The Nanowrimo Guide to Outilining (the First 4 Questions to Ask Yourself)

Start Your Outline With These 4 Questions (How to Outline for NaNoWriMo, Pt. 2)

The Nanowrimo Guide to Outilining (the First 4 Questions to Ask Yourself)Where do you start your outline?” is a question I often receive. Now, if the obvious answer “start at the beginning” were, in fact, the right answer, no one would be asking this. The reason writers ask this question is because, when properly approached, outlines are anything but linear—which can make the “beginning” rather hard to identify.

Whether you’re needing to figure out how to outline for NaNoWriMo next month (in which writers commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days)—or whether you simply want to notch up your outlining skills to the next level—you’re in the right place.

Welcome to Part 2 of my series about the advanced techniques of how to outline your novel in a creative and nurturing way, which will help you write better stories and become a better writer in general.

How to Start Your Outline: Discover the Skeleton of Your Story

Back to our opening question: Where should you start your outline?

Honestly, the idea of starting at the linear beginning is downright impossible at this early stage in the process. Why? Because you don’t yet know what your story’s linear beginning will be.

It’s true you could sit down and arbitrarily create a beginning scene right off the bat: “Erick is taken prisoner by the terrorists.”

But how do you know that’s the right beginning for your story? How do you know this is the beginning that will best nurture your story’s theme? The beginning that will properly set up the main conflict? The beginning that will introduce your protagonist in the prime characteristic moment? The beginning that will tie into that perfect ending scene?

Short answer: you don’t know.

What I want you to do for the time being is just forget all about linearity. Forget all about the “beginning” scene.

Instead, you’re going to start your outline by stepping back from the nitty-gritty micro-picture of the scene list. You’re going to start your outline by looking at your story’s big picture.

Your outline’s first job is to help you discover your story’s skeleton.

  • What is your story about?
  • Who are the characters?
  • What themes are inherent to this conflict?
  • Where will the story end?
  • What obstacles will arise between the protagonist and that end point?

Only once you know the answers to these big-picture questions can you start homing in on the more obvious “beginning” of the outline’s first scene (which we’re not even going to discuss until the very last installment in this series).

What You Should Already Know About Outlining

Outlining Your Novel 500

Outlining Your Novel (Amazon affiliate link)

As I mentioned in last week’s post on the basic how and why of outlining, what I’m going to be sharing in this series is essentially the “advanced” skill set of outlining. I shared the basic steps I use to brainstorm and create outlines in Outlining Your Novel and the Outlining Your Novel Workbook. I’ll be touching on all of those steps in this series, but only to use them as a launch pad for more in-depth techniques and explorations.

For those who haven’t yet read the book (or haven’t read it in a while), let’s do a quick refresher of the basics we’ll be building off today.

The first step in the outlining process is what I call “General Sketches.” This is the big-picture part of the outline, where you’re throwing all your ideas onto the page, seeing what sticks, and working your way through the plot holes and salient questions until you can see a whole story emerge.

Although you will undoubtedly be coming up with individual scene ideas, this section of the outline is not a scene outline. This is the figure-out-what-your-story-and-characters-are-about part of the outline. It’s very freewheeling, very stream-of-conscious—and, as a result, is one of the most exuberant parts of the entire process. The vast majority of this series will be dealing with questions you need to be asking yourself during the General Sketches segment of your outline.

Very quickly, here are the basic steps that make up the General Sketches:

1. Record What You Already Know About the Story

Whether you’ve only just come up with a new idea for your story or whether the story has been brewing in the back of your head for several years (as mine almost always do), you will always start out knowing something about the story. Some of these tidbits will be concrete ideas; others will be only vague and distant impressions.

Start your outline by writing down everything you already know about the story. Clear out your brain. Put it all on paper in a short list, so you can evaluate what you already have.

2. Identify the Existing Plot Holes and Questions

Now comes the fun part. In writing down what you know about your story, you’re also going to discover how much you don’t know.

The protagonists fall in love. Yay! But how do they fall in love? How do they get from Point A to Point B? The female protagonist has a horrific facial scar that makes her live like a hermit. Interesting. But why? How did she get it? And how will she overcome her shame and reenter the world?

These are all questions you may be prompted to ask. So start asking! And let your imagination run riot in coming up with delicious possibilities.

3. Ask the 3 Important “What” Questions

To help yourself think outside the box in finding the right answers for your story, you’re going to use the following three “what” questions to guide you in looking at things from a different angle.

1. What if…?

2. What is expected?

3. What is unexpected?

You will use these three techniques over and over throughout the entire process of the General Sketches, until you have satisfactorily filled in all your story’s blanks.

Outlining Your Novel Workbook computer program logoMy Outlining Your Novel Workbook software will guide you through all of these important outlining stages, and more.

4 Discovery Questions to Help You Start Your Outline

As you explore the exciting terra incognita of your story’s General Sketches, you will also be asking yourself many “smaller,” more specific questions to help you narrow the focus of your story and find the perfect perspective and themes to bring it to life in a cohesive and powerful narrative.

Start by asking yourself these four questions in order to discover the big-picture “skeleton” of your story:

1. What General Conflict Does Your Premise Provide?

Once you understand enough about your story to write its premise sentence, take a step back and examine the ramifications of that premise. What main conflict is at the heart of this premise?

Storming 165

Storming (Amazon affiliate link)

Remember, a premise sentence presents all the vital parts of your story in one solid punch of a sentence (or two). My premise sentence for my dieselpunk/historical novel Storming ran like this:

After an eccentric woman falls out of the sky onto his biplane (situation), an irresponsible barnstormer (protagonist) must help her (objective) prevent a pirate dirigible with a weather machine (opponent) from wreaking havoc (conflict) on the Nebraska hometown he fled nine years ago.

Even when this was all I knew about the story, I knew what the general shape of the main conflict would be: a biplane pilot taking on sky pirates. That was the conflict the story had to convey—and thus the conflict I needed to create in the outline.

Understanding your story’s inherent conflict is the first kernel of information you need to start digging your way into the heart of that story. You must find the primary conflict before you can answer any other important questions about your story.

What Makes a Good Premise?

2. Who or What Is Your Story’s Antagonistic Force?

Once you’ve discovered your story’s main conflict, your next step is a surprisingly non-intuitive one: find your antagonist.

As I wrote in a recent post on this subject, this question and its early placement in the outlining process was a groundbreaking change in my approach to storytelling. Like most authors, I’ve started every single outline I’ve ever written (up until the one I’m currently writing for my portal fantasy sequel Dreambreaker) with the protagonist.

Why not, right? Your protagonist is a completely obvious entry point to your story.

But as I realized just this year, when you start with your protagonist and his goals, the antagonistic force too often becomes an afterthought. As a result, the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist becomes fragmented and does not drive the plot in a cohesive, integral way.

With this latest outline, I started by exploring the antagonistic forces in my story. What did they want? Once I knew that, I could see more clearly how, where, and why my protagonist would run afoul of them.

Specifically, I considered five different levels of antagonistic forces (not all of which need to appear in every story) and the various levels of stakes they might create:

1. Global Stakes.

2. International Stakes.

3. National Stakes.

4. Public Stakes.

5. Personal Stakes.


I identified/created unique antagonists for each category, then took a closer look at each of them. Specifically, you want to ask yourself:

1. What does each of your antagonists want (goal)?

2. Why does your antagonist want this (motive)?

3. How will he go about obtaining his goal (plan)?

Take your time exploring your antagonists. You may be eager to get to the good stuff (aka your protagonist) right away. But your antagonists will provide the foundation for your entire story. The stronger your understanding of the antagonistic forces that oppose your protagonist, the more adeptly you will be able to craft a conflict that creates the most meaningful, realistic, and symbolically rich journey for your protagonist.

3. What Are Your Protagonist’s Goals and Motivations?

Once you’ve completed your discovery of your antagonistic force(s), you’re now ready to devote your attention to the character(s) you really care about: your protagonist.

Because you started this part of the outline with your premise sentence and because you now understand what your antagonists are all about, independent of their impending relationship to your protagonist, you will already have at least a sense of who your protagonist is and what he wants.

Now it’s time to dig deeper and find the single most important aspect of your protagonist’s role within the plot: his goal—and the motivation that drives it.

Here’s a surprising revelation: it’s actually shockingly easy to toss a charming protagonist into the midst of hellish conflict without giving him a solid story goal. The result, of course, is a charming protagonist who doesn’t actually do much other than endure his hell. He’s passive, not proactive. And the story inevitably stalls out as a result.

This is why it’s crucial to start your outline of your protagonist by examining what he wants and what he’s trying to accomplish within your story’s plot.  Here are three important rules of thumb for identifying your protagonist’s story goal:

Rule #1: The protagonist’s goal shouldn’t be simply “stop the antagonist.”

And vice versa: the antagonist shouldn’t start with a simple goal of “stop the protagonist.”

Rather, they both need to have decidedly specific and personal goals. When these goals end up intersecting at the First Plot Pointthen the protagonist and antagonist become obstacles to one another’s goals—and the games begin!

But that’s never how the story starts. Let’s say your evil antagonist wants to take over the planet. Your protagonist will eventually be committed to stopping him. But not at first. At first, he has another, more specific, more personal goal—like be a good father to his motherless daughter.

Only when the antagonist and his plans for world dominion get in the way of that personal goal will the protagonist move up the conflict ladder into direct opposition to the antagonist. This personal goal will provide the backbone for the conflict, the theme, and the character himself. Without this personal goal, you lose all of that.

Rule #2: The protagonist should have selfish reasons for desiring his goal.

Saving the planet just because that’s the nice to do? Sorry, not the stuff of great stories or great character development. Even if you’re writing the consummate hero, look deeper. Find the beating heart of the person inside the persona. What are his deeply personal, painful, perhaps even downright wrong reasons for his choices?

This question is amazing at opening up all kinds of juicy possibilities for your character’s motivation. Particularly if he’s driven by the wrong reason, he becomes vastly more interesting and vastly more open to deeper character arcs.

Rule #3: The protagonist’s desire should be inherently related to the thematic question at the heart of his character arc.

Character arc and theme both hinge on the inner conflict between a Lie and a Truth—something the character thinks he Wants in opposition to what he really Needs. This is always the true story you’re telling, which will then be manifested and proven through the visual metaphor of the story’s outer conflict.

In next week’s post, we’re going to talk more about this and its critical balancing act within your story. For now, suffice it that your protagonist’s desire/goal/motive will only work within your story if they are first inherent to his inner struggle.

4. What Secrets Are Your Characters Hiding?

Once you have a handle on your overall conflict and your antagonist’s and protagonist’s goals within that conflict, your final preliminary step in completing your story’s skeleton is to step back and take a look at every single character you already know will exist within the story.

Look at each character and ask: What are they hiding?

Secrets are the life’s blood of fiction. They provide the hooks that keep readers reading, the reveals that create plot beats and turning points, and the catalysts for character growth—both personally and within relationships.

Some of your story’s secrets you will discover organically as you finish plotting your outline and again as you are writing your first draft. But secrets are too important an aspect of your story to leave entirely up to your subconscious. Take this opportunity to examine the obvious secrets your characters present right now.

Some of these secrets will be obvious, some will be things you’ll brainstorm on the spot, and perhaps most importantly, some of them will be things you wouldn’t have otherwise thought to have your characters keep secret. Look for anything and everything you might be able to use later on in your story to create suspense and turning points. For now, all you have to do is make a list of each character’s potential secrets. You can then refer to this list throughout the rest of the outlining process as a shortcut to creating reveals both large and small.


When approaching the outlining process as a period of discovery, success is found in using the right questions to guide that discovery. Using these four important questions in your early General Sketches will allow you to build a solid and complete skeleton for your story—upon which you can then begin layering all the other important parts.

Stay Tuned: Next week, we’re going to talk about how to build your story’s heart, via your theme and character arcs.

Previously in This Series:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Where do you start your outline? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Really informative post! 🙂 I likewise ask myself questions during the outlining process. It helps in figuring out how my story events connect and how my characters would react to their situations to ensure there are no loopholes in the story’s plot.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I love asking questions. I think it was Sue Grafton who said the key to finding the right answer is asking the right question.

  2. Again with the leaf blower! Come on already!

    Just barely passed the opening of this article and your post on Why You Should Kill Your Darlings comes to mind.

    I have (well, had) the perfect opening and I’ve been trying to frame around that, with limited success… very constraining at this point. Also, was reminded of the bonus features from The Incredibles where their original opening was shown in storyboard, it was nowhere near as good as what they used.

    My outline… a pencil sketch on a napkin, not written in ink, or set in stone. I have to keep remembering that so changes can be made as the ideas develop, takes shape.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes! I remember that deleted opening from The Incredibles. It was one of those “prologue” openings that was nowhere near as gripping as the in medias res opening they ended up using.

      • So in light of, why is it so easy to lock onto ideas/scenes in spite of ourselves? Needing, in my case, some outside disruptive force to stir things up? 🙂

        Also wanted to ask regarding a link posted to an article about writing backwards… from the end, the gal talking about her series of stand alone, but thematically connected, works beginning with what would be the last of the series. In outlining, when you talk about looking at the big picture, how big picture?

        Can I apply the steps of this article to the broader series? (as I was approaching it linearly moving up the scale, as it were, from personal/local to national, beginning to end.)

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          The outline I’m working on right now is the first I’ve done that’s part of a series. What I’m discovering is that I can pretty much do a rough outline of the sequel just by answering obvious questions for this book. I have a gist of how the next book will go and thus what I need to set up in this book. Most importantly, I know how the series as a whole will end, so I know what I’m working toward.

          But I won’t hammer down all the details of the next book until I’m done with this one.

  3. This is so good. I’ve been struggling a lot with my outline, not being able to figure out certain aspects and such. Hopefully this will give me a more concrete way to go about it!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The whole point of an outline is figuring out the story. To that end, I always look at them as a way to find problem areas–or just “dark” areas I don’t know about or understand yet. Then I can keep asking questions until I know how the whole thing hangs together.

      • What about knowing your ending when you outline? This “know your ending” comes up a lot and Im curious about why it isnt in your outline list? Some writers would says you cannot plot until you know the end. Just curious… – Alicia from Canada

  4. I start my stories with the blurb. This is the brief description that will go on the back of the book, and on Amazon, to help sell the book. Doing that keeps me focused on the main point of the book. I learned this from Glenn Gordon Cameron, executive producer of the TV show Moonlighting. He was notorious for being behind schedule. It got to the point where ABC called, wanting a blurb they could put in TV Guide. He would give them the blurb, then he would write the episode based on the blurb. Maybe not the most efficient way to handle a TV series, but it worked.

    I should also point out that James Patterson has put partial outlines of his stories in the Target editions of some of his books. It’s an insight as to how a best-selling author plots hid books. These editions are only available at Target.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Actually, I do that too. I don’t really consider it part of the outlining process, for myself, because I do it years before starting the outline sometimes, just to help me remember what I want the story to be about. But, of course, I then use that as a springboard when I’m ready to map my premise sentence.

    • I’ve also fallen in love with the idea of starting your story with the blurb. And then go back and read that blurb before every writing (or outlining) session.

      And as for this post…wow. So much great information. I’m in the very early stages of a novel and have a basics “This happens, then this happens…” type of outline, but what you have here is such a better idea for outlining a novel. Flesh everything out early and the words will practically write themselves.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        I always write the blurb early on, thinking I can use it for marketing later. But, nope. :p The story usually changes way too much by the time I’ve actually finished the outline and the first draft!

  5. I am reminded of a scene – well, multiple scenes actually – in the Rocky series where Rocky Balboa places a photograph of his opponent on the mirror in his bathroom in order to motivate him during his training.

    Is it wrong that I’ve now printed out this article and clipped the key questions from it to create a collage which I’ve now pinned to my office wall to motivate me?

    Because I have…

    *disclaimer – you are not, of course, my opponent. You’re kinda like my Mickey!

  6. Howdy!

    This is a very JUICY post that can’t be digested in one sitting. Plus I have to get ready for work, which means I’m not reading or writing.

    I love this part of the process. Brainstorming, throwing all my paint to the page, learning the conflict and finding my antagonist. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT. I do have a main antagonist with others that will become a force later in the series. It’s also fun put so many problems and obstacles for my protagonist. Evil aren’t we?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, this is definitely my favorite part as well (which is saying something, since drafting is so rewarding in its own right). I love the process of uncovering and piecing together a perfect storyform.

    • Hi there Benjamin, sorry to jump in… completely unrelated… well, mostly unrelated… gearing up for NaNo and filling in working title for project, then, of all things, it asked for a genre! Scanned the list and didn’t see what I was looking for (but what was I looking for?) Had to return to K.M.’s Ultimate Glossary of Writing terms and look up the genre that had caught my attention before: “Court Intrigue”. Then headed down to the comments where you did some pretty extensive research into the subject which was tremendously helpful in expanding the definition. Appreciated it then, appreciate it now. Thanks again!

  7. All I can say is wow…thanks for the awesome post. Are you sure you don’t want to teach a class at the Nebraska Writers Guild Spring Conference? Trust me, you’d have a ton of people signing up. You spent a lot of valuable time there. Thanks. I can’t want to start plotting….

  8. Love your wisdom. My first book has benefitted greatly from your podcast.

    My question is about this podcast. When will I be able to download and hear it as an actual podcast instead of listening to it here on the website? It’s still not available Tues afternoon.

    Thanks, Anne

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hmm, I’m not sure. I’ll have to check the podcast RSS to figure out why it’s showing up on the blog, but not in iTunes. Thanks for letting me know!

  9. I believe an outline is a great tool to have before starting the first draft. I usually start with a blurb and then create a general outline with the ending in mind. From there, I’m able to identify some of the main points. For me, the outline serves as a road map and it keeps the flow of writing progressing. The points you’ve noted here will certainly help me to dive deeper in the story. Thanks for another great post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I find that with every outline I write, I learn how to go a little deeper into the story–and the books become a little better every time. That’s always the goal, right? 😀

  10. Aileen Mitchell Stewart says

    Just a nit-pick, because I fund the substance of your blogs among the very best on the whole web. But that means you reach a lot of writers so I was very sorry to see you promulgating an error that is fast becoming as widespread as it is irritating: the misuse of ‘honing’ it what ought instead to be ‘*homing* in to’. (It may, of course, have been one of those infuriating corruptions vaused by one of those automatic ‘spellwreckers’, in which case I apologise for atttributing it to you instead of your technology.)
    Here’s the thing: to ‘hone’ means to sharpen. So your readers might hone their writing skills by reading one of your posts, but they won’t home them. Similarly one might (re)home a neglected cat but I hope would not sharpen it!
    The phrase ‘to *home* in on’ something is a metaphor for locating the ‘home’ — correct locus — for something and is then, by extension, generally used to mean to find the right target for something. So to home in on something means to focus on the key aspect of something, with precise accuracy.
    To ‘hone in one’ something, however, means precisely nothing at all: one cannot, grammatically ‘sharpen in on’ anything.
    I write this in the hope that your many readers will hone their writing skills by homing in on your blog when they want advice, and will expunge this error (if it exists) in their own writing, and try to persuade anyone else they come across to avoid this increasingly common misuse.
    It’s irritating to see such a useful metaphor destroyed by this corruption. If all writers who use your excellent site begin homing in on the error wherever they see it and correcting the writer then maybe we’all be able, collectively, to hit the target of removing the infuriating error from general usage.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thank you, Aileen! I’ve used “honing in” for a long time without thinking twice about it. I appreciate your teaching me something new that I definitely needed to know! Fixing now…

  11. Great post! I especially needed the rules about the protag’s goals and motives. Perfect guidelines to keep in mind as I develop his wants. Sometimes it can be so tricky to find out what they think will make them happy.

    Thank you. Looking forward to the rest of the series! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If you know what your protag wants and why, you’ve already got the foundation for a great plot. It’s amazing how many stories stumble on this crucial point.

  12. This post will be so helpful when I start writing the next book in my series. I only wish I’d seen it before I started my current one. Maybe I can still use it when I go back to edit…Also, I am looking forward to Dreambreaker! I really enjoyed the first book so I can’t wait to see what is in store for book two.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, all of these questions can be used just as effectively during revisions as during the outline.

      And thanks for the kind words about Dreamlander. 🙂

  13. Hey KM,

    This is a good piece in producing a summary or outline of any piece of content. Its worth my time reading this 5-10 minute piece of art. I actually write essays and novels as well as fictions though I’m a newbie in this field but when working out on a summary/outline I find myself annihilated with all the pages and parts that I couldn’t help but ask from other people where to start my summary.

    I am glad I just bump to this comprehensive column that helped me organized where and what to start for my piece. Thank you again, heading off to tweet this post right now. Looking forward for more tips from you and talk to you in the future.



    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks, James! Glad you enjoyed the piece. I outline just about everything I write, to one or extent or another–including these blog posts. The process I use is different, of course, for different media, and I tend to be much less in-depth with non-fic. But a plan always helps!

  14. I always start with theme myself, but after picking a setting and sometimes a subgenre of science fiction. But I have no character or plot in mind. Can’t identify plot holes if I have no plot! So I’ve made an effort to understand things from the perspective of how the theme chooses the plot and characters.

    For example, I want to write about a colony on Mars, as per Elon Musk’s recent announcement that he wants to provide the transportation to get a million people there who want to go. It’s fascinating thinking about how to create a new society, struggling with survivial etc. But the number one questions people have is how to afford it. So my story concern economics, and by showing an alternate economics for Mars I can also criticize how economics on Earth occurs. Another theme is about the search for life on Mars, and the planetary protection issues around trying to prevent contaminating Mars with our messy Earth germs so we can recognize Mars life when we see it. But I’m also interested in growing our own Earth-based ecosystem on Mars, so my story is about both economics and ecology, and showing the parallels between the two.

    But it’s wide open what kind of plot I will have. Do I tell the story of the first generation of settlers? Do I tell the story of the discovery of life on Mars? Do I tell of a revolution on Mars, with proponents of the new economics fight the dogmatists of the old?

    So far I’ve toyed with a title: A comedic coming of age story called “So-Called Life on Mars”. But I don’t know yet if I can write a comedy, or whether I can get to all my themes in a coming of age story.

    I think I need to develop a process for brainstorming from each thematic idea before I can choose a story and go to your Step 1 of figuring out the conflict.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s really interesting! I don’t think I’ve ever had a story that started with the theme. But it would be an interesting puzzle, since it presents so many options as you try to narrow down what plot and characters will best present the message you’re trying to convey.

  15. I really enjoyed this article. I have been undergoing an outlining process for the upcoming Nanowrimo and I was allowing the more finite details get in my way. After reading this article I was able to make a lot of great progress on my outline by reminding myself that this first outline is a skeleton and simply a way for me to get my overarching thoughts down on paper.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      For me, an outline is largely just a process of clearing away the “clutter” in my head, so I can see which questions are really important to the foundation of the story. Once I know those answers, I can start adding the “pretty” little stuff.

  16. This NaNoWriMo series you’ve put together is really great! I’m going to link all four posts back to a post I’m writing today about NaNo so that other people who are interested can have a look: hope that’s ok 🙂

  17. I loved this! Thank you for taking the time to write this out. It’s really helping me shape my story for NaNoWriMo better! And it will definitely be put into practice for my other stories as well. I’m so thrilled to find such useful information 🙂

  18. I’m just about to start this whole outlining stuff, and this series is gonna help me. Like a lot. Thanks for this, Miss Weiland!

  19. Mary Van Everbroeck says

    Hi Katie: I’m so glad that you have a link, ‘start here’! I certainly will benefit from this. I can’t tell you how many times throughout this past year, while learning how to write fiction, that I have missed seeing this link. I am thrilled to have found it this go around! I like to thank you for the amount and especially the quality of the content you offer on your website. It is very much appreciated. I am starting out with four of your books. I am also exploring webinars and other programs that you may be offering. Take care. Thanks again!

  20. I am a first time writer and initially rejected some of what I thought my protagonists selfish motivations would be. I wound up making her way too altruistic. I put them back in and all kinds of juicy drama and actual growth are available to her now. Thank you thank you!

  21. Wish I’d seen this back in 2016 when you first wrote it! Well, better late than never. I’ve been outlining my latest story idea only to realize that maybe I’m going with the wrong protagonist! I was interested in your point that maybe it’s better to start with the antagonist. I think I need to flesh him out more to bring the story to life. Thanks for these posts, they are extremely helpful to newbies like me!

  22. Evelyn Wilder says

    I can’t thank you enough for this. I considered myself a full-fledged pantser, the idea of outlining was awful and a complete bore for me. But this approach, basically stream of consciousness writing and asking questions, has completely changed things for me and unlocked so many powerful pieces of information that I know will make the book infinitely better an more layered. Best piece of writing advice I’ve come across. THANK YOU!

  23. Hello, I was wondering about your blog and your writing books. Are the outlining your novel blog series the same as the outlining your novel books? Do you think I could get the same information and all that books provide, or should I get the book and the workbook and read the blog?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      No, the series and the books are different. The blog series is more of an “advanced” approach to outlining, and I do recommend reading the book first.

  24. Hi, thanks for this, very helpful piece. Im currently planning a shorter story with quite a focused plot and limited characters so i can learn to apply as much as i can with few ‘distractions’ so to speak.

  25. Hi….I have just found your blog…’s very insightful so thank you for that…so much to read and so much to learn..thanks again…struggling new author..Steve

  26. Nadia Syeda says

    I love using OneNote for the brainstorming process. It keeps everything so organized and I’ll be able to view all my question, everything under the right categories.

  27. Bravo. Excellent article.

  28. I’m finally reading these posts.

    I just started to plan out the campaign, and at first, I went straight for story, thinking that’s what I should do.

    And then the INFJ took over – you need to know the characters and their motivations – then you can create the story around them.

    Since then, I see the story for the campaign much more clearly – a couple of ‘normal worlds’, then the mentor character has his first premonition dream – leads the players into a deeper world filled with more conflict – it’s going to be awesome!

  29. Saabira Abdirahman says

    Hey, I have a question. If there are multiple antagonists, how do you find your main antangonist?

    • AmazingGamingProductions says

      I have the same circumstance, I have many antagonists for my idea – though I have a clear idea who the antagonist is and why he’s doing what he’s doing.

      My advice, if Katie doesn’t respond to this – know your theme. If you know what your story is all about, than you know who/what is the best antagonist.

      In Red Dead Redemption 2 – the theme was about independence and honour vs blind loyalty – Micah was the perfect antagonist, because he was playing two different gangs, your gang and the rival gang the O’Driscolls against each other so he would be the last man standing to get the stash. Sure, there was law enforcement and other people who you were always at odds with, but Micah was the final and ultimate antagonist.

      In Horizon Zero Dawn – the theme was about humanity and life vs machines and AI. Yes, there were many human antagonists in the game, because everyone is trying to understand the machine world beside the human world was all about – but ultimately Hades, an AI program was the antagonist who was pulling all the strings.

      Remember, that is the biggest way to determine who is the antagonist – they are always pulling the strings in the story. Micah by pitting everyone against each other. Hades by convincing a bunch of primitive humans it was a god.

      Just think about that and you will see who is driving the story,

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Always look to the final confrontation in the Climactic Moment. Whatever antagonistic force is finally and fully dealt with at that point is the main antagonist.

  30. What about when you have to write a short story for a contest? And you have no clue what you’ll write about? And what if I”m mostly a novel-writer, but since this is a statewide contest opportunity, I’m writing a short story? I know the elements are the same, but how on earth do I write such a short thing that lasts a five or six pages???

    I’m pretty panicked. 😐

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There are a number of ways to think about a short story. Once is to think of it in basically the same terms as you would a scene in a larger work. In short: it’s about one thing.

  31. I loved this book! it continues to be helpful with both revisions and with planning the next book.

  32. oh my god it’s an actual blog post that gives specific directions for outlining rather than vague statements and rhetorical questions, this is amazing

  33. Thank you for paying it foward, K.M. Weiland. I just purchased the workbook versions of “Outlining Your Novel” and “Structuring Your Novel. Though one can get a good grasp of structure from your posts alone. Thank you, and keep up the good work!

  34. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    Thank you, Marvin! I hope you enjoy the books as well!


  1. […] Start Your Outline With These 4 Questions (How to Outline for NaNoWriMo, Pt. 2) – K.M. Weiland […]

  2. […] K.M. Weiland, author of books on the craft of writing and speculative fiction, has a structure similar to Butcher’s when planning a story.  She calls this the Premise Sentence. […]

  3. […] Start Your Outline With These 4 Questions […]

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