When it comes to understanding the big picture of a story, a high-level outline can be a tremendous help. Think of it like a map–the points or beats will give you an idea of where you're going and how to get there. It might not go into all the details, but it'll give you the gist of what needs to be included.
If you need to organize your thoughts, plan how you present your story, or quickly sum up key plot points for someone else, an outline or beat sheet is a great way to go.
Well, not for me.
But we'll get to that.
There are (possibly) as many outlining techniques as there are stars in the sky. Here's just a few of the more popular ones.
- The Three Act Structure - The three act structure is a novel writing technique in which the author divides the story into three sections: the introduction/setup, the middle conflict, and the final act.
- Save the Cat - Blake Snyder, a Hollywood screenwriter, created Save the Cat. It gets its name from a scene in which the protagonist does something heroic—such as saving a cat—to endear themselves to the audience.
- The Hero's Journey - The hero's journey is a common narrative archetype in which a hero embarks on an adventure, learns a lesson, triumphs with that newfound knowledge, and then returns home transformed.
Now, I know about all these, but I'm what's called a pantser or a discovery writer.
A discovery writer is a writer who works by discovering the story as they go rather than planning it ahead of time. They're also known as writers that write by the seat of their pants, i.e. a pantser.
I don't do outlines.
But apparently, a lot of you do, and you want to know how to do them with Sudowrite. Because of that, I feel obligated to spend an entire day figuring out plotting and outlining just so I can show you how to plot and plan and outline with Sudowrite even though it will be a waste of an entire day for me.
But I'm going to do it.
Just for you.
Science Fiction outline using the Three Act Structure
So, I open a new document and I click Generate a first draft. Then I drop in what I want.
I'm pretty sure this isn't going to work, but what the heck. We have to start somewhere. I click Go and sit back to...
So... This looks right.
James Bower, a former soldier and decorated hero of the Intergalactic War, was living a quiet life on his home planet of Tezalo-3. He was enjoying his last few days of peace before he was to join the Intergalactic Corps in a few weeks. Little did he know, his peaceful life was about to be interrupted.
On the night before his enlistment, James was walking alone when suddenly he was grabbed from behind and a cloth sack was placed over his head. He heard a faint muffled voice, telling him to stay quiet or else. James was quickly bound and transported away in a hovering vehicle. He had no idea where he was going and what his captors wanted with him.
When the vehicle stopped, James was dragged out and taken inside a large spaceship. He was brought to a small room and chained to the wall, where he was to stay until further orders. James had no idea what was going on or why he was kidnapped.
The spaceship began its journey, further and further away from home. James' confusion grew with every passing minute and he no longer knew how much time had passed.
Eventually, the spaceship arrived at its destination and James was brought out of his prison. He was brought to a grand room filled with strange machinery and alien artifacts. His captors were a mysterious alien race known as the Kothar, and they were desperate for his help.
The Kothar had taken James aboard because of an urgent mission they needed him for. A nearby star, a supernova, was about to explode, and their planet was in danger of being destroyed by the explosion. The Kothar needed James' expertise and courage to carry out the mission, a mission that would take him on a daring space voyage to the supernova.
With his newfound mission, James began his journey, traveling through space and time, and visiting wondrous new planets and galaxies. He encountered strange creatures, beautiful sights, and powerful enemies. Throughout the journey, James' bravery and skill were tested as he faced dangerous obstacles and made daring escapes.
Finally, James and the Kothar crew arrived at the supernova. After a long and eventful trip, the crew was ready to carry out the mission. With help from James' knowledge and experience, the crew managed to construct a special device that would be used to divert the explosion away from the Kothar planet.
The plan worked, and James and the Kothar crew managed to save their planet from destruction. James was hailed a hero and celebrated for his bravery and courage. Although he was no longer a soldier, he had saved an entire race from destruction.
James was allowed to return home to Tezalo-3, but not before being thanked by the Kothar and being given a new gift: a powerful artifact that would ensure his safety whenever he was in danger.
As James travelled back home, he looked out at the stars, knowing that he had faced an incredible challenge and emerged victorious. He had faced danger and come out alive, and he was no longer the same person he had been before. He was a hero, and his story would live on for generations.
That took me—looks at watch—three minutes.
Romance outline using Save the Cat
Probably a fluke because, as I've said: I don't outline, and I don't even write in this genre, so...yeah. Anyway, Save the Cat has fifteen beats, so I'm going to ask for fifteen beats.
Once more, Sudowrite's First Draft delivers in less than—looks at watch—three minutes.
Beat 1: Opening image: Anabelle, a teenage daughter of the local baker, stands in the doorway of the family's store, watching as Jordan, the town's bad boy, slips away with apples in his pocket.
Beat 2: Theme Stated: Anabelle believes that people can change and make better choices, even if they have made bad ones in the past.
Beat 3: Set up: Anabelle, 16, lives in a small town with her single father who owns a bakery. The town bad boy, Jordan, is a tall, mysterious figure, with a reputation of being a thief and troublemaker.
Beat 4: Catalyst: Anabelle catches Jordan stealing apples from her family's store and confronts him. He is unapologetic and invites her to prove him wrong.
Beat 5: Debate: Anabelle and Jordan launch into a heated debate about the power of choice and the consequences of bad decisions, during which Anabelle realizes that she has a strange connection to him.
Beat 6: Break into Two: Anabelle decides to take Jordan up on his challenge and befriends him, determined to prove him wrong.
Beat 7: B Story: Anabelle is unsure of how to tell her father, whose store was robbed, that she is going to try and reform Jordan.
Beat 8: Fun and Games: Anabelle uses her free time to hang out with Jordan, learning more about him and getting to know him. Meanwhile, she finds ways to help him make better choices, such as teaching him how to bake and helping him find a job.
Beat 9: Midpoint: Anabelle and Jordan's bond grows stronger, and they find themselves falling in love.
Beat 10: Bad Guys Close In: Anabelle's father catches them together and forbids her from seeing Jordan, and the rumors of their relationship start to spread through town, overshadowing Anabelle's attempts to help him.
Beat 11: All is Lost: Despite Anabelle's attempts, Jordan slips back into old habits and Anabelle is forced to confront that her efforts were for nothing.
Beat 12: Dark Night of the Soul: Anabelle feels responsible for Jordan's downward spiral and hopeless about their future, retreating into her own grief.
Beat 13: Break Into Three: Anabelle decides to take a leap of faith and try one last time to help Jordan, even if it means going against her father's wishes.
Beat 14: Finale: Anabelle and Jordan embark on one final mission to prove to the town that Jordan has changed and that redemption is possible.
Beat 15: Final Image: Anabelle and Jordan stand together on the town square, surrounded by their friends, family, and neighbors, a symbol of hope, forgiveness, and new beginnings.
An Action/Thriller outline using the Hero's Journey
Three minutes later...
Stage 1: The Ordinary World -
The main protagonist, a female ex-CIA agent, is living a quiet life in her small mid-western town, trying to put distance between herself and her former life. She goes to work at a bookstore every day and comes home to her small house every night, never leaving the town.
Stage 2: The Call to Adventure -
One night, she receives a phone call from a mysterious caller informing her of the imminent danger she is in from a shadowy organization that wants her dead. She is immediately thrust into a world of chaos and fear as she is forced to go on the run and protect herself from the organization.
Stage 3: Refusal of the Call -
At first, she refuses to accept the danger she is in and attempts to ignore the phone call, desperately trying to return to her normal life. She starts to ignore the warnings and focus on her daily routine, but the mysterious caller continues to haunt her.
Stage 4: Meeting the Mentor -
Eventually, she realizes that she needs help if she is going to survive, and reaches out to her former mentor, an ex-CIA agent who had trained her. He informs her of the true danger she is in and provides her with the support and resources she needs to go into hiding.
Stage 5: Crossing the Threshold -
She reluctantly agrees to go on the run and leaves her small town, embarking on a dangerous journey to protect herself from the shadowy organization. She uses her training and resources to stay one step ahead of them, constantly changing her identity and location.
Stage 6: Tests, Allies, and Enemies -
As she continues her journey, she is faced with numerous tests and obstacles that she must overcome. She is aided by a small group of allies, former colleagues in the CIA who are sympathetic to her plight. At the same time, she is pursued relentlessly by her powerful enemies, who are determined to track her down and kill her.
Stage 7: Approach to the Inmost Cave -
Desperate to stay ahead of her enemies, she eventually finds herself in the inmost cave, a safe house located deep in the woods that she believes will provide her with temporary respite. She uses her skills to fortify the place, setting up traps and surveillance systems to protect herself.
Stage 8: Ordeal -
However, she is soon tracked down by her powerful enemies, who launch a full-scale assault on the safe house. She is forced to fight for her life, using her training and resources to survive the onslaught.
Stage 9: Reward -
After a long and intense battle, she is able to outwit and defeat her enemies, emerging victorious from the ordeal. She is now free from the threat of the shadowy organization and can finally begin to rebuild her life.
Stage 10: The Road Back -
She returns to her hometown and begins to resume her life, determined to put the past behind her. She uses her experience and resources to help protect her from any future threats, ensuring that she can live in peace and safety.
Stage 11: Resurrection -
She slowly begins to reintegrate into society, rebuilding her life and relationships. She reconnects with her former mentor and allies, and begins to work on her own personal goals, using her experience to help her reach her potential.
Stage 12: Return with the Elixir -
Finally, she is able to find a sense of closure and purpose in her life. She is able to use her experience and skills to help others, and she realizes that her ordeal has made her stronger and more resilient. She returns to her ordinary world with a newfound appreciation of life and a newfound sense of purpose.
None of the quoted text above is edited in any way—the outputs are precisely what Sudowrite gave me. And just like that—snaps—a dedicated pantser outlined three stories in three different genres using three different methods...
...IN UNDER TEN MINUTES.
What I thought would take all day (and humor aside, I really thought it would take me all day) took me, no joke, less than ten minutes. That's a mind-bogglingly short amount of time to have tailored outlines in your hand.
While the results above could use some tweaking here and there, they are astounding results from someone that doesn't write in any of the above genres, and has never outlined a story. Ever.
For those that use them, outlines and beat sheets are like blueprints for constructing a building. It can make the process of creating the finished story much easier and more efficient.
Sure, not all of us utilize outlining—and that's okay—but if you need one or you need help getting started with one, Sudowrite's got you covered.