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How to Create an Outline for Your Novel

By: Angelique Caffrey - Updated: 17 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
How To Create An Outline For Your Novel

Your novel is in your head, but that isn’t where it needs to be in order to share it with friends, family and strangers! How can you get it from concept to concreteness? The answer for many budding novelists is to develop an outline.

The types of outlines vary from writer to writer. Some prefer to have a simple outline that focuses on the main points of the story; others would rather create elaborate sketches of their novels. In this piece, we’ll give you a basic idea of how to start your novel outline; however, please know that you can always change it according to your needs.

Starting Your Novel Outline…

Step One: Picking a “Place” for Your Novel (in terms of where it can be found in the bookstore aisles!)

The first step to starting your novel outline will be to establish the genre(s) of your piece. Be very specific, even if you have to make up a new term or cross traditional genre lines! For instance, is your novel a unique horror-based “chick lit” book? Is it an historic romantic mystery? Make sure you also include your target audience so you can keep that in mind as you move forward.

Step Two: Establishing the General Flow of the Story

At this point, it’s a good idea to write a few paragraphs (or pages, depending on the intricacies of your novel) about your story concept. It may be helpful to simply write these sentences as if you were describing the book to a friend. Don’t worry about grammar or consistency; instead, focus on the overall story line.

Step Three: Identifying Your Main Characters

This is always a fun, creative step in the novel outlining process! Choose your main characters (you probably mentioned most, if not all, of them in Step Two) and expound on their histories. Essentially, write a biography for each of them giving as much detail as you can. (Some writers even like to find a photo of a person who resembles their characters and staple, paste, or – in the case of an online document – copy that picture right onto the outline.)

Step Four: Outlining Where Your Story Will Take Place

Having a geographic location in mind will allow you to produce a much more complete novel than if you weren’t certain where your action was taking place. Therefore, it’s essential to describe that location in a sentence or two. You might even want to include a map to give you visual assistance.

Step Five: Breaking Down Your Main Action

Go back to Step Two and re-read your paragraphs. Add anything new that’s popped into your head (such as different characters or locales). Then, use what you wrote in Step Two to begin establishing a flow for your novel.

For instance, if one of your paragraphs said…

“Robert rides a horse but gets lost in the woods. There, he discovers a cave and a hermit, Samantha, who has been living there for years. The two have a conversation and Robert is mesmerized by Samantha’s words.”

…you would want to expand upon that paragraph by describing the scene more fully and perhaps even including dialogue. (You may even find yourself starting to write a section of your novel!)

Do this with each of your sections from Step Two.

Step Six: Evaluating Your Outline

At this point, you should have a several-page document with a good deal of information about your novel. Though you might be tempted to write your book immediately, it’s best to do a bit of evaluation on what you’ve put together. Answer the following the questions honestly. If you find any of your responses are not what you wish them to be, you may need to revise your outline.

Questions to Consider:

1. Who is/are the protagonist(s) in this novel? What do they want? What is their driving force?

2. What conflicts are taking place in the story? What obstacles have I set up for the protagonists to overcome?

3. Does my novel have at least one beginning, middle and end?

4. How will the reader feel about the protagonist(s)? Will those feelings be clear? Or will they depend upon the reader’s experience?

Step Seven: Writing Your Novel and Simultaneously Revising Your Outline

It's now time to start working on your novel in earnest! Just know that you will likely need to go back and forth between your novel and your outline to keep them consistent... and you on track! To help you begin, we've provided a sample outline below. Good luck!

SAMPLE NOVEL OUTLINE:

Title (you won’t be held to this!):

Genre(s):

Target Audience:

Description of Story:

Description of Main Characters:

Settings:

Section Outlines:

Questions to Answer:

1. Who is/are the protagonist(s) in this novel? What do they want? What is their driving force?

2. What conflicts are taking place in the story? What obstacles have I set up for the protagonists to overcome?

3. Does my novel have at least one beginning, middle and end?

4. How will the reader feel about the protagonist(s)? Will those feelings be clear? Or will they depend upon the reader’s experience?

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