Outlines are a great option for content editing because they cost less and aren’t as much work to revise. Our recommendations for outlines won’t be as detailed as they would be for a full draft, but we’ll cover the same big picture issues.
However, we can’t give you recommendations unless we understand your outline. If we receive an order for an outline that doesn’t clearly communicate story events, we will ask you to fill it out until it does. If that means the word count is higher, you will need to pay to cover the extra wordcount. If the price is becomes too high for you, we offer partial refunds for canceled content editing orders, but wait list down payments are non-refundable.
Cover What Readers Will Know
Your outline should cover what information you would give to the reader at the time you would give it, just like a manuscript.
- If you have a character that’s secretly a spy, don’t specify that in your outline until that’s revealed to readers. However, do include foreshadowing that leads up to it.
- If you are planning to reveal backstory via a flashback, outline the flashback scene in the same spot it will go in the final manuscript.
- You don’t need to include any notes about your goal or intent, such as the themes you want present or what stage in the hero’s journey a scene is meant to embody. We’ll ask about your goals after we read your outline.
What happens in the head of your viewpoint characters or protagonist is an important part of your plot. Don’t leave it out of your outline.
- When POV characters make important choices, the outline should specify why. When the protagonist turns against their master, is it because they now think their master is evil? If so, what led the hero to that conclusion?
- If your hero learns something important, specify what it is. If they already know it and it’s relevant to the plot, put what it is whenever you think you’ll tell the readers about it.
- If you are planning a character arc, it will be especially helpful to mark how they are feeling at key points in their progress along that arc.
Keep Your Editor From Getting Lost
If your editor hasn’t seen your story before, please use extra caution in ensuring that you provided enough information for them to understand the story.
Make sure your outline has a brief explanation for all the proper nouns you are using. When a name appears in the outline for the first time, is it protagonist’s sister, boss, or someone new she’s just met? Is it the kingdom where the protagonist lives or an enemy faction?
It’s Okay to Have Blank Spots and Question Marks
We’re here to give you direction on your story; you don’t need to have all the answers. It’s okay to put “they have a big battle here but I’m not sure why they decide to fight each other” or “at this point she somehow figures out her goldfish is the real killer” or “the climax should go here but I have no idea how to create one.”
Before and After Example
First, let’s take a look at an outline that doesn’t provide enough information.
- General Nika arrives in Herathon.
- She is very angry and won’t speak to anyone.
- The Skaldre attack Miaopolis
- The soldiers march east.
We’re missing a bunch of information here. Who is General Nika? Is she our main character? Where or what is Herathon and why is she there? Why is she angry? What are Skaldre, is Miaopolis a place or a person? Who are these soldiers and where are they marching?
Leaving out these important details makes it difficult for an editor to give you useful recommendations. Let’s see what that outline would look like with more information.
- General Nika, the main character, arrives at the distant border fortress of Herathon in the Meyathan Empire.
- She has been banished there by a paranoid Emperor who feared Nika would try to take his throne, even though she had just won a great victory for the empire.
- Nika receives word that the Skaldre have besieged the imperial capital of Miaopolis.
- The Skaldre are a confederation of kingdoms to the north of the empire.
- Nika considers leaving the Emperor to his fate, but decides that she must be loyal to the empire’s citizens even if its leader betrayed her.
- She musters her soldiers from Herathon and marches east to relieve the capital.
We’ll need enough context to understanding what’s happen in your story, but we don’t need lots of scene by scene detail. If you’d like to keep your word count down, “zoom out” and include the most important events in broad strokes. While a detailed outline will allow us to give you a more in-depth edit, using less detail will save you money.
More Detail Than You Need
- General Nika, the main character, arrives at the distant border fortress of Herathon in the Meyathan Empire. She is greeted by the commander in charge of the fortress. He invites her to a banquet in her honor, but she declines and heads straight for her quarters.
- She has been banished to the fortress by Emperor Theseus, who she has served for many years. However, as Theseus as grown older, he’s become more paranoid. Nika recently won a great victory for the empire, and Theseus finally became convince she wanted his throne, and banished her.
- Nika spends the next several weeks adjusting to her life at Herathon. She finally comes out of her quarters and starts training the soldiers posted there.
- A messenger from Nika’s contacts in the capital arrives at the fortress. The messenger has been wounded by arrows, but when they recover, they tell Nika that the Skaldre have besieged the imperial capital of Miaopolis.
- The Skaldre are a confederation of kingdoms to the north of the empire. They have a long history of attacking the Meyathan Empire whenever they think the Empire is too disorganized or occupied to put up a strong resistance.
- Nika spends the next evening alone, tempted to leave the Theseus to his fate. She ultimately decides that she must be loyal to the empire’s citizens even if its leader betrayed her.
- Pushing the Skaldre back will be hard and dangerous. Nika gives the Herathon soldiers a rousing speech, asking them to join her.
- The soldiers cheer, volunteering to go. Nika takes a day to gather provisions, and then they all march east toward the capital.
You can see more examples of detailed vs brief outlining in our blog article on outlines.