An outline is like your story’s skeleton. It’s the bones on which you hang the flesh, blood, sweat and tears of your story. Every author has their own way to outline. Some want minimal detail, others want a lot. But wait – what do they have in common? A lot!
Whether you write pages of detail or scrawl five lines on the back of a till receipt, the outline has one important function—it helps you from getting lost. Is outlining absolutely necessary? Of course not.
OUTLINE FROM YOUR GUT
Some people can write a book off the top of their head. People who do this successfully are usually not beginners. They are going with the natural flow – like knowing when to apply the brakes or change gears — or throw a wrench in the works. They can wing it with confidence. But they’re still following a plan.
1. NAIL DOWN YOUR PREMISE – What is your book about?
- The Protagonist: Who is your novel about?
- The Goal: What does your protagonist want?
- The Motivation: Why do they want this?
- The Conflict: What is preventing the protagonist from achieving their goal?
- The Theme: What is the universal concept at the core of your novel?
2. DETERMINE YOUR PLOT POINTS
A page-turning read is one that’s built on the flow: This happens, and so this happens, which causes this to happen, resulting in this. One occurrence prompts another, leading to another, and so on and so forth. When you’re getting started on your outline, you may not have all the turning points determined – that’s okay! Try to establish the inciting incident, midpoint, and climax.
3. CONNECT THEM WITH SMALLER SCENES
It’s all about the journey, not the destination. Yes, the big plot points matter, and they will be the pillars of your outline. Just as important is the story that happens between those big turning points. In order to give the turning points of your novel weight and significance, smaller scenes need to occur in the interim, allowing tension to build toward the climax.
4. CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
Even if your character doesn’t undergo a huge transformation over the course of your novel, their encounters should still create some kind of impact, growth, or learning. Ask yourself how your novel will begin and end – and what kind of person your character is at the start of the story compared to who they will be at the end.
5. BUILD TOWARD A SATISFYING ENDING
The ending of your novel may very well change as you write it. And it’s not necessary to have the details set in stone. But you want to have a general idea of where your story is heading, so you can ensure all the plot points are going in the right direction. Whatever ending you decide to build towards, ensure it leaves readers satisfied by answering the big questions proposed in your novel. It’s fine to leave characters with a few “what ifs,” but you need to ensure you give them enough information upon which to speculate and don’t simply leave readers with big plot holes in the end.
If diving right in works for you, that’s amazing.
If you need an elaborate outline, write an elaborate outline.
But don’t obsess over your outline when you could be actually writing your novel.
Unleash the novel inside you!
Write a great story, that needs to be told,
with compelling characters,
and fine-tuned prose.
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“Linda has published sixteen books. She blogs about the publishing world, posts useful tips on the challenges a writer faces, including marketing and promoting your work, how to build your online platform, how to get reviews and how to self-publish. She has mentored many authors and edited their work.”