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How to Write an Outline for a Narrative Story

by Michael Stratford, studioD

Many writers get narrative story ideas "all of a sudden" and all of a piece; however, even with their inspiration at peak performance, they usually create some kind of story outline before they write a word. A narrative story outline, incidentally, is somewhat similar to the outline of a narrative essay, although there are essential differences. For one thing, a narrative story's outline is in pieces.

Essay Outline or Story Outline.

A narrative essay outline has a thesis whose conflict is clear and up front: "I overcame a speech impediment to become a good debater." The essayist will construct his work with topic sentences such as "My stuttering was a major liability in class." The outline will includes the story's complications and resolution, all in order. By contrast, your narrative story's outline is much more fragmented. You write it piecemeal because there are so many possible ways for you to begin, and continue, a story other than presenting a chronological set of events.

The Story's Narrative Arc

The outline for a story is its narrative arc. Your arc begins with exposition. This is the setting -- time and place -- of your story and the major characters: "Setting: Stockton, Calif. Edison High School, early September 2009. Characters: Ivan Olafson, protagonist, newly arrived from Bakersfield, Calif. Features: tall, blond, blue-eyed, with pronounced stutter." Note that your story outline does not flow as the essay's did; it is primarily notes for you, the author.

Exposition and Rising Action

Once exposition is clear, you fill in the blanks of the protagonist's life with the conflict, antagonists and rising action. "His conflict is his stammer," the outline might read; "Intensifying this is the heckling he gets from Waldo Barnes, a class bully." The outline has established not only the conflict but the major antagonist. The rising action details the complications that arise from the conflict: "Olaf wants to ask Jane Merrow to the dance, but cannot get a word out." "Jane goes to the dance with Waldo."

End It As You Will

The climax is the turning point, although it may be only a few words: "Olaf wins first debate despite his stutter." With the conflict resolved, you proceed to end the outline with a happy resolution: "Jane sees Olaf in a new light." Or make it unhappy, it's your story: "Jane announces she's marrying Waldo." In any case, you've followed the pattern of exposition-rising action-climax-resolution in your outline, which is exactly the pattern of all narrative stories.


About the Author

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.

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