Not every writer is a planner, but we all plan out our stories somehow. If you are a planner, how do you go about it? There are many novel outlining methods, so let’s discuss a few.
What Is A Novel Outline, And Should You Create One?
A novel outline is the bare bones of your story. You can plan the events you want to happen in your book about plot points, character development, settings, and everything in between.
Should you create a novel outline for your books? Well, that’s entirely up to you.
Not everyone works that way, and that’s okay. Writing a novel outline should be fun. Personally, I love creating outlines because it excites me to write my story. It’s also easier for me to keep my story elements well organized.
The outline will help you answer at least these three questions:
- Who is the main character of the story? Who is the villain or antagonist?
- What is at stake for the protagonist?
- Why is this story important?
If you want to try outlining, let’s dive deeper. How exactly do you go about outlining your novels?
Novel Outlining Methods For You To Try
There are several different types of outlines to consider for your novel. Some will better suit your writing style and thought process, while others aren’t. In addition, some outlines are relatively simple, and some are way more involved.
There are two forms to this one. First, you can summarize the book as a whole. Be sure to include significant characters, key settings, plot points, and subplots. You can describe the beginning, middle, and end.
This summary is typically between one to two pages long. It depends on how in-depth you go into some plot points. You’ll only see this outline, so don’t worry if it goes long. Write it all down, so you don’t forget.
Alternatively, you can summarize each chapter. Outlining your novel this way can be done before, during, or after you write the first draft.
In a nutshell, summarizing each chapter is a more in-depth outline of summarizing the entire book.
If you want to go further, you can do a scene outline summarizing individual scenes.
I’ve never tried the snowflake method before. I don’t think it would work well with my thought process, but it’s a popular form of outlining.
The premise of this method is to begin with, a single-sentence summary of your story. Then you build upon that sentence forming a paragraph. From that paragraph, you can start creating the character and setting notes.
You keep building upon your written information, expanding the idea into a novel.
This way of outlining is an excellent option for plantsers – those who somewhat plan and somewhat pants their novels.
This method has you write down the story’s beginning and end. Everything in the middle is up to chance. You have a starting point, and you know where you want your characters to end up. So, the first draft is more or less you figuring out, “how do my characters get from Point A to Point B?”
Use An Agenda
Sometimes, the most basic outlining method is to create the outline as you write. With this outlining method, you can become one with your protagonist (or the POV character or narrator).
Keep a diary or buy an agenda notebook. You can change the year and dates to what you need them to be. Then, as you write your story, add events and details to the calendar.
Not only does this allow you to get to know your characters better, but it’s a great way to timeline the major and minor events of the story.
Create A Timeline
If an agenda doesn’t tickle your fancy, creating a timeline is still a great option to keep track of your book’s events. It’s flexible, too, so you can write the timeline and then add (or take out) events as you write and edit your book.
A timeline can be created by a few timelining tools, such as Aeon Timeline, creating a mind map (Scapple is excellent for this), or utilizing a notebook or poster.
This type of outline is similar to the synopsis or summary outline. This is another bare-bones type of outline where you create a bullet list of events. Again, you can be as detailed as you want or not.
If you have ideas for your book, create a quick bulleted list before you write to ensure you don’t forget anything. You can always add to it or delete points as you go along.
You can go more in-depth with the skeleton outline if you want. You can do this for any method, but it’s great for lists.
For instance, you can write your skeleton outline in a spreadsheet using Excel, Google Sheets, or whatever you’re comfortable with.
Use multiple sheets to list plot points, characters, settings, and more.
Use The Story Arc
Or the story pyramid, as I call it. This can also be known as the three-act structure. Following this arc allows you to write out the beginning, rising action, middle, falling action, and resolution.
Think about it as a more in-depth summary. Or, start with the bookend method outline and add your “books” between the beginning and end.
There have been times when I knew how a story would end. Most of the time, this is because I already have ideas for a sequel. If this happens to you, try creating a reverse outline.
What’s the end goal? How did the characters get to that point? How did they know they needed to get there? How long did it take them to get to that finish line?
Also known as brain dumping, sometimes we need to write our ideas down to remember them. You may not have to outline in mind, but you want to keep that really good dialogue line in your back pocket.
Take a notebook (or even the notes app on your phone) and write anything and everything that comes to mind for your story. It doesn’t need to be in order. It doesn’t need to be categorized. If you can read and make sense of your notes, just write them all down. Then, you can sort through it during the first draft.
Create A Scene Map
Finally, we have the scene map. Lately, this has been my favorite method to use. I typically do it as I write the first draft. Then, I use Post-It notes or index cards to describe detailed events in each scene.
I create them as I write the first draft so that the events are in order. For example, these notes sometimes explain a new setting, show off when a new character is introduced, and so on.
In fact, since it’s my favorite and the method I use the most, I figured I’d go more in-depth about it in its own article next week.
More Novel Outlining Methods Exist
That’s only a few novels outlining methods you can use for your writing projects. I’m sure I missed a lot more, but these seem more popular and well-known. Try different ways and see which works best for you and your current work in progress.
Rachel Poli is an indie author, podcaster, and content writer working on her debut cozy mystery novel.
Although she favors mystery, Rachel is a multi-genre author with too many ideas and characters in her head, often experimenting with short stories and flash fiction.
When she’s not writing, she’s reading, organizing something, or playing video games. She currently resides in New England with her zoo.