Story Outline: Starting Point

last updated: 21 November 2018 (approximate reading time: 2 minutes; 358 words)

Some authors start writing and see where the story takes them. Others outline. I fall into the latter camp.

When I begin to outline, it helps to have a template to put some structure around my thoughts and to work as a framework where I can assess and understand the ideas I’m pushing around. The template I use is essentially the three act structure, but with a bit of detail. It is the tool I use to work from my five questions to a more fleshed out story.

This notes below are my starting point template for outlining the entire story. It’s not an iron law—simply a few headings to prompt my thoughts. I then have a separate set of prompts for thinking at the scene level.

Act One

Hook the reader

Make it matter to the reader. Introduce an engaging character and an interesting situation.

Set the world running

  • Follow the first introduced character/situation and develop that story.
  • Introduce more characters—but not too many.
  • Highlight differing goals of differing characters.

Inciting Incident

The protagonist encounters the problem which will change their life.

This problem is the basis of the central conflict around which the story revolves.


Protagonist commits to the project; may need some encouragement or initially walk away.

Act Two (part one)

Protagonist pursues the new project

The protagonist gets to work, but the work is hard and a hornet’s nest is kicked.

Antagonist Reacts

An unexpected development changes the protagonist’s approach and forces them to confront/react to their opponent (thereby providing a reminder of the central conflict).

Midpoint: further advances for the protagonist

The protagonist changes from being on the run, to chasing their prey.

Act Two (part two)

Antagonist regroups

The protagonist is working toward a goal, but the antagonist is gaining strength and knowledge and is resisting the protagonist.

All is lost

Low point for the protagonist. The antagonist has seemingly won—they’ve definitely won this round.

Act Three


From the low point, by their own actions, the protagonist must seek to overcome the antagonist.


The protagonist succeeds or fails.

The New Normal

All issues are resolved.

Tie up loose ends.

Filed under

Category: story
Tags: outline