How to Outline through Character Arcs

On Friday I touched on how I started outlining The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy to help me lay out the general narrative.

I’m pretty sure this style of outline is sort of an amalgam of various outlining techniques I’ve read about, so I’d like to share it with you all.

WoEM generally follows a group of characters along the same, or at least parallel, story lines. My outlining for this story was linear, because I wanted to keep my timeline straight.

The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy is not quite so tidy. Each of the POV arcs in my second novel occurs concurrently with the others, but they are not woven together in the same way.

So, rather than developing a linear outline that jumps between POV sections in one larger arc, I’m taking a different approach.

Prioritizing the Character Arc

Since each of my POV characters in WoEL follows largely independent story arcs, I thought it best o lay them out individually first, before organizing them into a cohesive piece.

So here’s what I did. I started with the log-line for a character. This is a one-sentence summary of the character’s arc, and is generally formulated like this:

[Character A] wants [something], but [something else] is standing in their way.

Right away, you know who the character is, what their motivations are, and what the primary conflict they will face is (if not their specific antagonist). This is the baseline for the character arc. If the arc is not fulfilling this summary, then you either need to re-think the story or the character themselves.

After establishing the log-line, I wrote out a three-part summary of how this arc would be achieved: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Each of these are also one- or two-sentence summaries of what the character wants, how they go about getting there, and what the final resolution is. This is an outline, after all!

From there, I take brief notes detailing how the character gets from point A to point B. It sounds pretty straightforward, but he key here is the outline format.

Here’s how mine is ending up looking:

Character A Log-Line: [Character A] wants [something], but [something else] is standing in their way.

Beginning: Character A starts here and wants this.

  1. Character A sets out to achieve their goal.
    1. How?
    2. When?
    3. With whom?

II. Middle: Character A tries to achieve their goal.

  1. Character A encounters various troubles.
    1. How do they resolve?

III. End: Character A ends up here.

  1. Character A does or does not achieve their goal
    1. What is the impact?

I do this for each character until I have a solid idea of where their individual story is going and how they get there.

Outlining before Plotting

My goal is for the bulleted/numbered items to turn into individual or combined written sections. This outline will help me see how complex a character’s arc is and plan out how their sections flow in the actual book.

Then, I can order the various sections of all of the characters together based on tension, conflict, and if/when two characters’ story lines happen to cross.

So really, this outline is more about the individual characters than it is about outlining the entire book. That will come next.

How do you tryt o outline your stories? Do you focus on character arcs or overall plot?

Steve D

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