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Welcome! In this article I'll discuss creating an outline and how it can help firm up any story you have.
When you start thinking of a story, the first thing to do is to create your outline. This will be your base to go off as you write. It will help you keep your story in check and make sure you don't go too far off the beaten path. At the same time, don't follow it to a "T" either. Go in the general direction and then make changes as you need to.
For this example I'll do a short story. Although a long novel will have a lengthier section, a short story can also follow the Hero's journey.
First establish your characters. For fun and giggles, I'll be using the Seventh Sanctums character generator tool. Since this is just an example, the names I'll get from Fantasy Name Generators. (LINKS below.)
Character Description: This young lady has wide brown eyes that are like two discs of wood. Her fine, curly, black hair is worn in a style that reminds you of a drifting cloud. She is very tall and has a voluptuous build. Her skin is cream-colored. She has prominent cheekbones and a pointed chin. Her wardrobe is practical, with a lot of red and brown.
This is what your character descriptions will be formatted like. You can arrange it however you like, but this is easiest for me when I'm writing. I'll put my characters info on a separate word document, and keep it open as I write. I have one character who constantly twirls her hair in her fingers, but I always forget how long her hair is.
Timeline? What time is this happening? My outline will be for a short fantasy story. Medieval times.
Once you establish all your characters you'll need an outline.
Firstly what is your end goal?
Let's say for Selena it's to get revenge for her father's death. I will not have any additional challenges after the ORDEAL so that will be my climax.
Ordeal: Fight Father's Killer
Okay, now let's start at the beginning: Here's my outline:
Ordinary World: Lives in a small village outside the capital. (Details for this can be done later) She is a seamstress with no fighting experience.
(This is where we begin. We know nothing, Selena knows nothing, and she's vulnerable.)
Call to Adventure: Her father's best friend tells her that her father was killed during a skirmish. Her father was a soldier. Selena doesn't understand why her father was targeted, but this killer searched the battlefield for her father and then took his sword.
(Selena is forced into a quest simply to protect herself but also to avenge her father.)
Refusal: Selena refuses. She's not a fighter, she only knows how to sew. Her father's friend says that is not the extent of her ability. A sudden attack on the village leaves Selena at the mercy of her father's friend. They realize the killer is a powerful dark caster. They escape the village only for Selena to realize that this killer is after her too. Why?
(Selena is scared. She can't do this, she has no knowledge. An incident in the village makes Selena the target of the evil caster and in turn forces Selena into a quest she did not want.)
Meeting the Mentor: The friend introduces Selena to Byron (Mentor and Love Interest); he's a Caster, a master of magic. The friend knows that up against an evil caster Selena is no match. Byron agrees to keep her safe and in return be paid for his time. He becomes her protector and mentor in fighting.
(Selena meets her mentor. He's the one who will teach her what she needs to know, and he just also happens to fall in love with her later. I'm a sucker.)
Crossing the Threshold: Selena and Byron ride away from the world Selena has known, into a misty forest, towards dark mountains and deep forest. A new world.
(Selena now enters a world full of mystery, chaos, evil, and things that want to kill her.)
Tests, Allies and Enemies: Selena learns she too has talent as a caster when she's attacked on the road by wolves in service to the dark caster. She burns them with fire from her hands. Byron was not aware she had talents, but now agrees she should learn to control it. He becomes her mentor of magic.
(Selena is a caster too. She didn't know it, perhaps her father did?)
There can be several instances here, events and challenges. I've just listed one for reference.
Byron brings his old friend into the mix, an Axe wielder with a horrible temper. He's nice to Selena though.
(Adding an ally.)
Approach the Inmost Cave: Selena and Byron have discovered that the Evil Caster was after the sword because of its history. Apparently whoever wields the sword will be undefeated in battle. Selena is unsure because her father carried the sword for many years and felt defeat several times. A learned caster Selena, Byron, and Axe man make their way towards the Evil Caster's lair.
Ordeal/Climax: The Evil Caster was waiting for them. The sword works, but only through a magical component. When its wielder dies the sword goes into hibernation. It is of good so it cannot be used by the dark. The Evil Caster needs Selena's heart for her power is the strongest light to have ever been born. Using her heart in a spell would allow the dark caster to wield the sword of light. Selena defeats the evil caster alongside her friends, but is wounded in battle. In anger the evil caster breaks the sword in his final moments before death. The sword is broken and with it the magic.
(The gigs up, the evil caster needs Selena's heart. He couldn't take it before because it hadn't woken up to her power yet. Now, however, it's at full light power and he needs it for his spell. Selena defeats him. Maybe she's wounded, I don't know, but she doesn't die.)
Reward: Selena smiles as she sees her father's spirit escape from the sword. Unknown to the group, when the wielder dies the soul is held within the sword. Her father and several hundred souls fly up into the sky to finally rest in Heaven. Selena frees her father's soul and defeats the Evil Caster.
The Road Home: Selena cannot go back to her village. So she stays with Byron whom she's grown attached to. The two settle down in his village and live together in happiness.
(Looking forward to a happy married life.)
Resurrection: Selena learns that the Evil Caster cursed her before his death. He cursed her with never ending life, so she may experience sorrow after sorrow and watch her loved one die while she lives.
(The married life is now challenged because Selena is cursed to live while those she loves die. Some would say everlasting life would be awesome, but not if you're the only one and you had to watch everyone you love die around you over the years: Your husband, your children, their children—all of them dying.)
Return with the Elixir: Selena uses what knowledge she has learned to teach others. She uses her magic and weaves protective clothing for children. All the while Byron obsesses over a cure for the curse.
(Present for the next story, book, or what have you. Can Byron find a cure to the curse?)
Now that I have an outline established, I can write and edit as I go along. Sometimes things don't make sense, or there are loopholes, gaps, or missing pieces of the story. Edit your outline as you go along, and don't get too strict. Your outline is just directions, add things in between as you go along.
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