Outlining a book can sometimes get complicated, as I recently discovered while trying to structure one of my newest writing projects, a historical fiction novel set in 12th century Europe. But, while most of the time, I'm one of those authors who writes by the seat of her pants, this time, I decided to outline. Like a roadmap, it can help identify plot holes, cut out unnecessary fluff, and reduce writer's block. And on a quick side note: Most traditional publishers require a complete outline of your story. Additionally, if you're searching for a writing grant, almost all demand a comprehensive outline.
Many authors feel outlines save them time and help them create better stories. However, if you're just starting out and aren't sure if this method is for you, then give it a whirl! You may find that it can help you a great deal. If it doesn't work out, you don't have to do it again. And once you have created one, don't be afraid to change things up! Most writers will deviate from the initial outline at some point, but having a plan for your manuscript can go a long way toward saving time and reducing stress.
There are many different types of outlines. These are some that I have tried:
A skeleton outline only shows the critical plot points of the story and is more straightforward than a synopsis, for example. First, it gives you a big-picture idea of the flow of your story. Then, you can adjust your story and add subplots as needed.
For this kind of outline, list a working title for each chapter. Then, write a short description of what happens or what you will talk about in each of them. These can be as simple or as detailed as you deem necessary.
This is a two-to-three-page long recap of the plot, characters, and conflict. It includes the story's hook, major plot points, climax, and resolution.
-The Post-It Note Method
While I don't recommend you stick your notes to the screen of your computer, this is a simple, effective, and creative way to establish your outline. All you need is a blank wall or whiteboard and a boatload of Post-It notes. Of course, it helps if you have a pad on hand wherever you go; that way, you can scribble your outline on the go. First, write your ideas and inspiration on your Post-Its when the mood strikes you. Next, attach the notes containing words, snippets, doodles, and phrases to a wall or whiteboard. Then, organize these notes into an outline format.
This kind of outline focuses primarily on character development. Where are your characters currently? What causes them to change and evolve? Where do they end up?
Now that you've determined what will work best for you, let's outline a fiction and nonfiction book:
As a first step, build a map of your book in your mind. Then, write it down at the center of a piece of paper. Then draw lines to all the words that come to mind related to your topic from your subject. This will provide you with your main topic and the possible chapters.
Next, take the most exciting ideas and turn them into a simple book outline. This should just be basic and brief. Begin with the title, which you can always change later, followed by a list of all the key points. Eventually, your simple outline will morphe into a chapter-by-chapter outline.
Start with a well-written premise. What is your story about? Who is the protagonist? What is the situation and your protagonist's objective? What stands in their way? What is the story's central conflict? The premise should be one or two sentences long.
Next, list your prominent characters. How did each get where they are when the story started? What are their goals and dreams? What are their strengths and flaws? What is their history? What is their worldview? How do they think?
After that, create the scenes. What will advance your story's premise, and how will that help develop your characters? Brainstorm scenes that can move the plot along and write them down. You may not use them all, but it's always good to have options.
Now it's time to explore the setting. Where is the story taking place? Does the location compliment the premise and the scenes you've been exploring? Finally, incorporate your ideas into the outline form you've chosen.
It might also be advantageous to write a start to finish plan touching on significant plot points, scenes, and character growth. You may include dates for each scene to get the timeline nailed down. Depending on how exhaustive your outline is, consider including a description of the setting, the characters, and subplots if any.
Double-check Your Outline
Before you start writing your manuscript, it's always prudent to double-check your outline to spot any inconsistencies and possible plot holes. This works for nonfiction or fiction.
-For nonfiction: Is there a subject you should have included? Maybe you need to reorganize some of the topics? Are you covering something that isn't really pertinent to the main subject?
-For fiction: Do you need to connect two scenes? Is there a scene or plot left unresolved? Are there any redundancies?
Revise your outline as needed to fix any issues. Then it's finally time to follow your roadmap and start writing that book!
I hope this article will help you get started on your next writing project. I know my list is not all-inclusive, and there are many more ways of outlining a book. So, what has worked for you? Feel free to share your experience in the comments!
Piper is the award-winning author of The Country Girl Empress series. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Medium, and Goodreads.
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