How to Make an Outline for your Novel

How Make Outline Cover image

Hey Pen & Ink readers! This is the second post in my blogging series, Outlining Your Novel. If you missed the posts from last week and the week before, Should I Outline My Novel? and Interview with K.M. Weiland, make sure you go ahead and read that before continuing on today’s post: How to Outline Your Novel.

Outlining is hard. As a pantser myself, I don’t typically like outlining, even though I still do it after I write my first draft, which is a strategy I mentioned in last week’s post. When you outline, you have to make sure everything in your story is complete and lined up. You have to know which structure to use and how to implement your outline into your story. You have to have a strategy. And that’s what this post is about: strategy.

Today I will be going over a couple of strategies for outlining, and also giving you a comprehensive guide to how you should go about writing your outline.

So without further ado, let’s get started!

Step One: Where Does Your Story End?

The first step in outlining is to figure out some vague idea of your story. Maybe you already have this in your head, but then again, maybe not. Basically, all you need to know is where you want your story to end. Where do your characters be by the end of the story? What impact do you want to have on your readers by the end?

Consider all that. If you don’t have one already, think of what your story’s theme should be. By the end of your story, you should have given your thematic message right into the hands of the reader. Basically, at the end of the day, what do you want your readers to get out of your story?

Think about that while you’re outlining, and you’ll be good to go. 

Step Two: Pick a Structure for your Outline

Whether you’re writing your outline before or after the first draft, you’ll most definitely need to pick a structure to base your outline on.

The most common structure novelists use is the Three-Act Structure. I’ve been using that for most of my stories lately, and it helps! The three-act structure is made up of three parts (as the title suggests): the first act, the second act, and the third act. There are also three major plot points spread out between the acts: the first plot point, the midpoint, and the third plot point.

There are also other structures for novels, such as the Hero’s Journey, but for today we will be focusing mainly on the Three-Act Structure. 

Here is what the Three-Act Structure looks like in a novel:

Made withVisme Infographic Maker

Step Three: Write a Rough Outline

The next step is to just get a notebook and a pencil (or a computer if you prefer) and start jotting down the things you already know about your story.

For example, when outlining my novel, Identity, for the first time, I might write down a list kind of like this:

  • Main character is Maria
  • Maria is half-mermaid
  • Maria falls in love with Alex
  • Love triangle with Alex and Isaac
  • Orion is villain

And that’s it. Just a simple bullet-point list of random ideas and thoughts about your story. Just write down what you already know you want to happen in the story and see how you can fit it into your structure and plot line.

This list could consist of a few bullet points (like mine does), or it could be a few pages long, depending on how much you’ve thought of your story before now.

Remember, this list doesn’t have to look pretty. It’s literally your first brainstorm before you go into your more comprehensive outline.

Step Four: Organize Your Outline

After you write your rough outline, it’s time to start getting it organized. Take all the things you already know about your story and start putting them into a more comprehensive list.

For example, this is what my list typically looks like when I outline:

The First Act

  • [Event]
  • [Event]
  • [Event]

The First Plot Point

  • [Event]

The First Half of the Second Act

  • [Event]
  • [Event]
  • [Event]

And so on. It’s basically just like the list you wrote in the last step, except more detailed and aligning better with your chosen structure.

Also remember that this list doesn’t have to be comprehensive at first, either. Just start with filling in what you know about your story, and then begin adding as you have more ideas. Don’t be a perfectionist; just start small and work your way up.

Step Five: Get Feedback on Your Outline

This is an optional step, but also one that can be very helpful. Once you’re done writing your main outline, share it with a few other writers and ask them for some feedback.

This will allow you to see if your plot will work or not. The readers of your outline can tell you what needs to be fixed to make it into a good story, and how you could make it better. Or, if your outline for some reason won’t work as a story at all, your readers can tell you. Now you’ve just saved the work of writing an entire novel only to find out the plot doesn’t work.

When getting proofreaders for your outline, make sure they will be honest with you and that you can trust them. You want truthful feedback, not feedback that maybe complimented your writing but wasn’t true.

That’s why I also recommend getting at least two or three readers for your outline because different people have different perspectives and some may notice more or less than others.

Step Six: Polish Up Your Outline

The last step of outlining is just to polish it up. Apply any suggestions from your proofreaders and make sure there are no plot holes. Think about how your book will turn out once it’s actually written.

Polishing up your outline is less focused on grammar and spelling, and more focused on does this plot work? And if something isn’t fitting, either remove it or find a different way to fit it in. Don’t worry about thinking outside the box, and be open to new ideas. After all, this is the first stage of your writing. It’s better to change things now, before you’ve written much, instead of later when you may have finished your first (or multiple) drafts.

And once you’re done with that, you should be finished with your outline! Now you can easily start writing your story and have everything lined up and ready for you.

But What if I’m a Pantser?

Great question. A pantser is someone who prefers to just start writing before they outline anything. As a pantser myself, I understand this dilemma completely.

First of all, my encouragement to you would be to at least try outlining. Experiment with different processes and different ways of outlining and see what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

However, if you’ve already tried outlining and it really doesn’t work for you, that’s okay. Everyone has a different way of writing stories, and if your best stories come when you don’t outline, then good for you.

Personally, I don’t normally outline before I write a story. I may have a few plot points in my head, but other than that, I like winging it. But then, once I’m done with the first draft, I go in and outline it so I can see it at a glance, making sure there aren’t any plot holes or things that need to be resolved.

So as you can see, there are different methods and techniques for writing. Experiment a little bit and see what works for you.

Conclusion

Well, that concludes this week’s post! I hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful.

Before I say goodbye, though, I have a couple of quick reminders for you guys. Remember, your submissions for the short story contest are due by July 20th. If you don’t submit it by then, it won’t be counted in the contest. 

And also, my June newsletter was officially sent out last week. Some of you may be wondering why you didn’t see it, and that’s probably because you haven’t fully subscribed. Since WordPress blogs (mine included) allow people to follow a blog through their WordPress account, then WordPress notifies them of new posts without showing me their email address.

In order to share my monthly newsletter with you, I’ll need to have your email address. So if you are a WordPress subscriber and you would like to read my newsletter next month, then you can head over to my Subscribe page, type in your email, and you’ll be good to go.

Thank you all again for reading this post, and have a wonderful week!

What was your favorite part about this post? What method do you use when it comes to outlining? What is your favorite part of the outlining process? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

8 thoughts on “How to Make an Outline for your Novel

  1. Saraina says:

    Wow, amazing post, Annabelle!!! 😀 Yeah, I’d encourage pantsers (of whom I’m technically one) to at least TRY outlining to see if it would actually work for them. 😉 Great point! Thank you so much for sharing this!

  2. Luella Treto says:

    This outlining is working great! Thank you soooooo much, Annabelle! Though, there is a small problem going on right now in my head.

    My characters are all fussing about the secrets I have exposed in my notes. Jessie, one of my main characters is really angry with me after I told her what her REAL family is besides the Gladiuses. She is now going on strikes with her friends. Upon this, I keep telling her, you gotta deal with it, or else it doesn’t make the story good.

    Other than that, outlining is now my thing! It has been such a blessing with your tips! Keep up the AMAZING work, Annabelle!

    • Annabelle says:

      Thanks, Luella! I’m glad it helped.

      Oh dear, that is a problem I’ve had to deal with myself many times. As soon as I told Maria the secret about her parents, she got extremely upset. Jessie and Maria can now relate to each other, lol.

      Wow, amazing how this post changed your opinion. (Wasn’t it only a few weeks ago you were a pantser??? XD) I’m so glad you’ve found what works for you, though!

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