Story Outline Template

Story Outline Template, within the Milanote app

Outline the structure of your next novel

Whether you're a seasoned storyteller or just beginning your creative writing journey, this story outline template lets you organize your ideas, develop dynamic plotlines, and visually build captivating character arcs.

In the realm of creative storytelling, crafting a compelling narrative requires careful planning and outlining your story is the perfect way to do it. Easily drag and drop to rearrange the key parts and watch your story come to life. This template is the perfect companion for writers, authors, screenwriters, and storytellers of all kinds.

This template is part of our guide on How to plan a novel.

  • Explore ideas
  • Organize visually
  • Share with your team
  • Gather feedback
  • Export to PDF

How to use this template

Whether you’re writing a novel or a screenplay, follow this step-by-step guide to learn the modern process of outlining in Milanote, a free tool used by top creatives.

1. Start with an empty template

The Story Outline template contains empty notes for your ideas and scenes, and placeholders for images, video and links. There are many styles of story outlining including Hero's Journey, Save the Cat Beat Sheet but the most widely used are the Three-Act and Five-Act structures.

Empty story outline template
How to do this in Milanote
  1. Create a new board for your outline.

    Create a new board

    Drag a board out from the toolbar. Give it a name, then double click to open it.

  2. Choose the Story Outline template.

    Choose a template 

    Each new board gives you the options to start with a beautiful template.

2. Map out the key scenes

Start by laying out the major scenes or events you know so far. These might be the key turning points, locations, or plot twists. Don't worry too much about the order or details yet, just get the main parts out of your head. This is a quick flexible way to divide your story into the 5 key centerpieces. The story of Romeo and Juliet is a perfect example of this:

  • Act 1: The Setup - The Montagues and Capulets' long-standing feud is established, and Romeo meets Juliet at the Capulet's party.
  • Act 2: Rising Action - Romeo and Juliet fall deeply in love and secretly marry. The feud between their families intensifies.
  • Act 3: Climax - Mercutio and Tybalt are killed in a street fight, leading to Romeo's banishment and Juliet's forced marriage to Paris.
  • Act 4: Falling Action - Friar Laurence devises a plan to reunite Romeo and Juliet. Juliet takes a potion to feign death.
  • Act 5: Resolution - Miscommunication leads to Romeo's belief that Juliet is dead. Tragically, they both die, and their deaths reconcile their feuding families.
Writers story outline template step02
How to do this in Milanote
  1. Add a Column for each key scene.

    Drag a column onto your board

    Name it, then drag any relevant notes or images into your column

3. Add high-level details

Next, add a sentence or a short paragraph for each scene. There are no rules for how much detail to add, do what works best for you. Think about what's being communicated in this scene, the location, and the characters involved. This will help you consider where characters are introduced and how this scene connects with the next one. Remember that each act in a five-act structure serves a specific purpose in the overall narrative. By strategically adding content to each act, you create a well-paced and engaging story that builds tension, develops characters, and ultimately leads to a satisfying resolution.

Story outline template
How to do this in Milanote
  1. Add a note to describe the plot points.

    Drag a note card onto your board

    Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left-hand toolbar.

4. Get the sequence right

Seeing your story at a high level lets you make connections between themes and concepts you might otherwise miss if you went straight into writing. Re-read your outline so far. Look for scenes that feel out of place. Perhaps your transitions need some tweaking or a character appears without a proper introduction. Highlight areas that need more work and move scenes or plot points around to get the sequence just right. It might make sense to introduce a character later so move points around as you need to.

Adjusting the sequence in your story outline
How to do this in Milanote
  1. Drag plot points around to get the sequence right.

Pro tip:

Remember to balance your pacing. Pay attention to the pacing of each act. Alternate between moments of action, tension, and introspection to keep the reader engaged.

5. Add imagery or video

While imagery may not make an appearance in your novel, this is a great technique for visualizing a story as you write and it also helps to kickstart new ideas. Experiment by adding images or movie clips that capture the essence of a character or scene. If you've created a moodboard, now's the time to see if you've already got imagery that suitable. Try saving images from Google ImagesPinterest, or Milanote's built-in image library.

Writing story outline template step05
How to do this in Milanote
  1. Use the built-in image library. 

    Use the built-in image library

    Search over 500,000 beautiful photos powered by Unsplash then drag images straight onto your board.

  2. Embed Youtube videos or audio in a board. 

    Embed Youtube videos or audio tracks in a board

    Copy the share link from Youtube, Vimeo, Soundcloud or many other services. Drag a link card onto your board, paste your link and press enter.

You're done!

Now that you've finished a draft outline, you can start writing with the confidence that your story has a strong foundation. If you're starting a new novel, grab the free outline template below or try one of our other writing templates to start planning your next book.

Start your Story Outline

Plan your story outline, plot & scenes