Why you should outline your short story/novel

Once you’ve come up with a great story idea, always take a good amount of time thinking about how it will unfold. You can do so by outlining the story.

If you’re among those who eschew outlining, don’t kid yourself. You probably already are outlining the story in your head but are just hoping you remember it all, as you skip ahead to writing the first draft. Should you be among the rare few who have no trouble penning a draft, that’s great – you can skip the rest of this article. But if you find your writing stalls out midway during the story or what you get at the end of the first draft is a mess about irresolvable as Middle Eastern conflicts, then read on.

There are several good reasons to outline your story. First, outlining actually is an act of creativity meant to spur you to being even more creative. You force yourself to think deeply about the story – who the characters are, the conflicts they have with one another, how those conflicts play out, and much, much more. In addition, outlines ensure your plot structure is solid, that your character arc works, that you cut the superfluous scenes before penning them. All too often non-outlined stories fall apart during the first draft because the writer failed to put enough thought into these basic underpinnings of their story. Indeed, outlines actually save you time and prevent frustration because you’re not relying on trial and error to get a scene or plot or character right. And once you start the first draft, you won’t wonder what to write or run out of ideas. Should your outline prove inadequate once you do start writing, you always can change it. An outline, after all, is a living document.

Simply put, contrary to some writers’ claims, outlining does not bottle up your creativity. Neither does an outline confine you by forcing you to follow preset plans.

Instead, think of an outline as if it were a first draft – except rather than writing out detailed scenes in sentences and paragraphs, you’re writing them in shorthand. Your next draft involves filling in the details, as if writing in longhand.

In addition, always remember that there is no right or wrong way to outline a story. Different methods work for different people. Some outline by writing paragraph summaries. Others make box charts. Perhaps the reason a number of writers dislike outlining is that they believe it means doing so in a specific way, such as Roman numerals like we were taught in elementary school or using notecards like our high school English teacher told us, though for many writers both of those methods work as well.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.