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Easy Way To Outline A Novel

Updated on February 27, 2012

Most of us did outlines in high school and college and most of us didn’t enjoy it. I’ve been to workshops read books on the subject and came up with my own method that is quick, easy and gets you started writing sooner which is your whole reason for creating an outline.

You’ve seen the insect like diagrams and other methods but I’ll give you a short cut to save a bit of time and hopefully get you to the end result much faster.

Write a synopsis-


This will change many times over the course of your story as you make changes and characters go in directions you had no intention of them going but for now you need to write down the main idea of your story. Don’t make it too long or it turns into a short story, just get the bones down; we’ll add flesh and blood later.

Read books similar to the one you are writing-

This is the fun part. Go to a bookstore if you have access to one or at least the library and peruse the shelves looking for novels as close to the one you want to write as possible.

How many chapters do the books have? How many pages does each chapter have? What happens in each chapter? Take notes of two or three novels; even writing names of chapters if relevant. DO NOT COPY ANOTHER AUTHOR’S WORK. We are simply getting ideas for three reasons- 1) you will get a feel of what publishers want as far as amount of chapters, content and word count, 2) ideas for your own chapters and 3) title ideas. I was writing a story and discovered there was already a recent novel with my working title; I changed it. You may discover someone else already wrote your plan for a scene and you'll need to change it up a bit. Perhaps your character's name is the same, that might be something you need to alter as well.

A double spaced document with 12 point font is roughly the same as a novel page. Different fonts are different but that is pretty close.

Reading other people’s work sometimes triggers ideas such as, if you read about a character eating at a restaurant you might decide to put a restaurant scene in your own piece but much different. Seeing a protagonist on vacation might give you the idea of your own characters going on vacation but to another location with totally different actions.

Source

Divide your book into chapters-

Take a sheet of paper or word document and number down the page the same amount of chapters your research subjects have.

A title isn’t terribly important for now so just make something up if you aren’t sure; for instance if you are writing a mystery about a man who solves crimes maybe write Detective Story-Working Title. You can change it later and in some cases you may change it a few times but for now that will be sufficient.

In your mind you have the basis of your story all ready mapped out. You may not have all the details but you know what you want to happen.

Write a few notes on each chapter of scene ideas. On the computer you can move these parts around as needed. You may decide instead of your protagonist meeting that witness at a strip club in chapter twelve you’d rather put that off a bit so you move it down a couple sections. It’s your story dissect it and add to it as needed.

You’ll find as you are outlining in this way you are actually starting to write your book; this is the short cut. When drawing bugs on paper you don’t get very far but when you go ahead and design chapters and lay it out in this way you jump in with all four feet and before you know it you are creating your novel.

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    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thanks, Ruchira. I tried the methods taught by my professors but ended up having better luck with my own way. Good luck with your writing.

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 

      6 years ago from United States

      Hi Pam,

      I love fiction and am crawling my way towards it. Your suggestion to outline and then get TIPS from other authors was fantastic.

      thanks!

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma

      There are many ways to go about it, Maxdegler and none are wrong. Just do whatever works for you.

    • maxdegler profile image

      maxdegler 

      6 years ago from Indianapolis, IN

      Good stuff. I have always wished I could first write a good outline to my novels, but I never could be patient enough. I think I'll give it another try. Thanks!

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma

      Shesacraftymom, I wish you well in NaNo. I loved participating in that program, it's great.

    • shesacraftymom profile image

      shesacraftymom 

      6 years ago

      Great advice...I'm using for NaNoWriMo. Thanks!

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Biblicaliving, I think it helps. You can start out just writing but at some point you need to organize it and an outline helps.

    • biblicaliving profile image

      biblicaliving 

      7 years ago from U.S.A.

      Your full of great writing advice, thanks for sharing. In the past I never used an outline, but recently I have begun outlining everything, even Hubs. Thanks!

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 

      7 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      NaNoWriMo is brilliant! I'm going to participate this year - I did one in January, and I enjoyed it so much. This time I'd like to play along with everyone else and do it in November.

      Rewrote my outline this morning - it's much clearer now. Thanks so much :)

      Linda.

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Linda, When I participate in NaNoWriMo my novels tend to do that. Some characters appear out of nowhere and others take on a life of their own. It's pretty normal I think. I'm glad I inspired you.

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 

      7 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      This way works perfectly for me. Once again today, one of your hubs has given me a kick up the backside, and reminded me that I know how to do this writing thing! Thank you once again, for giving me confidence :)

      I wrote a synopsis for my novel a couple of years ago - my story has now changed so much, beyond all recognition as far as that first synopsis goes, that I really do need to update that plan. I found that the synopsis was essential, so that I knew where I was headed - if you don't know how your book is going to end, it can be such a daunting task to try to find out by just writing your way towards it with no real ideas. Some people can write that way, but they're literary geniuses, and are a rare breed I think!

      Linda.

    • mkrandhawa profile image

      mkrandhawa 

      7 years ago from India

      its ok

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thanks, Mkrandhawa.

    • mkrandhawa profile image

      mkrandhawa 

      7 years ago from India

      very nice collection now i am your follower

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      7 years ago from TEXAS

      My pleasure!

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thanks for reading, Nellieanna.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      7 years ago from TEXAS

      Pamela, very valuable advice! Thanks!

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thanks for the kind words, prasetio30.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 

      7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Nice information, Pam. I thought you are very talented and great author. You have beautiful tips here and I learn much from you. Thanks for writing this and share with us. You got my VOTE. God bless you. Cheers...

      Prasetio:)

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thanks for reading, marcoujor.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      7 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Pamela,

      These are tips to be remembered, as I am hatching a little idea currently. Thank you so much for this valuable reference.

      Voted UP & USEFUL-- have a great week, mar!

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Lulu, there's no time like the present.

      Marsha, it is good to have a character sheet with their physical description and personality. My memory isn't so great so it helps me keep everybody straight.

    • marshacanada profile image

      marshacanada 

      7 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Thanks for your excellent advice. Its timely because I am writing a long story that is turning into a short novel.

      I also found it helpful to write out a family tree of characters to help develope these people and keep them clear in my head.

    • LULU SUE1987 profile image

      LULU SUE1987 

      7 years ago

      Thanks, I have always want to write a novel, but never knew where to start.

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Glad I could help, Sue and Keenan. Thanks for reading.

    • keenanideas profile image

      keenanideas 

      7 years ago

      Thank you very much, this was very informative :). I've always been a little overwhelmed with trying to write a novel but the way you proposed on outlining seems a lot easier. Maybe now I'll be able to try something a little longer then a short story. Thank you very much.

    • SueShepard profile image

      SueShepard 

      7 years ago from USA

      This was very helpful. I've been dabbling with the thought of writing some sort of Children's book or novel and had no clue where to start as far as organization. Thank you!

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Bobbi, my brain is at it's best first thing in the morning. That's my favorite time too.

      Thanks for reading, Will and Chatkath.

    • Chatkath profile image

      Kathy 

      7 years ago from California

      Good job Pamela - very useful information! Thanks for sharing.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 

      7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you Pamela. Excellent advice.

    • BobbiRant profile image

      BobbiRant 

      7 years ago from New York

      I love getting up in the wee hours of the morning, quiet, make coffee and concentrate and write. Good hub.

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thanks for reading, kafsoa.

    • kafsoa profile image

      kafsoa 

      7 years ago

      Every body said what I want to say, but still want to thank you Pamela, it's very useful.

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Glad to be of assistance, Koffeeklatch Gals.

      Martie, writing a book is hard work. I've got several I've been working on but I never quite feel they are just right.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      Writing the synopsis of the novel in my head is on my agenda. I keep on postponing it, because writing a novel is hard, time-consuming work. Thanks for this incite!

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Wonderful tips and advice. It sould be a big help. Rated up, useful, and bookmarked.

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      mckbirdbks, I got Storymill software for a gift a couple of years a go and really like it. You have to transfer it to Word before you send it to agents or editors but it's cool software. You can use it for free for a while to see if you like it before buying.

      http://mac.softpedia.com/get/DTP-Prepress/StoryMil...

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 

      7 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      I think the story board suggestion came when I was having trouble keeping track of everything/everyone. And I also, have not written any scripts or graphic novels.

      You have provided many great tips here. Thanks again.

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      mckbirdbks, I haven't written any scripts or graphic novel so that concept isn't familiar to me.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 

      7 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      This is great information. I heard the words 'Story boards', when I was pushing through a story. Thanks for the information.

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      It's a lot of work. Thanks for reading, sangre.

    • sangre profile image

      Sp Greaney 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      I've never tried to write a novel, but I like the tips you've given...great hub..

    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      thebluestar, if I write an outline first it makes the rest go more smoothly even though it's not so fun.

      Pamela, I hope it helps someone.

      Robwrite, sticking to it without disruptions is not always easy.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Good advice. I've written a novel and the hardest part is having the dedication to sit down and write a few pages each day.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      You gave us some great tips on getting our work organized before we really start writing which estimate the project go much better. Thanks for your help.

    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 

      7 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Excellent tips. As you say we all hate writing a plot first, but it is so important if you want to stay on track. Thank you for sharing.

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