Build the Outline of Your Manga Story

Build the Outline of Your Manga Story

Now that you have an idea, the next stage is to build the outline of your manga story. The outline will provide the main steps of the progression of your plots and arcs. It will later serve as a backbone for the next stages of your story writing your story.

This article will show you how to start from your idea to build the global outline of your manga story, and how to make it interesting while avoiding some of the main pitfalls.

Why should I build an outline for my manga story?

The purpose of the outline is threefold:

  • Make sure that your story is globally coherent.
  • Help you check that the different stages through which your character will go will help him/her progress towards his/her destination, and therefore avoid useless content.
  • Determine if you have too few or too much content compared to the number of pages or chapters you expect to be making if you are writing a short story or a series.

Of course, you might be tempted to go directly to the scripting stage and start detailing the story. Or even worse, going directly to drawing your story. It is far more time consuming to rewrite a script or redraw pages if you have forgotten elements, or if you have too much content, compared to adding or removing content to your outline. And this is even more true if you are writing a series where you will not have the chance to come back on the content that was already published.

On the one side, readers will quickly spot incoherences and useless content, and many will stop reading your story. Readers dislike wasting their time reading incoherent and useless content while so many goods stories await to be read.

On the other side this may also wear you off as you will not be seeing progress because you will be spending hours and hours redoing your script or drawings. This is surely one of the main reasons why people quit making manga before they even publish anything.

All in all, the earlier you can spot errors and unnecessary content, the easier it will be to fix it. Therefore even though it might seem superfluous or a waste of time fo you, building an outline might save you time, and potentially save your manga.

If you want to succeed in manga making, your objective shall be to please your readers with a great story, not with a messy and time-wasting content.

The only exception I see is if the episodes are unrelated like in some gag manga or a slice of life. Here, you need to have a list of jokes or situations, but what happens in an episode might not impact what happens in the next ones.

The base ingredients of a good story

All good story will have 3 base ingredients:

  • A start,
  • A destination,
  • And a journey in between

Therefore the activity of building the outline of your story will consist in identifying the steps that will allow your characters to journey from the start to the destination.

The start is an event that will move your main character from his everyday life into his/her journey. This event will generally be your hero getting a chance to:

  • solve one of his/her problems,
  • realise one of his/her dreams,
  • help someone else.

The destination is where you want your main character to be at the end of your story. He/she generally will have solved his/her problem or realised his/her dream, or the one from the person who asked for his/her help. But it might go beyond that if something bigger was hiding behind that problem or dream, or if you want your main character to realise the true meaning of his/her life.

The journey presents the different stages that will lead your hero from the start to his/her destination. This involves generally encountering obstacles, failing and succeeding, encountering people, finding treasures and enlightenment… There are some predefined structures like the 3-Acts Structure, the kishōtenketsu or the Hero’s Journey that will help you in the process of building these stages.

How to build your outline

Now let’s see how to build an manga story outline from an idea.

I will take as an example one of the ideas I came up with: The boy having fallen into the see and finding himself on the shores of an unidentified island where strange creatures will help him go back home.

The start

The very first step is to set the scene by introducing your main character in his everyday life. Then, you introduce the event that starts the journey.

The young boy is on a boat, travelling with his parents.

While being alone at night watching stars, he fells over board.

When he wakes up, he is on the shore of an unknown island.

The destination

Then, you must make a first statement of the destination of your character.

The boy, after several months, finally comes back home and gets back to his parents.

The creatures stay with him, invisible to his parent.

The journey

Now comes the most interesting part, and potentially the most complex: the journey that your character will experience.

You have to imagine the different steps that will lead your character from the start to the destination. What happens or what does he/she do to move toward the goal.

For instance, a first iteration could be:

The boy finds some creatures in a cave after he ate a strange mushroom.

He builds a raft with the help of the creatures.

They encounter a boat where people take him onboard.

They escapes from the boat as the equipage plans to ask for a ransom to his parents.

A fisherman saves them and brings them to the coast.

There he hitchhikes and finally gets home.

Refining the journey

Having a first idea of the journey of your character, you will then have to refine and adjust the content. A good method is to size each item in your outline to a set number of pages or chapters.

For instance if you are writing a short story, which is about 60 pages long, each item could be around 4 pages. And if you are planning a series, an item could be 1 or 2 chapters (20 to 40 pages).

Fleshing out your outline

If you are missing content, a good way to further detail the outline is by asking yourself questions:

  • How can the boy encounter the creatures?
  • Why would the creatures help him?
  • What could happen to make his journey more interesting?

The answer to these questions will progressively either give you precisions or new steps your character has to go through in his journey.

For instance:

  • Why would he go into that cave? Well, why not to protect from a storm for instance…
  • Why would the creatures help him? Because he saved them from some kind of danger, like an animal…

If you don’t see how to flesh your manga story outline, look at the Hero’s Journey structure if you want to find some inspiration. You can get inspiration from the different stages of the journey to structure your outline and fill in the gaps.

Using the answers provided above, a refined version of my outline could become:

Because of a storm, the boy finds a cave where he can sleep and be protected.

In the depth of the cave, he finds some strange glowing fruit.

He tastes one of them and starts having hallucinations and seeing some strange creatures.

The boy befriends with the creatures after having saved them from an animal.

He builds a raft with the help of the creatures.

They encounter a boat where people take him onboard.

They escapes from the boat as the equipage plans to ask for a ransom to his parents.

A fisherman saves them and brings them to the coast.

There he hitchhikes and finally gets home.

Pruning your outline

If you have too much content, you will have to make choices and remove elements while still keeping the outline coherent.

Here you will have to ask yourself if the items in your outline bring value to your story and move your character toward his destination. If id doesn’t, or if in doubt, remove the item.

It is good to trim down your outline to the core of your manga story, to what is essential.

If at that moment you have too few content, then it will be easy to flesh it out again with some of the elements you removed, or with new ones.

If you still have too much items, then you will have to make trade offs…

How far should the outline go?

You do not need to go into too much details in your manga outline. The point is really to create a coherent sequence of events and enough content for what you plan to do. The details will be added during the scripting phase.

Again, as an order of magnitude, a point in your outline can represent a few pages, a chapter or a set of chapters in your story.

Therefore the shorter the item in your outline, the better you are. You should not be describing every action your characters make. If you end up detailing each page or actions within a page, you have too much details and are more at the scripting level.

How to fit a secondary idea in your outline?

Whenever you want to add something to your story, ask yourself this single question:

Does this help my character getting closer to his/her destination?

If the answer is no, this means that the idea cannot be fitted as is. Adding it as is would end up introducing worthless content into your manga story.

If you still really want this idea into your story, you will have then to reflect on how to make this idea something necessary for the progress of your plot. Follow the same questioning process as above, asking yourself why should your character do this? or whatever makes sense with your idea.

If you don’t find any way to fit your idea in, then put it aside. It might be a good idea for a bonus chapter for instance.


Here it is for this article. I hope you found it informative and useful. Do not hesitate to like and share, and to comment or ask questions if you have any!

See you,

Stef

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