How To Outline Novels and Short Stories

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Starting a new writing project can be daunting. Whether it be a novel, short-story, flash fiction, or whatever, I always plan in the same way.

Quick disclaimer: this is the method that works for me. There are other ways to plan your writing (I will list some others at the end of this post).


I am a “Structure plus” outliner. This means that I plan the sequence of events in my writing scene by scene, or even paragraph by paragraph if the piece demands stricter planning.

This method works well for writers who are struggling with their worldbuilding too. As you outline, your world and story come into place providing you with more inspiration for the design of your world, whether it be fantasy, sci-fi, or even a familiar setting.


Here is the list of steps I follow when outlining my novel:


1. Rough Timeline

Open a blank Word document and timeline the events you want to have in your story. Use bullet points under bold subheadings (these are your scenes/chapters/parts) to list the events you want to take place.

For a rough timeline, I would expect this to take up 1-2 pages – depending on the length of your story of course. You can make it as long, or as short, as you want. It all depends on how detailed you want your planning to be. Too much of a plan can make the story quite rigid and leave no room for changes while you write it, but too little planning can leave you wondering what happened 30,000 words ago! Having this timeline will keep you on track with the events in your story.


2. Create a template in a new Word document with a document map

Open a new document in Microsoft Word and press ‘cntrl-F’ – this will open the navigation pane at the left. Then click ‘headings’ on the navigation pane – it should be empty.

On your document, you want to create the heading ‘Chapter 1’ or whatever you want to have as your opening to the story – if you are writing a short-story, put ‘Scene 1’ or ‘opening scene’ as your heading. This heading should come up on the navigation pane.

If you want to go into individual scenes in a chapter for a novel, you can create subheading and label them ‘scene 1,’ scene 2′ ect.

The next bit is the hard part – summarise what you want to happen in this scene. Do you want to begin in medias res, or perhaps open with a description of the landscape/setting – whatever you want.

Once your chapter/scene is complete, move on to a new page and repeat the process for ‘chapter 2’ or ‘scene 2’ and so on. It’s very simple but time consuming – but all good stories take time.


3. Write your first draft

It is that simple! It can take a lot of time if you plan in this way, so you have to be careful that you do not get too caught up in it or you will never get round to writing the story.


Good Luck!


Other methods:

  • The Signpost Outline
  • The Notecard Technique

There is a wonderful article at I would suggest you looked at for more information. Here’s the LINK.








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