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Outlines - Yay or Nay-Nay?

An outline is a compilation of ideas for a WIP that are organized into some type of structure. It can be the first step before writing the first draft. The beauty of an outline, whether formally written with numbers and letters that separate each topic, roughly composed of broader themes laced with bullet points, or an in-your-head outline, is that it allows the author to focus on the details of the story instead of being diverted by the story’s master plan. The outline is also a plan of attack that allows the author to keep track of the timeline of the story and increases the probability that important things are not forgotten.


You can get crazy with proper format and use a standard outline form. This encompasses when and where to use Roman and Arabic numerals, capital and lowercase letters, and structured indents. If that’s your jam, please proceed, but the outline is strictly for your personal story use, so it’s not necessary.

If you choose the regimented format, keep these suggestions in mind:

Outline full story

Outline each chapter

Outline each scene

Outline each character - by name, appearance, dialogue, quirks, etc.

Outline setting and locations

Outline plot and subplots

Use a combo of bullet points, lists, sentences, paragraphs, or even words you wish to include in your story. You can break things down by assigning a title to each category of relevance.

You may wish to begin with recording any research you’ve uncovered ahead of your writing then move onto:

Ideas - enter any thoughts or concepts into this section of the outline that correspond to the story at hand

Chapters - Any chapter ideas can be sketched into this section of the outline and do not necessarily need to be in any particular order

Scenes - Documenting a rough scene can assist the author when they are up to that part of the story in their timeline. Again, it’s more of the big picture that the author fills in as they formally construct the scene.

Characters - Begin with the protagonist and work your way to other characters. Record each character’s name with a summary about who they are, their role in the story, what their stakes are if any, and how you plan to help them grow.

Setting - Jot down the main setting with its characteristics and any other secondary settings you plan to include.

Locations - This section can be used to make notes about various locals you propose to incorporate. This is a great place to drop in research. For example, if France is a destination in the novel, list any research gathered that’s important to the story so it’s not forgotten. Even if it doesn't end up being used.

Plot and subplots - Writing down plot and subplots helps the author remember the main point and minor points of the story while writing. It’s easy to get off track when one is caught up in expelling prose and dialogue. Referring to this part of a rough outline from time to time keeps the writer on target.

Words You Wish to Include - Include words you love or any made-up words that go along with your story. This is especially important when writing fantasy or sci-fi.

Beginning - opening line, exposition, rising action, scenes and plot points, intro of protagonist, and other characters

Middle - climax, falling action

End - resolution

Since the outline is for you as the author to refer to, there’s no need for proper grammar, complete and long-winded sentences, indentations, or even proper punctuation. You can log quick blurbs, record ideas you’ve brainstormed, include sparks of dialogue, or anything else that comes to mind. You don’t need to follow certain rules or structure. As long as you understand your outline that’s all that matters. Its purpose is to function as a guideline to help keep you on track. It isn’t written in stone and can be modified. You can continue to fill in your rough outline with further details as you think of things important to your story.

Many authors use this method. They juggle an exceptional number of ideas and thoughts swirling around in their brains. It’s your head, so do as you wish with this type of outline.

As for me, I use a combo of a rough written outline and the outline always swirling around in my head.


Hi. I'm Liz Ambrico, freelance proofreader and aspiring author. I too am querying agents, editors, and publishers in hopes of becoming a published author.



Wordy is the get-in-the-know hotspot for writers. From grammar to publishing find info, tips, and inspiration to take your WIP (Work In Progress) to the next level.


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I co-founded and managed a successful author and writer group on Long Island for five years. During events with publishers and authors I learned what matters, what agents are looking for, and the benefits and pitfalls of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.

I've gained a lot of tips and tidings on my writing journey and want to share what I know.

Besides my passion for writing, I'm a fitness enthusiast, and I love coffee, chocolate, and animals. I'm mom to two amazing young men, and I live on Long Island with my husband, four zany cats, and the sweetest dog ever.

Whether you're new to writing, ready to query, or about to submit your manuscript,  welcome, you've come to the right place.

About Me


Alyssa is Wordy's website administrator and tech guru. She holds a degree in Communication and has always enjoyed writing and marketing, both of which are highly useful skills for aspiring authors. 

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