How To Write A Novel Outline Easy For Dummies (Step-By-Step Process)

Learning how to write a novel outline is very important. It’s the backbone of your book. If you don’t plan it, then, you’d mess up the potential if your work.

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You have this problem. And I know how frustrating it is.

You always get stuck and unable to finish your work. You have a lot of unfinished stories.

You tried to finish it but whatever you do, you simply can’t continue. It could be because you lost the spark while writing it or it could be that you’re confused where this story goes.

Now, I know you’re wondering how writers successfully finish their books. Do you know what’s the secret?

A novel outline.

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Why I Encourage You To Craft Your Novel Outline Before Writing Your Story?

Writing a novel requires a lot from you.

Time. Effort. Love.

A lot of it.

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.

Jerry Jenkins , bestselling author, published 190 books
These are the 3 books I finished in 2018 using this #1 recommended writing tool.

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.

Through a novel outline, I finished my books without problems. That’s why I highly recommend you create yours to speed up the book writing process.

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.

Pro Tip

Though you are creating fiction, it doesn’t mean you don’t consult the experts on a certain field to make sure your plot twists make sense or not. If your plot involves chemicals, consult a chemist or an expert from a related field.

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?

Writing is pretty subjective. Therefore, no writer has a uniform writing style. The point here is you learn the basic structure of a novel outline as a guide.

What comprises a good novel outline?

  • Title of your book
  • Book idea or concept / general theme of your story
  • Premise
  • Characters
  • Sketch scene ideas (organized from exposition to denouement)
  • Settings (based on your plot)

It’s necessary to craft your novel outline to save time. You don’t want to keep pausing and think what’s next only to find you haven’t accomplished a chapter on that day.

Photo credits to Derek Murphy of CreativeIndie

I was a pantser back then. I thought it would be faster if I just write the chapters without minding about the structure.

Little did I know the consequences.

First, I was lost in the middle. I lost my ideas as to how I should continue the story.

Second, I failed to finish the book.

When I wrote my Historical Fiction, 30 Days With Mr. Weirdo, in the middle of 2017, I had no novel outline back then.

I jumped into writing whole day and night without any plans. I was motivated in the first few days but when I reached the middle, I couldn’t continue.

What I did?

You can’t imagine how disheartening it is for an author to be impaired from his passion. It’s like a singer who lost her voice.

It frustrated me because, you know, I have these great stories and my readers love it, but somewhere in between I got lost and unable to write another chapter.

My desperation pushes me to uncover what successful authors do to finish their work. One answer: a novel outline.

Result? My readers hated me.

Many of them cried and pleaded my response why I ended such a beautiful story that way.

Until now, I’m in a deep thought about 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. 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.

My outline for “Accidental Quest”

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 would you give to your novel.

I have here the title generators I’ve personally used in my books. But my top choice is Reedsy.

Pro Tip

Don’t just take one title because it sounds nice. It should coincide with your plot.

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.

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.

Pro Tip

Listen to your heart what story you want to tell your readers. Don’t look at the trends or what kinds of books are there in the bookstores. Step back and listen to what your heart tells you.

Is it about the dream you had last night?

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 expected 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.

Pro Tip

You need a premise to see your characters’ struggles, his end goals, the situation, the resistance, the conflict, and if possible, the ending. Here’s how to create yours and build a strong foundation for your book.

Step #1: Know Your “When” Clause To Give A Clear Representation Of Your Main Character.

When an ambitious and witty rookie detective investigates an unsolvable murder…

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 A Supporting Character To Highlight Your Protagonist’s Character With Purposeful Intention.

When an ambitious and witty rookie detective teams up with his close police officer and best friend to investigate an unsolvable murder…

If you observe closely, a great story always comes with a main character and an auxiliary character.

A supporting character is present to either help the main character (close buddy) achieve their goal or existing to give them problems (villain).

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 Conflict Of The Story Affecting Your Protagonist’s Decisions.

Until he finds out he travels back to 1968 under the identity of his grandfather, who faces a crisis involving similar murder he’s investigating due to drug-related threats…

Do you see the conflict now?

Step #4: Use “Leading To” To Give A Sense Of Clarity To Your Main Character’s End Goal.

Leading to the discovery of how his family has been involved with drugs and a series of murders of innocent people to protect their drug business, affecting his judgment on the present investigation he’s handling.

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 Elements To Craft Your Book Premise.

Let’s combine what we’ve got here.

When an ambitious and witty rookie detective teams up with his close police officer and best friend to investigate an unsolvable murder. Until he finds out he travels back to 1968 under the identity of his grandfather, who faces a crisis involving similar murder he’s investigating due to drug-related threats, leading to the discovery of how his family has been involved with drugs and a series of murders of innocent people to protect their drug business, affecting his judgment on the present investigation he’s handling.

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.

To better understand what I mean, 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.

Pro Tip

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.

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 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.

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.

Pro Tip

Your readers should know where a particular scene takes place with a clear description, including the reason implied behind your characters heading to the town’s old cemetery.

There should be a reason.

Conclusion

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.

Are you up for the game?

Are you willing to give up your playtime for writing?

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 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 for the experienced and seasoned ones. I did the same thing with my books. I deleted everything and rewrote from scratch.

Overall, finishing a story, a lengthy one, can give you a sense of pleasure you can’t explain in words.

Now, it’s your turn.

If you like this post, make sure you bookmark or share it to help other struggling writers.

If you have something more to add, feel free to share it in the comment section below. 🙂

By M Gaspary

She dedicates herself to teaching you how to become an irresistible writer. Discover the secrets here. Get access to her EXCLUSIVE library and download your FREE copies of her eBooks here.

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