HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL OUTLINE

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This is the part where you click into the article, all excited to begin learning how to write a novel outline with no fuss and easy steps, scroll down to check out the content, and go; holy shit, what have I got myself into!

Now, don’t panic, my friends. Everybody, except for maybe a select few who I’ve never seen or heard of, hates planning out an outline for their novel. Why? Because all they want to do is write the thing!

Writing your novel is like starting a business, it has to be executed properly. You’ll find hundreds of articles on the internet telling you how to write a novel outline, but a lot of the time they just won’t fit for your specific project. Believe me, bud, I feel ya!

So I created my own when I was developing my world building for my fantasy novel! It’s easy, free-flowing, and can be adjusted to your writing style, novel, and planning process. Sounds like it’s going to be long nights and a Gilmore Girls portion of coffee, but hey, who said you can’t have fun whilst you do it, right?

So let’s jump on in and get to it!

THE BASICS OF YOUR PLAN:  

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STORY TOPIC:

This is where it all begins, my fellow writers. Your story topic is that tiny idea that is conjured from your imagination and wants to be told to the world. Take Lord of the Rings for example; a destructive and all-powerful ring that a Dark Lord seeks to threaten the world of Middle Earth with. Only can it be destroyed by the most unlikely of creatures.

This is where a note taking comes in handy for any writer. The best program to compile all your notes, thoughts and writing is Scrivener ( a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.)

Programs like this aren’t always straight forward to learn. When I first purchased Scrivener, I also invested in Infionsoft’s tutorials to make sure I was making the most of my writing. If you happen to be interested in them, I’ll leave the links below:

 

NOVEL SUMMARY:

So you’ve thought of your topic, bravo! The next step is to create a summary of your novel. A summary is a brief overview of what your story is about, or in other words, your plot. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to write out your whole story. A summary is a collection of 1-5 paragraphs outlining your overarching plot, focusing on the main actions of your story.

 

WHAT ARE THE MOTIVES OF YOUR NOVEL:

One of the most important parts of the planning process is to take a step back and ask yourself this; what are my motives for writing this novel? I believe this is a great step because it can declare a sense of purpose to your writing. Questions that you may ask include:

  • Why am I writing this novel?
  • What do I hope to get out of writing this novel?
  • What themes am I highlighting in this novel that I find important?
  • Do I want to have my novel publishing?

This section of the plan only needs to be 1-2 paragraphs long and should focus on your true intentions (I don’t mean the intentions of others because you think they’re cool and you want to be like them). Everyone is different!

 

RELATED: How to Write a Plot Outline

 

THEME AND MOTIFS:

Your theme can be defined as the central idea of your novel. Your motifs can be defined as an image, sound, action, or any other figure that contributes and supports the development of your theme.

Using Lord of the Rings as another example, the motifs that contribute and support to the development of the theme include Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mordor, the temptation of the ring, and journeys.

Both your theme and motifs play an essential role in your novel as they convey and address what is important to you and your reader.

 

TARGET AUDIENCE:

Now, this is a big one, my friends. Without your target audience, you cannot market your book to specific readers. A lot of the time writers believe that they can target a large and broad group of demographics. I’m afraid to tell you that you are wrong. The best way to adopt your target audience is to focus on the medium between broad and narrow. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are you writing the novel for?
  • How old are they?
  • What gender are they?
  • Where do they live?
  • What is their financial situation?
  • How much education have they obtained?

A tip: don’t be afraid of a small target audience. They are the people that are going to be 100% devoted to you if you do your research right.

 

TRADITIONAL OR SELF-PUBLISHING:

After you have spent long hours staring at a computer screen, rubbing your sore hand from crossing out all of the mistakes during your countless editing processes, and suffering major caffeine overload, it will be time to take the next step into publishing.

So the question that you should ask yourself during the planning process is if you have an end goal of traditional publishing, where a publishing house buys the rights to your manuscript, or self-publishing, where a writer publishes their work independently at their own expense.

Both have awesome benefits, and both are great goals to work towards. Research them, and see what you think fits your motives and end goal.

THE BASICS OF YOUR NOVEL:

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WHAT IS YOUR GENRE/S:

Now, upon reading this article, you may be thinking that your novel only falls into one genre. No, my fellow writers, I’m here to tell you that your novel can fall into several. This is also what makes it 10x easier to identify your target audience! Genre categories can include:

Main genre: this typically means the genres you have mostly heard of when reading a novel; fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, romance, sci-fi, thriller, horror, etc.

The Narrow Genre: this is where you break your genre down and focus on a particular niche. Examples include women’s fiction, YA, cyberpunk, psycho thriller, etc.

The demographic and geographic genre:  Demographic genre refers to the age of your audience; children’s (12 and under), young adult (13-17), new adult (18-25), and adult (25 and above). Geographic genre refers to where they live. Are you targeting a specific country, city, town?

 

WORD COUNT

A word count is how long you want your finished manuscript to be. It’s always good to have a rough estimate of this, as it helps you outline and plan your story as a whole. A lot of the time it comes down to the writer themselves and how long they envision the story being, but here is a rough estimate for word count lengths of adult fiction:

  • Short story: 500 – 10,000 words.
  • Novella: 10,000 – 40,000 words
  • Novel: 40,000 – over
  • Adult Fiction (commercial and literary): 80,000 – 100,000 words
  • Science and Fantasy Fiction: 90,000 – 150,000 words
  • Romance: 50,000 – 100,000 words
  • Historical Fiction: 70,000 – 100,000 words
  • Crime/Mystery/Thriller/Horror Fiction: 70,000 – 90,000 words
  • YA Fiction: 50,000 – 80,000
  • Non-Fiction: differs

 

POV

The POV (point of view) is the view that your story comes from, and how you tell it. There are four main POV’s:

  • First Person POV
  • Second Person POV
  • Third Person POV, limited
  • Third Person POV, omniscient

I cannot express how important it is that you get this part right. Not only does it set a certain tone for your novel, but it is literally how you will tell the story to your readers.

 

RELATED: Editing Your First Draft: How to Prepare Yourself

THE STORY ARC AND CHARACTERS:

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WHAT IS YOUR STORY ARC:

There are two types of arcs that you need to decide on when planning out your novel. The first that you can choose from is the story arc; a continuing storyline involving static (unchanging) characters. The second is the character arc; the transformation or inner journey of a character throughout the course of the story.

By identifying your arc focus, it will help you decide what type of novel you are aiming to write, and what you should focus on to drive your story forward.

 

STORY OVERVIEW

This is the really big part, guys. This is where you get to outline your entire novel! That sounds a little daunting, but fear not, it’ll be okay. Now, there is no right or wrong way to outline your novel. It really comes down to the writer’s preference, and what they think is the best way to execute this. Here is a couple of ways to create your story overview:

  • Bullet point the whole thing
  • Write a mini-essay of the novel
  • Chapter by Chapter summary (I do this one)
  • Mind Map
  • Downloadable worksheets

Like I said, there is no wrong way to do it and comes down to your personal preference. As long as you get it done, right?

MAIN CHARACTERS

I really enjoy this part. It’s like getting to know a friend. Once you have your main character/s in mind, give them a blank a4 sheet of paper each, they deserve it! On that piece of paper, write down everything you can think of about them.

Their name, appearance, personality, relationships, friends, motivations, the past, present, goals, major events in their lives, where they live, their religion, culture, family, etc.

Really flesh them out and get to know them. You can even create drawings of them to get a visual representation of what you envision them to look like. I love doing that for the characters I create.

 

SECONDARY CHARACTERS

These are the characters that are important to your story, but not as important as your main character/s. Write up a paragraph for each of them to give you an idea of their appearance, personality, backstory and motives.

 

TERTIARY CHARACTERS

Ahh, the filler characters. My all-time favourite filler character would have to be Haldir, from Lord of the Rings, and his epic death at the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Now, although they are tertiary characters, they are still important, and you should keep track of them to ensure that your novel has consistency. Jot down all of their names on a piece of paper and their purpose so you don’t forget them.

 

THE SETTING OF YOUR STORY:

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WHERE DOES IT TAKE PLACE:

This is where you flesh out where your novel takes place. Consider where your story is set, the era, country or city, river or sea, etc. Another thing to consider when deciding on where your story takes place, is the religion, culture, language, clothing, food, technology, transport, etc

 

THE RESEARCH:

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WHAT AND HOW TO RESEARCH:

The best way to research your novel is to break it down into topics that are important to your plot. For example, if you are writing a historical fiction, then you might want to research the era or an important event that took place during the era of your story. If you are writing a fantasy novel, then you might want to do research on world building, and the factors you need to take into consideration when creating a city.

Once you have identified what is important to your plot and the development of your novel, jump on the internet, read a book, or interview someone who has done what you want to do. Take lots of notes, the more the better!

 

I ALSO HAVE SOMETHING AWESOME FOR YOU!!

The novel outlining process can feel overwhelming, I mean, look at everything you just read! I want to help you out to the very best of my ability. That’s why I created a FREE WORKBOOK just for you all about the novel outline process! It’s designed for any story and every genre. All you have to do is fill in the blanks! Check it out and get writing!

All finished. Let’s chat!

Congrats, fellow writers. The outline process is a daunting and dark place to venture, but you’ll soon see the light, just as Frodo and Sam did at the end of an epic adventure!

Let me know if my How to Write a Novel Outline with no Fuss and Easy steps treated you well, and if you think there is anything missing that you would like to learn about.

Hit me up in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

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