Posted in Drafting Writing

How To Outline A Novel: Part 1

How To Outline A Novel: Part 1 Posted on October 8, 2018Leave a comment

How To Outline Your Novel

Now that you’ve developed your story idea (if you missed that post make sure to check it out here) you will, at the very least, have a rough idea about how your story will begin and end. Exciting isn’t it?! Now, as tempting as it may be to dive into writing, I urge you – Do not start writing until you have an outline.

Trust me.

A whopping 97% of writers will not finish their books. While this is likely due to a myriad of factors, I am willing to bet that ‘a lack of planning’ is up there with the big ones. All too often, writers jump head first into writing their first draft, their minds bubbling over with exciting ideas. Trouble is, after a while, the idea pot begins to simmer down —- enter the dreaded writer’s block.

So, how can we avoid this happening to us?

The simple answer is: Outlining your entire novel

I understand that many writers find the idea of outlining restrictive, boring, or worse, both. But it doesn’t have to be. At this stage, you can add or rearrange scenes, characters and plot twists with no real consequence. There is nothing worse than writing half of your novel and suddenly realising that something could be better, or simply isn’t working. During the outlining stage, you don’t have to worry about any of that. You just get to have fun and let your creative mind run wild. Sounds liberating, doesn’t it?

The general rule is (of course, there are exceptions) that every good story must follow the 3 act structure.

Act 1 – The main character/s are presented with a challenge.

Act 2 – The main character/s encounters obstacles on the journey to overcome the challenge

Act 3 – The main character/s confronts the main challenge and either wins or loses (in most cases they win)

For some writers, this type of outline will be enough to get the story on the page, while others will need a more detailed outline to help them avoid that dreaded ‘sagging middle’. For these writers, I recommend dividing the 3 acts into 3 chapters.  For example:

Act 1 

Chapter 1 – Introduction

Introduce the world, characters, scene or plot point

Chapter 2 – The Inciting Incident 

The event that forces the character out of the original state of stasis. Many writers choose to begin their story here and weave in the introductions where needed.

Chapter 3 – Response/Resistance

The main character/s responds or resists new state by taking some sort of action.

Act 2

Chapter 4 – Consequence 

The action taken results in a consequence (in most cases this should be unpredicted), raising the steaks and putting pressure on the characters. This is usually a great time to explore tension and conflict between your characters.

Chapter 5 – Mid-Point 

The point of no return. Your character/s are in too deep. They cannot return. This is a great point for your characters to self-reflect (the journey so far and what they are yet to face).

Chapter 6 – Action/Response/Consequence

The character/s are presented with a task/challenge that gives them the confidence they need for the climax

Act 3

Chapter 7 – Plot Twist

This is where the plot twist will be revealed, throwing the characters off-balance and plunging them into their darkest moment.

Chapter 8 – Dig Deep

The character/s dig deep and take action against the main challenge.

Chapter 9 – Climax 

The character faces and overcomes the main physical or internal challenge in a spectacular fashion

How To Outline Your Novel

It’s recommended that you end the story as close to the climax as possible, which is why I have ended Act 3 so bluntly.

You can, of course, slot in many other points of action/response/consequence – in fact, I encourage you to do this. I just want to provide a basic blueprint of a story.

With that said, many writers may need to write a more in-depth outline to help them visualise the story and its progression. I am one of those writers. I need just a little bit more information set out in front of me to help me get to each major point of the book.

So, we are going to take it one step further. This is how I am plotting my own novel. I find it helpful to visualise the main scenes that happen at each stage of the book and then I can let my character development help me fill in the gaps as I go along.

In each chapter, I highlight two – five events. These can be character introductions, actions, revelations, consequences, obstacles, world-building, character development (relationships). I find revision cards are best when arranging these thoughts and ideas. I write each of the chapters listed above (plus any additional chapters my story may need) on the front of the card and list out the events on the back. This allows me to visually see both character and story progression. I do use coloured codes and pens to help make the picture even more clear, but that is a story for a different blog post.

I hope you have found this helpful and are ready to begin plotting your own novel.

If you are participating in NaNoWriMo 2018, add me as a writing buddy and we can help motivate each other to get those first drafts completed.

Happy Scribbling!




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