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Write With Me: Outlining

Hi everyone, welcome back to my Write With Me series on the Writer’s Corner! For this post, I’m going to be focusing on outlining/planning my short story.

If I’m being honest, I feel like most of the time I fall on the pantser side of the pantser-planner scale when it comes to writing. And if you don’t know what a pantser is, it’s someone who tends to write with little to no planning whatsoever, while a planner likes to obviously plan before they write. I tend to have a general idea of what I want the story to be and just write from there, but I’m also a planner because I plan a lot when it comes to my characters. Outlining characters helps me flesh them out and get to know who they are. Because of this, I feel like I’m a weird in-between when it comes to being a pantser vs. a planner. But since a short story is, well, short, and I am more limited when it comes to my word count, I definitely want to outline the plot more extensively than I usually do.

Outlining the Plot

Whenever I have tried outlining, I would follow the 3-act story structure and organize my outline that way. If you haven’t heard of the 3-act story structure, it looks like this:

ACT ONE: Establishes the world the story is set in and introduces your character(s), so basically this is where a lot of your exposition is. This act should also include/end with the inciting incident (the thing that disrupts your character’s life).

ACT TWO: Starts the rising action aka the thing that builds the momentum in your story. This act includes various hurdles that your protagonist must overcome in order to reach their goal.

ACT THREE: Leads into the climax where your protagonist should face the problem and reach a solution, and from there is the falling action and conclusion to the story.

Now, you can actually get even more specific when it comes to what goes into each act. For example, Abbie Emmons, a YouTuber who focuses on giving writing advice and tips, has a 3-act story structure template that is a lot more in-depth, which you can find here. I tried to use it once, but I don’t tend to go into that much detail when I do plan things out, but perhaps this could help you guys out!

If you’re not a big fan of the 3-act story structure, there are other story structures out there! For example:

  • Freytag’s Pyramid is a story structure meant more for dramatic stories or tragedies. It contains a lot of the same aspects from the 3-act story structure (introduction, rising action, climax, falling action) but ultimately ends in some sort of catastrophe.

  • The Hero’s Journey is a pretty common story structure that most people will recognize in The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. This structure has three stages (like the 3-act story structure) but features some specific steps that you don’t necessarily need to follow to a T.

  • Dan Harmon’s Story Circle is a structure that Dan Harmon created with inspiration from The Hero’s Journey. This structure can be applied to a story overall but can also apply to just characters as well as their arcs. Overall, this one is pretty universal, and you don’t need to be writing a specific type of story to use it.

One thing to keep in mind is that story structures are merely meant to guide you when writing a story, so don’t think that you need to hit every mark.

Just in case you wanted to see what my outlines generally look like, here is an example: