This is the simple story outline taught in every middle school. I had an English teacher who required us to include the outline and label each section in the margins of our stories. Her method taught me how to think like a writer, but I’ve never used it again. I have never outlined a story I wrote for pay or pleasure. I know well organized writers who swear by this process. You can recognize this writer by their spiral bound notebook beside their computer or their stacks of perfectly sequenced index cards. By the time I have an outline finished, I could be nearly done with the entire story. It is essential to satisfy every element of the story outline, however a novel can seem forced if you try to plan out every detail. Often, characters don’t seem natural doing what I had originally planned. Rather than rewrite my character, I will choose a new direction. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I have found a different method which has always had the answers when I get stuck.
Rather than outline a story from beginning to end, I outline my characters. Years ago, I read a book titled, “The Art of Dramatic Writing” by Lajos Egri. I found that much of the book did not apply to me. It is a guide to playwriting, but I am a novelist. However, this book held one gem I still use each time I start a new book. It includes an extensive character outline which includes every trait I would ever need. It includes elements like religion, class, nationality, sex life, morale standards, imagination, taste, and pages more.
So my method is this; I use Egri’s outline to define all my main players. I know every aspect of each character’s personality, before I write anything else. Then, I begin placing my cast into situations where they must react. Because I already know everything about this person I conjured, I also know how they would react to nearly any situation.
If you’re interested, here is the book I mentioned