    I understand both sides. Outlining works well for me, because once I think of an idea, it can’t leave it alone for too long or it will disappear. So almost immediately I go into the outline and I have the entire story ready to go. It helps for me, and I’m scared to let my characters choose for themselves. Last time I did I ended up with 70 pages of junk. Or maybe my characters sucked. Anyways, I’m fairly sure I fall into the outlining category.

  3. GC on 2 October 2008, 06:49 said:

    I always hated outlining, thought it kinda limited thought processes. Plus, one wrong step/new plot point you find, and you might just have to junk the whole thing. But lately, I’ve been thinking about outlining a lot more. Not detailed outlines, just a brief run-through to keep me on the right track. So, like Es, I still don’t know what side I’m on, but I’m happy sitting fence until I find out. Good article though, keep it up! ;)

  4. Amelie on 2 October 2008, 23:29 said:

    Yeah, I’m not sure where I fall here either. A lot of times I start with a vague outline to give me a sense of direction, but more often than not, my characters take over and I end up on all sorts of side trips and sometimes even change directions. I think that outlines can be a good jumping off point that really force you to lay down your crazy, jumbled, but good ideas in a coherent way. And yes, they do help you to make sure that your slam-bang events you’ve had in your head from the beginning actually do occur.

  5. Snow White Queen on 6 October 2008, 00:18 said:

    Once I tried to write a fanfiction (for Lord of the Rings- 60 pages on Word of pure nonsense) and I didn’t plan, and basically it just ended up as a jumble of words.

    Admittedly, I was about twelve or thirteen, so my writing skills were probably not the greatest (and still aren’t).

    The point is, I think that the best way is a balance. For me, I plan the general outline (rising action, climax, etc.) and perhaps the main idea of every chapter if you want.

    But what’s IN the chapter…for me, that’s where I usually would let it flow. If I have a main idea about what’s basically going to happen over the next few chapters, I can flow into it in a way that feels natural to the story.

    It’s all up to the author though. People think differently, and I guess it shows in the way they write.

  6. Virgil on 6 October 2008, 08:46 said:

    Someone should post an article on the benefits of not writing an outline, from the nothing to just a basic plot.

  7. SlyShy on 6 October 2008, 11:19 said:

    I’m willing to give that a try sometime. It’ll be like a debate. :P

  8. Virgil on 6 October 2008, 15:13 said:

    Sounds cool. I’m testing out some non-outlining techniques to see how it will work for NaNoWriMo.

  9. RandomVisitor on 7 October 2008, 22:23 said:

    I agree with Snow Queen… and myself, obviously. Through the latter is usually one I agree with most often. I have a tendency to make plot outlines and – once I actually get around to the writing part – I chuck the plot out the window as soon as the story starts getting air under it’s wings and finding out what it wants to be without my help, thank you very much (they get rather snippish towards me at this point – they think I’m trying to interfere). Don’t worry, I’m not crazy, I just write that way :) Thanks for the article, Virgil.

  10. RandomVisitor on 7 October 2008, 22:27 said:

    Sorry about the random unfinished sentence above… must’ve been a brain fart. I was trying to say, “as soon as the story starts getting air under it’s wings and finding out what it wants to be without my help, thank you very much, I let it go where it wants.”

  11. Virgil on 7 October 2008, 22:35 said:

    Thanks Random. I’ve had good experiences with outlines, and it keeps my overactive mind on track. Although if your characters have a mind of their own, don’t force them, or Paolinize them.

  12. Sammy on 16 February 2018, 08:52 said:

    Best way to start our outline is to simply write out our story in large, vague, blobs. Make bulletins or dashes, and mark down the important points of our story in a long list.Thanks for this. To get rubber matting is easy