Outline Guidelines for Content Editing

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, it’s important that your outline has the information an editor needs to review the story.

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.

Include Internalizing

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 point or 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.

Chapter 1

  • 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.

Chapter 1

  • 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 is furious at this betrayal and will not speak to anyone.
  • Nika receives word that the Skaldre have besieged the imperial capital of Miaopolis.
    • The Skaldre are a confederation of northern tribes and kingdoms. Nika has fought them before and has great respect for their prowess in battle.
    • The imperial field armies have been defeated, and Nika’s force is the only one close enough to be any help.
  • 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.

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