Writing Serial Outlines

I love “Friend” serials. In my mind, they capture what we do best – bringing strong characters to life which the readers can relate to.

Of course, short stories can do that, too, but there is more scope to develop characters through the course of a serial, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.

When a serial proposal is under consideration by the senior team it will involve a character list and outline. Generally, it will involve a first instalment, too, especially when dealing with new writers to the serial format. But the purpose of this post is to talk to you about the all-important serial outline.

If writing a serial is about captivating readers so they are compelled to read the next instalment, then this is equally relevant for the outline. A strong outline will show the editorial team if your serial has the “legs” to span your chosen number of instalments.

In writing circles terms like outline and synopsis are often interchanged with one another, but they aren’t the same. An outline does just that – it outlines the serial plot in a detailed manner. Whereas a synopsis is more of a summary of key events and themes, establishing your main characters and their goals.

When you are planning your serial, don’t get hung up on the technicalities between an outline and synopsis. You won’t go far wrong if you concentrate on highlighting the main points in individual instalments, including cliff-hanger curtains (how writers end their instalments, inducing the reader to read on).

Plotting Ahead

Some writers are “plotters”, in which outlining a serial comes naturally to them. Others feel more inclined to write the outline with the simplest of ideas in mind, seeing what story events evolve through the course of writing the serial on a scene by scene basis. Though both methods will work during the serial proposal stage, if you have holes in your plot, it will show in the outline.

So when it comes to serial planning, practise how you develop your ideas, conveying key story element in the outline. If your outline reads more like a novel, you’ll need to go back to the drawing board. We don’t need to know what your main characters are having for breakfast, but we will need to know what motivates them, and what obstacles come their way.

Some writers will send in three or four pages, highlighting key scenes in each instalment; others will write a dozen or so pages. It all depends on the length of your proposed serial. It’s not an easy task writing a serial outline, but it will hopefully become easier the more times you do it.

I want to stress that nothing is set in stone as regards the actual writing of your serial. Whether your heroine falls in love in instalment 3 or 4 isn’t as important as the believability of the occasion itself.

Allow yourself flexibility when it comes to your outline and the writing of your serial should be richer for it.


Pick up more useful tips from the Fiction Team over on their corner of the website.


Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.