Outline for Writing a Novel

Man attempting to write a book

Creating an outline for writing a novel is a two-fold prospect. The outline must work for you and it should support your work, not impede it. Some writers find outlines to be cumbersome and stifling to the creative process, while others find them invaluable tools for organizing thoughts and ideas.

Jump Start: Outline for Writing a Novel

However you feel about outlines for writing a novel, it's a good idea to be familiar with the process. Remember, an outline should provide signposts on the journey of your novel writing. While it will not feature every nuance of the story, the major cross-roads, events and climaxes should be featured so you can stay on target. It is important to stress that no single, perfect outline exists. Outlining a novel is not like outlining an academic work. While some publishing companies require an outline upon submission, a breakdown of chapter by chapter events is generally sufficient. So the question the writer must ask is: what outline works best for you?

Outline Writing Ideas

Writing.com features a novel outline that allows you to fill in the blanks. It's a guided outline that allows you to describe your main characters, their personality quirks and main goals. The outline is pretty basic, but should give you a decent snapshot to work with while writing your novel.

SFF.net features a questionnaire that helps you outline your novel in 30 minutes. Rather than just fill in the blanks, it asks you a series of questions. You look at the clock, and then begin writing your answers to each question. The idea of the outline is to summarize the key ideas, themes and characters in short, but pithy sentences that provide you with a hook to write on.

Do It Yourself Outlining

Each of the above recommended locations features outlining tools, questions and workshops that will help you delve into your plot idea. As most experienced authors learn and novice writers need to understand, do not become attached to the outline. The outline is a map. It's a guide, but you may find as you're writing that the characters take on a life of their own and while you intended for them to go straight to college after high school, they detour to backpack around Europe instead. This is okay.

Outlines are pivotal in a mystery writer's planning if for no other reason than helping you to remember what clues to plan where and what pieces have been explored or not. Some writers espouse outlining as you write, for example, one writer spends every morning free writing and each evening, and she reads through her work and adds the parts she is planning to keep to the outline before proceeding to the next chapter.

Quick Tips for Outlining

  • Don't get hung up on a title, most works earn a title when they are done
  • First and last scenes are almost always written last, after the body of work is ready
  • Find your hook in the initial outlining --- answer the question: Why does this story have to be written?
  • Don't be afraid to deviate from the outline.
  • Don't provide so many details in the outline that you lose the wonder for writing the story.
  • Characters may change from inception to final work, be flexible.
  • Experiment with different outlining styles to find what works for you.

If you try to outline a story, but find that you can't, don't let it stop you from writing. Some authors work better without outlines.

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Outline for Writing a Novel