Updated: Dec 31, 2019
Until a couple of years ago, I never did an outline for my stories. It wasn’t until Book 3 in my Damien Kaine series that I attempted an outline of the entire story.
For me, I found that the standard outline was too rigid.
Yet, I knew I needed a way to keep my thoughts a little more organized. Not the whole story, but the events I want to happen. Like who was going to die first and how. If there was a fight between Dillon and Damien where was it going to occur and what was it going to be about.
BREAKING DOWN THE OUTLINE
First, my story concept:
While looking through the kitchen window of his cabin, Geoffrey MacNally thinks he witnesses a man murder his family in the cabin next door. He sneaks over and sees what looks like blood. He then sees the man leaving with a rolled-up tarp, and Geoffrey is positive he has used that to hide the body.
He must decide if he can stop the killer from disposing of the body before the authorities have a chance to arrest him. Geoffrey finds himself caught wanting to catch the killer and deciding how much danger he is willing to put himself and his family in to stop a murderer. After following the guy to a warehouse, and involving the authorities, Geoffrey realizes he made a huge mistake.
I then break the concept down into a simple event timeline:
Geoffrey sees a man murder his family through the window of a cabin.
He sneaks over and sees what looks like blood.
He sees the man carry out a rolled-up tarp.
Geoffrey believes the body is in that tarp
The man throws the tarp in his truck and speeds away.
Geoffrey doesn’t want him to get a chance to dispose of the body before the can catch him, he follows.
Geoffrey realizes he made a huge mistake.
Next I come up with my character descriptions of my MC and his supporting cast. For this post, I am only going to list my MC's description.
-Father of 2
-5’11 and lanky
-Loves murder mysteries
-Watches everyone and eavesdrops
-Sees a mystery in even the most mundane events
-He’s not ugly, not good-looking, very neat in appearance. Hair is always parted on the side.
-Can be rigid
-He loves puzzles. He grew up listening to his grandmother read him murder mysteries. Because he traveled a lot as a kid, he never made a lot of friends.
-The mysteries were his escape. He reads more into conversations than he should. Thinks there is always something mysterious going on and feels he should be the one to solve the mystery.
Even though I have the gist of the story from event timeline listed above, and I have my MC character description, before I consider my outline complete, I must do one thing. Well, two.
I always create my opening and closing scene. Not to say they won't change, but I always have a good idea where I want the story to begin and end. It’s just my quirk, I bet you have yours too.
For this short story, I know I need to start with something that will let my reader know about my character and give the thought that something is brewing. Since this is a short story I know I need to achieve this quickly.
Geoffrey MacNally and his family pull up to the lodge. (Describe lodge here.) While unloading bags, he sees a man (he later thinks this man kills his family) in a heated discussion with his wife. Geoffrey eavesdrops on this conversation and is distracted by the couple and pays no attention to his family or anything else going on.
He tries to tell his wife that something is wrong with the couple. His kids and his wife dismiss him. But Geoffrey won’t let it go. Once at their cabin, he sees the man and his wife again in the cabin next door. He listens to their conversation through an open window.
Geoffrey follows the man to a warehouse where he thinks the killer will dispose of the body. He has phoned the security on the property and has told them what he witnessed and where he is located. Several people overhear the sheriff on the phone and now the lodge is buzzing with excitement.
Several of the hunters and workers follow the sheriff to the warehouse as back up. (and they are nosy as hell). In the warehouse, Geoffrey is waiting for the right time to stop the man from disposing of the body, when help hasn’t come yet he finds a PVC pipe to use as a weapon and is determined to stop the Killer.
The man takes the tarp into a large area with what looks like a drain. He is about to unroll it when Geoffrey steps out of the shadows to stop him. Within minutes the entire lodge shows up and the would-be killer is telling them that this crazy man is about to kill him.
Geoffrey explains there is a body in the tarp and that the man has killed his wife. The wife steps out from behind the sheriff, along with their kid, and Geoffrey realizes he made a giant mistake.
Now, I rewrite my event timeline with more description.
1. Geoffrey overhears several conversations between this husband and wife. tries to find out about them. Asks people at the lodge about them. the family is like let it go. They ignore him.
2. During family activities, Geoffrey searches for the couple, often at the expense of time with his family. He continues to assume the husband and wife are having problems because every encounter he has with them they are arguing.
3. One evening as he and his wife are going to attend an event at the lodge, he remembers he has to go get something at the cabin. Wife stays behind.
4. While at the cabin, just before Geoffrey is heading back to the lodge, Geoffrey sees the man murder his family through the window of a cabin.
5. Sneaks over to the cabin and looks through the window. Sees the man rolling up the tarp and Geoffrey what looks like blood all over the floor and splattered on the wall.
6. He watches from the side of the cabin as the man carries out a rolled-up tarp.
7. Geoffrey believes the body is in the tarp. He sneaks back to his cabin and calls the security.
8. Geoffrey is watching the man and realizes he is getting ready to leave. Geoffrey doesn’t want him to get away, he follows him and calls the security on his cell phone.
9. Geoffrey doesn’t want him to get a chance to dispose of the body before the authorities can catch him. He follows him to the far side of the property and tells the sheriff where is and what the man is doing.
10. While at the warehouse he must stop the man from getting rid of the body, until the sheriff shows up, he grabs a weapon and is about to hit the killer when the authorities show up.
11. The wife shows up and Geoffrey realizes he made a huge mistake.
Remember, each of these entries doesn’t represent a chapter but an event that I want to happen in the story. I will build the story around this list. I may add or drop some things as I go along. This is just a tool to help me envision where my story is going.
When complete, the outline will look like this:
Outlines don't need to be rigid. They should help you, not hinder you. Don’t stress about this.
Take it from me, someone who once hated outlines and was a declared panster, I’m now reformed. I’m 65% panster and 30% outliner/planner. The other 5% I reserve for farting around when I should be writing.
I’m now positive, that telling someone how to do an outline is harder than doing the outline.
My next post will have my short story that I created to go along with this series. It will be a rough draft. But I want you to see how I used these tools and put a story together.
I write crime fiction horror, thriller, and paranormal novels. My time in the Coast Guard and my degree in Forensic Chemistry helps me create fantastic stories. If I'm not writing, I am binge watching Netflix and probably drinking whiskey.