Learning how to write a novel outline is very important as you’re creating the backbone of your book. If you don’t plan it and rather be a pantser all your life, then you’d mess up the potential if your work.
You’re here to learn how to write a novel outline. I assume you’re having a hard time crafting your story because you’re lost, apparently. You have this grand idea of a book concept, however, you aren’t sure what to do with it. You don’t know where to start and how to begin your first chapter.
I understand how it feels when you’re so disorganized and you don’t know where your book idea heads to. Normally, for a beginner novelist like you, writing a 60,000-word novel sounds overwhelming.
You have no idea where to start or how to start. Perhaps, you don’t know what chapter you’ll include you think is apt for the rising development in your story.
Why I Encourage You To Craft Your Novel Outline Before Writing Your Story?
This is how important to learn how to write a novel outline and I’ll teach you the process step-by-step in this post. Through learning each process, writing a novel won’t be as hard as you think it’d be. However, it won’t be as easy as you think.
Writing a novel requires a lot from you.
Time. Effort. Love.
A lot of it.
Even the award-winning author of 190 books, Jerry Jenkins, mentions, “It’s a good thing to determine early, you know. You’ll save yourself a lot of agony, starts and stops, frustration. There’s enough of that [pantsing] in novel writing already. No sense adding more when you don’t have to.”
I wrote 3 novels in one year in different genres I love. Historical Fiction. Mystery-Romance-Action. Gay Romance.
How did I manage to write them in 2018 alone?
How did I make the whole tedious work bearable amidst the stressful day as a freelancer and a housewife?
Incredibly, I endure the hurdles of writing my books and achieve my yearly goals. To write more novels within 365 1/4 days.
This is what I’m going to teach you in this post. A step-by-step process of how to write a novel outline as easy as I can and as clear as I can to guide you all the way down to the construction of your own novel outline for your own books. Are you ready?
Before we dig into the process, I’d like you to grab your FREE copy of my ebook “Save 1,000 Hours & Finish Your Novel” to give you an idea of what this post is about.
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What is a novel outline?
A novel outline is basically the skeleton of your novel itself. It’s the very foundation of your book wherein you dig into your book concept, premise, characters, settings, plot, and even the necessary sketch scene ideas. You’re going to make that plan as concrete as you can, along with the interviews and research to make sure your facts are 100% real.
Make as many interviews as you can, backed by your own research from different sources. That’s exactly what I did for my books.
How to write a novel outline?
There is no definite step when you write a novel outline since writing is subjective. It’s up to you how to structure it, but I’ll teach you what exactly your outline contains, which are the following:
- Title of your book
- Book idea or concept / general theme of your story
- Sketch scene ideas (organized from exposition to denouement)
- Settings (based on your plot)
It’s necessary to craft your novel outline so you’d save time whenever you start writing your book. You don’t want to keep pausing and think what’s next only to find you haven’t accomplished a chapter on that day.
If you have the outline with you, skimming makes the job easier. Thus, you save more time and finish faster than you think.
How Important Is A Novel Outline?
Let me tell you how devastated I was prior to my discovery to the priceless gem. You need to speed up your protagonist’s big, big trouble and challenge him sooner than your readers expect. But to do this properly, you need to have a thorough plan or else you’ll end up dragging the chapters all over again.
I was a pantser back then. For a pantser, this won’t be noticeable. However, if you have the plan, you can see in advance which of which drags your chapter and be eliminated or replaced by another devastating conflict.
When I wrote my Historical Fiction, 30 Days With Mr. Weirdo, in the middle of 2017, I had no novel outline back then. I sat on my laptop and started writing without any plans only to end up finishing it around 6 months or so, which is frustrating because I killed my characters to end the book, too tired to finish it the way I wanted to.
Result? My readers hated me.
Many of them cried and pleaded my response why I chose to end such a beautiful story that way. Until now, I’m in a deep thought whether I should rewrite the whole book and revise as much as I could to revive the plot at its best. Not to please my readers, but to return to my original plan. To how I want my characters’ story to end.
The beginning of writing a novel outline…
I learned my lesson the hard way. So, I started to learn how to write a novel outline when I thought of finishing my draft Belladonna, which became Accidental Quest months after.
When I crafted it prior to the writing schedule (two weeks earlier), it was a surprise. I finished the novel within 30 days without detour from my original plan. Of course, there are minor changes in between, but it doesn’t affect the climax and the outcome of the story at the end.
I tried the same technique with my gay romance The Rival, my unfinished book in 2017. I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t finish it soon and my readers begged to finish it for their sake. Sadly, I couldn’t until I followed my novel outline.
As a result, I finished the whole story within the month of October. Like my previous novel, I had minor changes but it doesn’t really change the whole story. Just added details to improve the flow as well as increasing the characters’ exposure within the chapters.
How To Write A Novel Outline: A Step-By-Step Process
The beauty of crafting your novel outline is incomparable. It shed a light on your story from the beginning up until the conclusion with ease. I experience that myself in my novels. It doesn’t matter if I use Dabble Writer, my favorite novel writing app, or the traditional methods such as using the index cards or a piece of paper to write on.
In this section, I’ll share with you how I make my novel outline to give clarity on your story flow and see where to improve and to eliminate with regards to your scenes you have in mind. So, let’s begin.
1. Come up with the perfect title of your novel.
I opt to use Reedsy’s title generator for this one. This will make your life easier. There are many tools you can use out there to give you ideas of what title could you give to your novel.
I have here the title generators I’ve personally used in my books. But my top choice is Reedsy.
- Reedsy Book Title Generator
- Portent Title Maker
- Fantasy Name Generators (It says fantasy, but it also has features for other genres as well).
- Serendipity (only fantasy book titles)
- Book Title Generator
2. Choose the best idea for your novel.
This part is easy, however, with your self-disbelief this would be hard. You already have the book in mind. It’s just a matter of writing it and be committed to write and finish it with confidence.
Ask yourself what kind of books, movies, or literature you’re fond of. You might like Nancy Drew series or Hardy Boys. If not, Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy is your thing.
Is it about the dream you had last night? Or you might want to write your grandmother’s story you find fascinating like Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children. Check what kinds of movies have you watched or you’re interested in. From there, you’ll know what story you want to write today.
My personal experience…
I’ve been reading a lot of Nancy Drew series and Hardy Boys when I was a kid. During those times, watching Detective Conan, a famous Japanese anime series, has been my all-time favorite.
While I find these stories entertaining, I love history so much to the point I study it deeper than my teachers. And like any other girl out there, I love romance and action series. Especially with an independent and skillful female antagonist when it comes to fights.
I don’t like females presented as the damsel in distress. Rather, I want them to face the trouble by themselves. Of course, they have limitations and perhaps, their arrogance oozes. This is where the love interest comes in to tone it down or challenge her beliefs.
Because of that, I tend to write my novels with these genres. As a result, I wrote Accidental Quest.
This isn’t limited to the romance between man and woman, but gay romance is also one of a few interests I discovered last year. I never expect I’d love to see two young men being disturbed with this inner desire, burning and preparing for an explosion. *squeaks*
3. Structure a premise for stronger stories.
A premise, like your novel outline, is the foundation of your book. But, it comprises 1 to 2 sentences giving you, as an author, a sense of clarity to how your overall story looks like.
When you create a premise, I have here the formula to make it easier for you to make your own:
Step #1: Know your “when” clause to give a clear representation of who your main character is.
Does the clause above give you a clear picture of who the main character is? If yes, great. You need to do the same for your own book as well. At least, when someone asks you who’s your protagonist, you can answer them even when your eyes closed.
Step #2: Add supporting character, which highlights your protagonist’s character with purposeful intention.
If you observe closely, there is no fiction showing the protagonist is all alone in their adventure. There is always the aid of a supporting character either helping them achieve their goal or existing to give them problems. In that way, it will give you more opportunity to introduce your protagonist’s personality to your readers.
Thus, in your premise, this sidekick should be present. Always.
Step #3: Use “until” to introduce the conflict of the story affecting your protagonist’s decisions.
Do you see the conflict now? In our first step, you create a vivid description of your main character; the second step gives you the opportunity to add supporting characters that affect your protagonist’s daily decision and, at the same time, highlights their personality more; now, you give a clear picture of the chaos your protagonist will undergo throughout the book you’re writing.
Step #4: Use “leading to” to give a sense of clarity to the end goal your main character wants to achieve from the beginning.
Now, we’re having a picture what his struggle is. The ambitious and witty rookie detective, which is pretty obvious, wants to leave a big impression in the police department.
That arrogance leads him to accept an unsolvable murder to test his wits. However, he doesn’t expect he travels back in time – back to the 1960s – where he lives the daily life under his grandfather’s identity.
When he did, he discovers his grandfather wasn’t just a powerful man in the military, but he’s also involved in the drug syndicate and a series of murders in the town.
For the rookie detective, of course, this information shocks him, leading to suspicion whether any of his family is the real culprit of the crime or not. That alone tests his judgment, if he chooses to uphold his oath as an honest policeman or act the same as his grandfather did 60 years ago.
This leads to the next step.
Step #5: Combine all the elements to craft your book premise.
Let’s combine what we’ve got here.
Now, that’s a book premise. What have you got? Share them in the comment section below. It’d be fun reading them.
3. Learn how to write great characters of your story.
Great characters can be phenomenal, unforgettable. So, think of the distinct features that will register in your readers’ minds as soon as they read your book. Try to recall Elizabeth Bennet or Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy we all love in Pride and Prejudice.
If you’re into Korean dramas like me, can you forget 4th Prince Wang So and Hae Soo in Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo? How about Wang Yeo/Grim Reaper and General Kim Shin/Goblin in Guardian: The Lonely And Great God?
What makes them unforgettable? What’s with these characters that keep us hooked in the story? Why drives us crazy when we read them in one chapter to the other?
These are frequent reader’s questions that only an author can answer. If there’s an effective character planning in a novel prior to the writing phase. Otherwise, the characters will appear the same. The same language tone, same behavior, boring. To make sure there’s a definite distinction between the characters, you have to make a character profile. A separate page that goes along with the novel outline.
A. Character’s Physical Attributes
- Literally, their physical traits. From hair color, eye color, skin color to their height, stance, and build.
- Are they lean, fat, or wimpy? Do they have prominent features like an X scar on the face like Kenshin Himura of Rurouni or a tattoo like those of Lisbeth Salander of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?
B. Character’s Personality And Behavior
- Watch their language. What words does he use frequently whenever he cusses?
- Their mannerisms, too. What do they do or how do they react when he’s anxious? Does he shake his leg or looks away and muzzles whenever he’s confronted? Differentiate them.
- What their dislikes, likes, strengths, or weaknesses?
- Find their interests or talents, if necessary.
C. Character’s Background And Vulnerability
- Did the character/s experience childhood trauma? What events made him change from a cheerful kid to an aloof and distant man today?
- What objects remind him of his loved ones? Maybe he received a hairpin his mom likes to wear every day. Now, she’s deceased and he’s been holding it for 10 years in great misery.
- Are there any circumstance or certain behavior the supporting character does that makes him violent or emotionally provoked? Highlight them in their profile.
Both the protagonist and the antagonist’s profile should have their profiles ready with photos as references, if possible.
For most writers on Wattpad, authors use celebrities’ photos as references to how their characters look like as a real person. In that way, readers can imagine it visually other than how they appear in the book.
4. Write the plot outline for your novel. Your sketch scene ideas.
This is another tedious work in writing a novel, but the lean meat and the foundation of your book. Without this, your premise, idea, characters – no matter how careful you plan them – will go to waste. That is if you have a disorganized plot.
I found Derek Murphy’s comprehensive discussion about writing a plot outline, which comes along with a 1-hour video. In this regard, he discusses how to create a chapter-per-chapter outline you can apply in your own stories. That way, it will make your novel writing journey easier.
5. Build your story’s setting in your novel.
When it comes to the setting, you have to define the time and place the plot occurs. Is it during the Victorian or the Spanish era (for Philippines’ historical fiction)? Perhaps, you set the story in the Golden Age like in the 1950s. You decide, but it should be apt to your plot.
I don’t think you need to use the town’s old cemetery as an overall location for your book if you intend to write a romance set in 2018, right? Unless if you intend your character to time travel. There should be a sense of place for your characters.
That said, you need to be familiar with your surroundings. How can you write a location if you simply imagine it?
I tried it with my first historical fiction, wherein the story takes place in Bulacan. However, I am not familiar with the place since I had never been there. Consequently, I watched as many videos as I can to have a picture of how the location looks like.
Another way to build your story’s setting is writing the specific location where your characters are as clear as possible. If it’s a kitchen, flesh the description to the extent your readers can picture out how the kitchen looks like. Same goes with the other locations in your story.
Though your story might have several locations, there is the main setting in your novel. To me, it’s a country, a state, or a particular island. It can be a 100-acre farmland, a spaceship, a ship (like in Titanic), or a deserted land. It’s up to you where you want your story will take place.
Learning how to write a novel outline requires a lot of practice, along with patience, determination, focus, and research. Patience level is high to keep you going even with little steps you do every single day.
Determination, too, must be upheld otherwise you end up losing your sanity in the middle. Especially when you’re writing the midpoint of the book. It’s the usual place where most writers get stuck. You’ll understand this when you get there.
Aside from that, your will to finish the book right will test you. There will be times when you have to delete 50,000 words and rewrite the whole thing from scrap. Honestly. It’s scary, but writing a novel is like that. It’s a norm for most authors, even the experienced and seasoned ones. I did the same thing with my books. I deleted everything and rewrote from scratch. Well, it’s like that. You have to get used to it. *shrugs*
I don’t have to explain why you need focus because this is self-explanatory. You can’t write if you’re too distracted by so many things. You can’t have your social media running when you write.
Lastly, you need to research. Even writing this post requires a lot of research in my part. My books have undergone in-depth research to make sure my plot twists are logical and realistic. In fact, I interviewed different experts in the field, which I used for my plot outline.
Overall, finishing a story, a lengthy one, can give you a sense of pleasure you can’t explain in words. That happens when you type in the last word of that book. I experienced that myself when I finished my manuscript Accidental Quest. It’s my a-ha moment.
To make it easier for you, download my free ebook to guide you with the novel writing process. It contains the basic concepts from building a strong premise to writing your novel outline in details. Click the button below and subscribe to my list. Easy. Download now. *winks*