How to Outline a Novel: To Outline, or not to Outline?
Writing a book of fiction isn’t just about writing. It’s also about knowing how to turn an idea into a book.
The process of writing a book is a difficult one for most first-time authors. They have a great idea, then think “I should write a book about that,” before they start writing.
Most authors will never get to the “End” by using this method. Why? They are overwhelmed. Because they get overwhelmed. The story gets stuck and they don’t know where to go.
Most likely, they simply need a more effective plan.
Most projects require some planning. Most people wouldn’t go on vacation, build a house or perform in front of an audience without some kind of plan. Knowing what you are getting into is important.
The same applies to outlining a novel. You need to know as much information as possible so that you are confident and make fewer errors.
It’s important to note that not everyone is a good outliner. You might not enjoy it. You won’t find out until you give it a try.
Outlining comes in many forms, variations, and methods. One of them might be perfect for you. You can read our article on how to outline a nonfiction or memoir book.
There are many types of outliners
Let’s look at the way to organize your story now that you understand its importance. In this article, we will break down the four most popular types of outlining.
Some outline types are more effective for some people than others. Some methods are better suited for those who need flexibility or are more visually oriented. It’s important to find the right style and method for you.
Summary method is the easiest and simplest way to create an outline.
Here’s where you will divide your book into chapters with short summaries for each.
You will briefly summarize what occurs in each chapter, who is present, the location, etc. It’s up to you how much detail you include.
This is a great method if you’re a fan of starting at the beginning, and thinking linearly. Make sure you follow your chosen story arc.
The index card is outlined
This method is very flexible and popular. You can use this method to organize your story by writing short scene summaries on index cards.
This method works well for visual writers that don’t necessarily think in linear fashion, but who need to visualize the scenes and reorder them to gain a better grasp of the overall plot.
This method is especially useful when there are multiple characters and subplots.
It is a flexible method that is visual.
You can create an outline by writing the main idea in the middle of your paper, and then letting your mind wander on to other related topics such as characters or settings.
As you develop new ideas, consider how they might work with other ideas.
If you’re looking for a method that allows you to explore every idea and see which one works best with your story, mind mapping is the way to go. It’s simple to clean up your mind map once you have all of your ideas written down.
Which Outlining Method is Right for You?
The method and level of detail you use will ultimately depend on the amount of freedom you desire to write with.
Some writers are happy with a simple plot while others prefer to have their entire research, setting and characters mapped out.
While you outline, remember that you do not have to get into extreme detail. You can skip a few steps, or even a whole bunch.
It’s crucial that you create a writing process that will make you more productive!
How to outline a book
1. Clarify Your Premise
Clarify the premise of your book before you start fleshing out characters or planning your chapters.
Outlining a novel is all about knowing what the story is. If your premise is unclear, your work will be wasted.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the main character of my story?
- What is the main goal of my character?
- Why does my character’s main goal exist?
- Why should readers care?
Once you have figured all of this out, start by creating your topic or premise statement. This will be your guide as you continue to develop your story.
Harry Potter, an eight-year-old boy, learns about his magical abilities and faces off against Lord Voldemort.
Your premise need not be very specific but should make it clear if you have an idea that is solid enough to carry a full book.
2. Create your main character(s)
Once you’ve established your premise, it’s time to start thinking about the characters who will make your story come alive.
You may want to move on to the plot building before this, but you should not. Each of your main character’s goals must drive all your decisions.
If you rush into your plot, you may end up with passive characters.
A story with passive characters is boring.
You will find it much easier to develop and outline your plot if you know your characters.
This recorded webinar will teach you how to create captivating characters.
3. Select Your Narrative Framework
Once you’ve decided on your main idea and the cast of characters you want to use, you can begin writing your story.
This is where many authors give up on outlining their story and dive straight into it. Narrative structure is a crucial part of plot development, so do not skip it.
Take some time to consider the different narrative structures available, such as plot-driven, character-driven, linear or circular.
When you choose a framework for your story, it is much easier to create the scenes.
For help in structuring your story, this is a helpful guide.
4. Divide your story into scenes
Scenes are the next step after you have determined the plot of your story.
It is a tedious and difficult step to outline because each scene must be both interesting and relevant, while also contributing to the overall plot.
Keep in mind that each scene should have a specific goal. This could be to advance the plot or to introduce or reveal new characters.
You can then work to make each scene interesting and engaging for the reader.
Sara Anne Fox suggests that to create great scenes, “start later and leave as quickly as possible.” It is important to keep the story moving forward without boring the readers.
5. Please fill in all the details
You can take time to plan out your outline based on the amount of detail you desire. This includes research, settings, plot details, and any other information that you think will be useful when you begin writing.
You and your writing style will decide how much detail to include in the outline.
It’s better to do the research now than later. You may benefit in the end.
It’s a good idea to get an understanding of the world you will be writing in, if you are writing a novel.
This is a great way to learn more about minor characters. These details will not appear in your book but they can help you develop more realistic characters.
6. Get a closer look
After you’ve gotten a clear idea of the overall look and feel of your book, you should dive deeper into its mechanics.
Spend some time thinking about all the information you’ve collected. Is the pace right? Foreshadowing is important.
Are all the scenes that you have outlined essential to the overall story?
It is not essential to do this. Some writers prefer the tedious details to be worked out in later drafts.
You should also spend time on your outline if you don’t have much experience editing.
If you want to receive feedback before writing, this is the time.
You may find it difficult to imagine your story the way you do. The outline is not as compelling or interesting as the finished story.
You can ask people for their opinion if they are trustworthy and you want to get good feedback.
7. Step back and start writing!
Stopping is the final and perhaps most important step of outline.
Writers can easily get lost with an outline. You can get stuck in any stage of the writing process.
You’ll never get a perfect outline. Some things are best left to be discovered as you write.
Allow yourself to explore your story. Don’t forget that writing a book can be a creative process.
No matter how “perfectly” you would like your outline, there are always ways to improve it. You outline is a tool, not a rule book. Your story is yours. You are free to change your story and make it fit the situation.