An outline is a list of story elements that serve as main points to organize scenes, establish a timeline, track characters, super impose emotional arcs, embed conflict, and other narrative essentials to improve the story. Your goal with an outline is to organize the story in a logical, dramatic presentation.
Experienced authors do this sort of exercise mentally and may never write it down, but you should practice putting an outline on paper because it helps you understand and reflect on the story being told. It also serves as a plan for moving forward. Think of it as a road map.
Since a story is a series of well-defined fragments, their quality for the reader is improved when they are developed in the context of the story, not as isolated events or ideas. That is to say, every word of a story affects the next word and the word after that, until the event, scene, plot or character sketch is fully developed. Outlining a story before you write helps you begin to define how different elements will affect other parts of the story.
Here are a few narrative principles you should consider when outlining:
- Emotions, images, drama, time, and character driven plot are all elements kept in mind when forming an outline.
- Stories are all elements working together as if they were not isolated occurrences.
- Structure makes elements more effective.
- Outlining story elements will help you identify the beginnings of meaning and the theme.
As you develop an outline for your story, think of it as a skeleton. Without bones the muscles of a body would have nothing to support them and the body will be nothing more than a mass of flesh with little form. Structure gives your story form and function.