Writing Tips

How To Outline Your Novel

Whether you plan or write by the seat of your pants, I do believe there is a sense of outlining that always happens. 

For those who hate planning, this one isn’t for you. While I think those who don’t plan do plan to an extent, they (we) are usually more critical when it comes to advice and tips on planning.

I say ‘we’ because I’m sometimes that person. My planning differs for each novel.

Let’s set the scene. You’re new to writing a novel. You want to get the story out just so. There must be a plan or a method that all these writers follow to get the recipe right … right? If you don’t follow a specific path, you may fail.

Let me start by saying, only you know how to write your novel. You can always revise, edit, and rewrite. 

Your goal is to get words onto a page—just that. A first draft is getting your idea down. You don’t need to write chronologically. You can skip here and there and mesh the pieces together in the end. 

Write what inspires you, make it seamless later.

My favorite is the handy-dandy index cards.

Each character gets an index card with their age, birthday, physical/emotional description, and a few different facts about them.

Each major scene gets an index card. Who, what, where, when, why, and how each answered.

Each chapter (sometimes the same as the scene) has basic bullet points that need to be covered. 

I have three index cards that state the importance of the beginning, the middle, and the end.

An index card for the inciting incident, climax, and resolution.

These index cards then get taped up on a wall in my office so I can see and examine them as often as possible. Usually, I never read the index card further, but it acts as motivation, and while creating, it’s further brainstorming. The cards force me to see them each day and remind me that I am working on the manuscript and have a goal.

Word Document

Using a word document, you can create numerous different outlines. One of my favorite methods is the in-depth version.

Page one: Title

Page two: Summary of the book, including how it ends. (This summary will be helpful come time to make your blurb. It’s also fun to have this written before writing and see how much your story changes once it’s finished.)

Page three: Index of characters: name, age, birthday, descriptions, fun-facts.

Next few pages: Inciting Incident, Climax, Resolution

Following pages: Go chapter by chapter, stating the who, what, where, when, why, and how’s for each chapter.

The main goal for writing a book is the “why?”

Why are you writing this book?

Why are you writing this chapter?

Why is it essential to the following chapter or the overall storyline?

Why should people care about this book?

If you can answer the “why” to almost every chapter, you’re off to an incredible start. If you can’t, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you have to cut the chapter idea, but it may mean the chapter idea needs to be morphed into another chapter or reimagined.

Powerpoint (or Google Slides)

A PowerPoint outline is fantastic for those with a more visual outlook. These may be great for writers who work on screenplays or playwrights. However, it doesn’t have to be. What I love about PowerPoint is it gives you more of the ability to design what your book looks like. 

For example, you can input character pictures next to your text easier, or have visuals for the way your setting looks. A PowerPoint is perfect if you love to create book aesthetics or you’re a fan of Pinterest. 

Within the PowerPoint, you would create a slide of everything that is within the word document, except this would offer pictures or even videos to get your inspiration thriving.

Sometimes when I get stuck, I search Pinterest for different visual ideas I have. This helps when the writer’s block comes in on how to describe something correctly.

Now, you don’t need to have a PowerPoint to input these visuals, but I hate working with photos on a word document, and I don’t have a colored printer. Therefore, it makes the most sense to either have a folder on my computer of inspiration, create slides in a PowerPoint, or create your own Pinterest board.

Pinterest boards

Some people may not consider creating a Pinterest board for your story as a form of outlining, but that’s specifically up to the writer. There is so much emphasis around being the “perfect writer” and the “perfect planner” that it can get in the way of the actual craft. 

Outlining to me is anything that helps you create a bigger, more complete idea about your story.

Therefore, if you want to pin your characters, settings, inspirational quotes that work with your book or motivate you, etc., then, by all means, that is planning and outlining! The beauty is that you can lock your Pinterest board so no one else can see it if you would like it to remain private.

This provides a free, specific location to contain all your inspiration.

Whether you use any of these outlines, create your own, or don’t outline at all, remember that the goal is to write at the end of the day. Sit down, allow the thoughts to come through, and work with what’s in front of you.

Don’t allow outlines, perfection, the future of publishing, keep you from starting. Sometimes the outline is the words you’re writing, and then you can take it from there.

What’s your favorite type of outlining?

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