Writing Tip Wednesday – Step Outlines and Structuring Your Story

The structure of a story is sort of a pain in the butt for a lot of writers.  In a story, the structure sort of goes like this:


  1. Something happens.
  2. Which causes something else to happen.
  3. Which makes something else happen.

And the evil part of being a writer is that you have to hack out all the things that aren’t part of those steps. You have to keep that something happens-makes something else happen-causes something else to happen movement in all the scenes in your story.

What are the scenes? They are the places where things happen.

Some writers use a magical tool called a Step Outline.

What’s a Step Outline?

It’s something I just made into a proper noun. A step outline (no longer a proper noun) is where you show the way your story develops by outlining the scenes.

So, for an example, the story I’m working on right now goes: 

  1. A girl and her friend sends in the girl’s DNA test to figure out who her father is.
  2. She freaks out about this and her friend comforts her by the ocean but she has a horrible feeling.
  3. At work that horrible feeling continues and she gets an ambulance call that a girl’s been hit by a car.
  4. She rushes to the scene and is the first one there. The area is crowded with tourists and the little girl dies. Something magical is emitted from our hero’s hands and the little girl comes back to life.
  5. The video of the rescue goes viral and two strangers come to her work, discussing her healing the girl and the lack of a man’s name on her birth certificate.

As I write that down, I realize it isn’t perfect. How does scene two truly bleed into scene three in the manuscript? Now, I know that I have to go back and make that connection a bit stronger. Step outlines are magic that way.  By breaking the scenes down, we see the connections but also the gaps, the places where we need to make it stronger.

You can also break down those steps and bigger scenes into smaller scenes. Every beat of action doesn’t deserve a step, but every little scene (a page or so) does.

Step outlines are a pretty basic tool, but they are pretty brilliant ways of understanding the cause and effect and pacing of our stories. Try it out and tell me what you think!


Writing and Other News

I’ll be hanging out at Virginia Beach this weekend for an awesome book festival.


I do art stuff. You can find it and buy a print here. 

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Time Stoppers!

You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.

People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.


Moe Berg

The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

It’s awesome and quirky and fun.


Men in Black meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You know it. You can buy them here or anywhere.


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dogs are smarter than people carrie after dark being relentless to get published

Writing Coach

I offer solo writing coach services. For more about my individual coaching, click here.

Writing Barn

I am super psyched to be teaching the six-month long Write. Submit. Support. class at the Writing Barn!

Are you looking for a group to support you in your writing process and help set achievable goals? Are you looking for the feedback and connections that could potentially lead you to that book deal you’ve been working towards?

Our Write. Submit. Support. (WSS) six-month ONLINE course offers structure and support not only to your writing lives and the manuscripts at hand, but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors.

Past Write. Submit. Support. students have gone on to receive representation from literary agents across the country. View one of our most recent success stories here

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Author: carriejonesbooks

I am the NYT and internationally-bestselling author of children's books, which include the NEED series, FLYING series, TIME STOPPERS series, DEAR BULLY and other books. I like hedgehogs and puppies and warm places. I have none of these things in my life.

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