Novel Plot Outline Worksheets (PDF)

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What are novel plot outlines?

Plot summary templates or story outlines are simple structures that can be used as the basic building blocks for plotting a novel.

They offer a list of story beats which are commonly found in a given genre.

For example, a romance story will always have a part where the two love interests meet. There will almost always be a part where they are at odds with each other, and a part where they realise the truth of their feelings for each other.

A mystery will generally start with a crime, include misdirection and red herrings and end with the sleauth confronting the perpetrator.


Why should authors use outlines or templates?

Authors can use these novel outlines to ensure their story follows a solid tried and tested structure.

Analysis of stories humans have enjoyed since the earliest myths has shown that there are a certain things that really 'hit the spot' when it comes to getting us intrigued, gripped and satisfied.

Don't resort to fumbling blindly in the dark and hoping that they appear in your novel by chance. Using these plot outlines you can find start plotting your novel with your eyes wide open, giving it the most solid foundations.


Wait, but isn't it cheating?

Some authors can have a negative reaction to the idea of using existing structures and ideas to underpin their writing.

Writing is a creative art, after all - so shouldn't every second of it be inspired by the divine muse?

The short answer is: no.

As well as being a creative art, writing is a skill and it is a craft. And becoming skilled at your craft means learning from other experts and using the right tools in the right way. It means learning best practice, useful techniques and the basics.

Using the right tools for the job is not cheating - it's smart.

In addition, it's important to remember that following these story outlines will not guarantee you a good novel. But not using some kind of plot structure will in most cases guarantee you a bad one.

Of course there are exceptions, but if you're capable of writing one of those, you probably wouldn't be here reading this.


But won't it mean that my novel will be the same as everyone else's?

These structures can be found underlying the vast majority of stories from early myths to Shakespeare to today's bestselling novels and blockbuster movies. 

They aren't an exact blueprint for you to measure up to by the milimetre, they simply suggest that if you would like to build a house, you might want to include walls, a roof, windows and a door.

(And if you want to build a horror house, you should probably leave a dead body in it).

There are an infinite way in which each of the story beats can be intepreted. 


Want to be able to easily fill in, edit and even drag and drop the sections of the plot outlines?

The plot structures below are available as free downloadable PDFs. But there is a beter way to use them.

They are all fully integrated into the Novel Factory novel writing software.

There you can select your template from a dropdown and simply fill in each of the stages directly into the software.

You can also add your own stages, delete ones that don't work in your story, sort them into Acts, and drag and drop them to shuffle them into the perfect order.

It takes using these novel outlines to a new level of efficiency.

Get a free trial of the Novel Factory to see it in action.

If you like these, you may also like our free book writing worksheets.


Plot Outline Templates - Free Downloadable PDFs

 Character Driven Story Outline Writing Template

Character Driven Novel Plot Outline Template - free printable PDF download

Character Driven Plot Outline

This story outline is driven by the development of a compelling character arc.

The protagonist begins with something missing from their existence, even though they may not be aware of it.

Through the story they learn why they feel incomplete and must face their demons and deepest fears in order to evolve as a person and become whole.

Download the Character Driven Plot Outline PDF


Incomplete - establish the hero's 'want' and their 'need'

The protagonist is unfulfilled in their normal life. There will be two things missing – one thing that they think they want (like money, fame, a Porsche – you get the idea) and another thing which they haven’t thought of, but is the real thing that will give them fulfilment. (compassion, self confidence, etc).

Unsettled -  an outside force appears (e.g. invitation or threat)

The protagonist’s world becomes unsettled by an outside force. An invitation, threat or attack, perhaps.

Romance Story Outline Writing Template



Romance Novel Plot Outline Template - free printable PDF download

Romance Novel Story Outline

The classic romance story structure including all the major story beats and complications.

Based on characters having personal character arcs and motivations that conflict with the romance aspect.

Download the Romance Plot Outline PDF


Introduce the protagonist (who feels incomplete)

Introduce the main character’s world. They may be successful in many areas of their life, but clearly have a gap when it comes to a loving relationship. Foreshadow the conflict that will create challenges for the romance to come. Establish the hero’s non-romance based goal.

Protagonist meets love interest but there is conflict

When the two main characters first meet it is extremely likely that they will hate each other on sight. Show how they are from different worlds, with strongly contrasting views on life.

Characters are forced to spend time together

Due to external factors, the characters are forced to spend time together, and even to cooperate to achieve a goal. They are still at odds, but the sparks are kindling some fire… A friend may even comment on it, but the couple to be both hotly deny there is anything to be attracted to.

Hero's Journey Story Outline Writing Template



Hero's Journey Novel Plot Outline Template - free printable PDF download

Hero's Journey Novel Plot Outline

The Hero's Journey, as proposed by Joseph Campbell - cut down to the bare bones and presented to apply across all genres - not only sword wielding fantasies.

Download the Hero's Journey Plot Outline PDF


Introduction to the hero's world

You set the scene, introduce your character and their normal life, just in time for them to...

Call to action

... be torn from it! Actually it's better if they're not torn, but have to commit to the decision themselves. In any case, the challenge is put forward. You can start building sympathy for your character by ensuring their decision is something the reader can identify with and / or respect.

Crossing the threshold

In order to ensure your lead has the pressure on and therefore your readers are hooked into wondering how they'll ever get out of this mess, it’s good if your hero crosses some kind of threshold that is difficult, if not impossible, to get back to normal life from. It may be a physical journey across land, the removal of allies, self-inflicted isolation or becoming wanted and on the run.

Crime Mystery Thriller Story Outline Writing Template

Mystery / Crime Thriller Novel Plot Outline Template - free printable PDF download

Mystery / Crime Thriller Plot Outline

A fairly detailed structure explaining how to develop the sleuth's inner character journey alongside solving the crime and uncovering deeper conspiracies.

Download the Mystery / Crime Thriller Plot Outline PDF


Present the crime

Mysteries and crime thrillers often begin with a prologue in which the inciting crime takes place. The first crime is very likely to be a murder or kidnapping. This is from a POV that is not the main protagonist, it may be from the point of view of the victim, the killer, or an omniscient narrator.

Introduce the sleuth

Next we meet the sleuth, who is the protagonist. This person is often a professional detective, but not always. Sometimes they are a normal person thrust into a situation which gives them no choice but to take action – usually because someone they love is missing or threatened.

Universal Story Outline Writing Template




Universal Novel Plot Outline Template - free printable PDF download

Universal Novel Plot Outline

Based on the hero's journey, but rejigged to make the terminology more generic and easy to apply across genres.

Download the Universal Novel Plot Outline PDF


Act 1

Setting the scene

Introduce the main character’s world and establish their want and their need. The character clearly has things missing from their lives and they are unsatisfied with their current existence.

Establish the goal

Something happens to shake the character’s world, and offers them an opportunity, or creates a threat.

Go through the door

In pursuit of the goal the character crosses some kind of barrier (could be physical but doesn’t have to be), which means it is not possible to return to their old life.

Act 2


The character is now in a new and unfamiliar world, trying to navigate unknown rules and challenges.

Series of conflicts

The character must face a series of conflicts, each of increasing difficulty and stakes. Some they will win, some they will lose.

Detective Noir Story Outline Writing Template





Universal Novel Plot Outline Template - free printable PDF download

Detective Noir Novel Plot Outline

Drawn from the detective noir / hard boiled genres, a dark mystery structure with dark undertones and plenty of betrayal.

Download the Detective Noir Novel Plot Outline PDF


Start Low

The protagonist of a detective noir is often an anti-hero. An outcast, often someone who held a heroic position in the past, such as a police officer or soldier, but who has fallen from grace. A sense of alienation should be established and maintained throughout the story.

The siren walks in

A client will appear, seeking help with a case – usually a murder or missing person. They may appear vulnerable or wanting to help, but they will have a deep, dark secret that is bound to get the protagonist into hot water.

Although the femme fatale trope is common, there is no requirement for the siren to be female, or sexy, and in fact mixing it up may make your story more refreshing.

Initial investigation

The protagonist begins their investigations, searching for clues. This will often be done at night, and in the shadows. Throughout the investigation, there should be a healthy amount of red herrings.

Note - click here to read about the difference between hard boiled and noir.

And you can read more about the elements of detective noir here.

Screenplay plot outline template free pdf download





Screenplay plot outline template free pdf download

Screenplay Plot Outline

Based on Hollywood Blockbusters.

Download the Screenplay Novel Plot Outline PDF


Stage I: The Setup

Create the world and transport readers there. Introduce your hero in their everyday life and create empathy with them. Hint at the hero’s inner conflict (their ‘need’).

Turning Point #1: The Opportunity (10%)

10% into the story something new and different must happen to the hero. The Opportunity begins the journey and presents the outer motivation.

Stage II: The new situation

They find themselves in a new situation. The newness of the situation may be internal (a new emotional state or attitude) or external (change in circumstances / location). The hero tries to navigate this new, unknown territory and begins to formulate a plan for achieving their outer motivation.

Turning Point #2: The Change of Plans (25%)

The outer motivation transforms into a specific, visible goal with a clearly defined endpoint.

Act 2

Stage III: Progress

The hero makes progress towards their outer motivation. They may receive training and / or mentoring. There are conflicts and setbacks, but overall they seem to getting closer to achieving their goal.

Short story plot outline template free pdf downloadable worjshgeet





Short story plot outline template free doanloadable pdf worksheet printable

Short Story Plot Outline

A seven point system for writing a short story.

Download the Short Story Plot Outline PDF


A character

In a short story you can often get away with characters being larger than life, or having distinctive qualities that are more exuberant, because the reader won’t be experiencing the character for so long that these characteristics begin to become tiresome or irritating.

Is in a situation

Very quickly you need to introduce the character’s world and their place in it. What is interesting about this character and their life? Make sure the reader feels excited and intrigued.

With a problem

At the heart of all good fiction is conflict. What problem does your character have to solve? Try to get to the problem as quickly as possible (within the first few paragraphs) so the reader is hooked and needs to know how the problem is going to be resolved.

They try to solve the problem

The character should begin to make efforts to solve their problem.

But fail, making it worse

But these efforts have the opposite effect, and the originally small problem begins to grow into something really serious.



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