15 practical steps to outline your novel

15 Practical Steps To Outline Your Novel

15 PRACTICAL STEPS TO OUTLINE YOUR NOVEL

Like every other writer, I am guessing you face writer’s block, or you lack the motivation to write sometimes? If your answer is yes, would you believe there is a process that would help you overcome writer’s block? It’s called outlining.

Outlining is the process of writing the main points or topic of a given subject; you are writing the summary of the main points, that is a rough draft. You can say it is a roadmap for your book.

What Type Of Writer Are You?

Writers generally fall into two categories when it comes to outlining. “Plotters” and “pantsers”. In the beginning, it’s essential to observe your writing patterns and habits to find out what approach best suits you.

Who Is A Plotter?

A plotter is someone who plans their story before they begin writing. If you spend enough time pre-writing, organising plot lines & building characters, you are a plotter. Most successful writers are plotters, while pantsing works for some people, such as Stephen King, plotting has topped the charts.

Who Is A Pantser?

A pantser is someone who likes to fly by the seat of their pants and write, that means they write without a plan ahead or a road map. If you do any of the above, you are a pantser. A pantser spends little or no time on writing methods and story structure. Stephen King is a pantser, and he has been very successful over the last decade. So if this approach suits you, go for it💪.

Outline Myths

novel outlining myths

There have been several myths surrounding outlining that have scared a lot of new writers; I will be debunking some of them here.

  • There is only one way to outline; This is very far from the truth, you can make outlining as personal as you can, there is no one method to plan your novel, there are several ways. You can also have your approach, whatever process fits you and works with your creative flow. There are no right or wrong ways.
  • Does outlining ruin the creative process? Outlining does not block creativity; it’s instead an extension of your creativity. So it doesn’t ruin the creative process; this is very far from the truth.
  • Outlining makes your characters lack strong personalities; If your characters don’t have strong personalities, It is due to the building or development of your characters. The purpose of your outline is to tell you where the characters would be; you still have to build the character’s story as you write, their core personalities, motivations and goals.
  • Outlines make books dull and predictive; This is not true in my opinion if a story is getting boring as you write, it is not the fault of the outline, it is the fault of the story needing more work from inside out. The outline gives you bits to follow, but it can be modified later, you do not tailor the story to fit every step, you tailor those steps to fit the story.
  • Outlining is hard: This isn’t entirely a myth, It can be a little difficult, but my guess is you write even tho it is hard, so while outlining may be hard, it’s rewards make it worth it.

Why Should You Outline Your Novel?

Outlining has a lot of benefits to you and your writing.

  • It helps you start writing in the right place.
  • It gives your story a solid middle.
  • It helps you define your goals.
  • It creates a cohesive plan for your book.
  • It helps you see your story from start to finish.
  • It saves time.
  • It ensures you stay focused on quality.
  • It saves energy.
  • It helps overcome writer’s block.
  • It gives your story a solid structure.
  • It helps you end your book well.
  • It gives a story proper pacing.
  • Outlining guides you.
  • It decreases plot holes.
  • It creates a great climax.
  • It helps you stay motivated.

How To Outline Your Novel

1. The Snowflake Method;

the snowflake method of novel outlining

The snowflake method is a great approach to help you outline your novel; it encourages starting with the most straightforward premise possible. Afterwards, you systematically expand it to include plot and character details. A writing coach called Randy Ingermanson developed this method. The result is a comprehensive character guide and scene list with which you can begin your first draft. The snowflake method lays out practical steps for your outlining and gives you an idea of how long each step should take.

ACTION PLAN

  • Write a one-sentence story summary.
  • Expand it to a one-paragraph summary.
  • Start small with your characters.
  • Expand each one-paragraph summary into a single page.
  • Create a character guide and character synopses.
  • Write a four-page synopsis and scene list.

A lot of writers use this method but the only way to know if it will work for you is to try it.

2. The Mindmap Strategy

the mindmap approach to outline your novel

The mind map model is a strategy used in self-publishing school. It requires you to create a braindump based on the topic of your book.

ACTION PLAN

  • Write the story’s topic in the centre of a piece of paper.
  • Use lines and words to draw as many connections as you can.
  • Observe the connections between different categories of information as you write.
  • Spot the relevant book-worthy ideas.
  • Pluck out the ideas from the mind map and put them into a cohesive book outline.
  • You should also do a mindmap for each chapter you select from your original mindmap.

It doesn’t need to make perfect sense from the beginning; the goal is free form thinking to get all the ideas out of your head and unto the page.

3. The Chapter-By-Chapter Outline

This method helps you outline your novel chapter by chapter.

ACTION PLAN

  • Create a list for the chapters.
  • Give each chapter a title or name.
  • Fill in the main points for each chapter.

4. Sticky Notes Outline

sticky notes outline for your novel

This method makes use of sticky notes to plan your story on the go.

ACTION PLAN

  • Get a lot of sticky notes.
  • Carry it with you wherever you go.
  • Write down ideas on each sticky note.
  • Classify those ideas into sections.
  • Transfer the sections into a cohesive plan for your story.

5. The 3-Act Structure

This technique is great to put down the plot. It consists of act-one, act-two, and act-three, that is the beginning, middle and ending of the story. The first act introduces an event that sets the story in motion, that means something in the protagonist life changes presenting new dangers they must overcome. It consists of;

  • The hook
  • Inciting incident
  • The first plot point

The second act is where the rising action occurs; the protagonist cautiously sets out to achieve their goals while shying away from conflict with the story’s antagonist. It consists of;

  • Pre-midpoint rising action
  • The midpoint
  • Post-midpoint rising action

The third act includes an unexpected loss for the protagonist, which forces them into a make or break situation, which leads to the story’s final resolution. It consists of;

  • The dark night of the soul
  • The climactic sequence.
  • The resolution

ACTION PLAN

  • Write your story’s topic.
  • Divide it into three parts; the introduction, the middle and the ending.
  • Using the 3-act structure, create a cohesive plan.

6. The Skeletal Outline

This method is used mainly by students to write their thesis. This approach is merely putting small details to support the main idea of the story, that is laying out the narrative points to give the story a structure.

7. The Hero’s Journey

This approach focuses on the hero’s journey; it entails the hero’s journey from start to finish using the 3-act structure. The first act the hero changes, presenting new dangers they must overcome. The second act the hero is no longer hesitant and decides to face the conflict at hand, and lastly, in the third act, the hero ties loose ends and achieves resolutions to outstanding goals.

ACTION PLAN

  • Focus on your hero’s journey and remember a hero story doesn’t have to be a cliche.

8. The Reverse Outline

This method plans the story from the end; that is the reverse of the story.

ACTION PLAN

  • Write down how the novel ends.
  • Outline backwards to get to your desired ending.

This method creates mysterious moments for you as you write.

9. Sketch The Outline

use the sketch outline for your novel

This approach works best for people with an artistic side. This method is a drawing of the book concept in a cohesive order. You may decide how you want the story to plan out, feel free to use whatever material that suites your taste.

10. The Synopsis Method

A synopsis is a summary or general survey of something. This method is ideal for shorter stories; it focuses on creating a review of your story. You have to include the essential parts of your story, such as the characters, settings and so on.

ACTION PLAN

  • Write a miniature version of your entire story.

11. The Traditional Method

This approach requires you to break up your story into parts, developing smaller summaries for each part. If you write longer stories, this is an excellent idea for you. This approach is similar to the chapter-by-chapter outline.

12. The Freytag Approach

This model is similar to the Hero’s Journey. It includes a three-stage process as well. It consists of;

  • The introduction
  • Rising action
  • Climax

When you have written summaries for these three parts, you have a good idea of how the story will unfold, and you can add more details as you write.

13. Draft Zero

This method is excellent for pantsers, who like to write as they go without a plan. It is like freewriting that us you just simply write out your story as it comes to mind, paying no attention

14. Bullet Point Outline

This method simply makes use of bullet points to summarise the ideas for your story into parts. It could be in chapters, scenes or acts.

ACTION PLAN

  • Make use of bullet points for every significant idea of your story.

15. My Outline Process

The name of my outlining process is BBPBS. It is an intensive outlining process I use which means;

  • B – Backstory.
  • B – Braindump.
  • P – Plot Structure.
  • B – Bullet Points.
  • S – Skeletal System.

Feel free to steal and use it as you please.

  • Backstory: First, I write the backstory for my book before I start. I write it down in my notebook.
  • Braindump: Afterwards, I create a braindump where I spit out ideas that comes to mind before I begin writing.
  • Plot Structure: Next, I build my plot structure using my favourite plot structure; the 3-Act Structure.
  • Bullet Points: Afterwards, I write bullet points for each chapter in my story. This step helps me determine the length of each chapter and the rough estimate for my entire book.
  • Skeletal System: Next, I input small details to support the main ideas in my bullet point

And my outline is ready, an open secret😉, I make use of sticky notes after creating my framework and transfer it to a clean wall. My process may be a little intensive, but it is worth it.

With all these practical methods, you are ready to kickstart the outlining process and don’t forget there is no specific length for outlining, it could be as short or long as you want. Did you find any of this method reliable? Do you have other ways that weren’t mentioned in the list? If yes, feel free to discuss in the comments below.

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