50 Questions for Your Outline

I have been working on the outline for my WIP for the last month. 
Actually (*cough*cough*) it’s been…more than a month. 
Anyway, I’m using Tasha’s brilliant technique and I’m LOVING IT. Seriously. It has changed the way I think about EVERYTHING. (Ok. Maybe not everything. I hated pickled beets before. Hate them now. How can my husband even put those near his lips?!) 
But I’ll tell you what, I’m still struggling with this plotting beast, trying to make all these scenes and characters and THINGS combine into a satisfying story that makes sense? And keeps moving? And changes the main character? And is full of emotions and all the senses and… And! And! And!
Wow. It’s a lot, right?
So, I went through loads and loads of notes in my WorkshopJournal. I scanned a few articles online. I got some advice from other writers. And I put together this list of questions to ask myself about my outline.(These would also be excellent questions for a cruddy first draft.)

1: What is the conflict?
2: Can you deepen the conflict?
3: Can you suck other characters into the main character’s problems, thereby broadening the conflict?
4: How do you hook your readers on page one?
5: What are the mysteries in your story?
6: Do you have a foil character which exposes the main character’s flaws and/or strengths?
7: Does your main character start in a hole wanting something?
8: What is getting in her way?
9: Why does she want what she wants?
10: What is the inciting incident?
11: What are the sub-plots?
12: What character flaws are stopping the main character from getting what he wants?
13: What external forces are stopping the character from getting what he wants?
14: How does the main character try to fix her problems?
15: What are the consequences of her attempt?
16: How does she try to fix it the next time?
17: And then what are the consequences?
18: How does she attempt to fix the problem for the third time? Is her attempt an all or nothing goal?
19: What mistakes does your main character make?
20: What is the mood of your story?
21: What is your setting?
22: Is your setting unique?
23: Is there a way to push it, to make the setting different?
24: Do you have misdirection in your story? Any red herrings? Will your readers think they know what is going to happen? But then you trick them?
25: What are the surprises and twists in your story?
26: Does your story start with action?
27: What kind of plot does your story have?
28: Are each of your characters unique?
29: What makes them special?
30: What are your characters’ secrets?
31: Have you created a sympathetic main character? How?
32: What do your characters fear?
33: Is your story building up to something big? Can you make it bigger? 
34: Is every scene more exciting/interesting than the scene before?
35: Who/what is your antagonist?
36: Why is he/it doing what he’s/it is doing?
37: How can you make your main character’s voice unique?
38: Is the story constantly moving forward? How?
39: Does every character serve a purpose?
40: Do you have any characters you could combine in order to lessen the chance that you’re creating character soup?
41: How do the events affect and change the main character? 
42: What tools does your main character have to gain in order to win in the end?
43: How do you make the climax the big thing?
44: Do you have a ticking time bomb? If so, what is it? How does it escalate the tension? 
45: What are your characters’ back stories?
46: How do their back stories affect their actions?
47: What is the history of your setting?
48: How does it affect the story?
49:  What mistakes does your main character make? And what does he learn from them? 

50: What is your story’s theme?

What questions do you ask about your outline or first draft? 


  Erin Shakespear writes middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. With six kids, her days are full of quirky creatures, magic, strange adventures, and…loads of diapers. She also likes to dabble at photography, sewing, jewelry-making, and pretending she’s a grand artist. She is the southern Utah coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

9 thoughts on “50 Questions for Your Outline

  1. I thought this was wonderful. I saved your questions a while back hoping they would help me to fill in any holes when I finished my first draft. After coming back to it about 2 months later, I realized I had no clue where to go with my story. I did realize that the main object of my story, was not something that I needed in my story. I know that sounds weird, but my story is about my people the Lumbee and the element I had to remove was a medallion. It just didn’t belong, and removing it meant removing huge chapters and people. Your questions are helping me to shape my story into something I am proud to write and share with the world. They are making me take my story to the next level. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.


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