Creating an Outline for Your Novel

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Every writer falls into one of two categories: Pantsers or Plotters. You can be a little of both, but you’re always on one side of the fence, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Pantsers vs. Plotters

Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants (get it?). They open a blank page and let the story flow from their pen. They are merely the medium through which the story travels. The most hardcore Pantsers have no plan, no direction for their story, save sometimes an idea for an ending. They start with a character and the character makes their own story.

Plotters make plans. They know where they want their story to go and they know how they’re going to get there. They keep notes on their story and write according to them. This is a more structured way to go about writing a novel, but sometimes more limiting if you’re inflexible about your plan. However, the young or inexperienced novelist may want to consider making an outline to help them along—especially if they find themselves wondering where to go next after every scene.

How to Make a Skeleton

Think of your plan as a flesh-and-bone creature you’re creating. The bare, plot-point outline will be the skeleton of your plan.

This is the first step of creating the plan and an important one. If you know how you want your novel to start and end, this is where your write it in short bulleted points. This is also where you write down how your characters get from point A to point Z. This can often be the hardest part of the book planning process, but give it time.

If you have trouble trying to think of where your characters will go next, trying starting at the ending and think of where they’ve been. Something about the ending requires a character making a step toward it. Is your ending a final battle in an icy castle? Figure out how they got to the castle, or why it’s so cold, or why that bad guy is so mad. Reverse engineer your way back to the beginning of the book!

Flesh and Blood

Now that you have your skeleton, it’s time to give your creature some substance. Your skeleton should be a complete path through your book, from head to toe. Now, at each of the bullet points, write a paragraph about what happens in that scene. This will begin to fill in the spaces between the bullet points in your outline.

When you’re done, you’ll have a summary of your story! How neat? A real, breathing flesh-and-bone creation! Give your creature a little face-lift with some one-page character summaries if you’re feeling saucy, but with this outline, you will never be stuck at an impasse again—at least, plot wise.

The important thing to remember for the Plotter writer is that sometimes as you’re writing the novel, it can and will begin to grow in a different direction. Don’t force it to head back in the direction your plan said it was going to go. Let your creature mutate and you may be pleased to find your novel has taken on a life of its own. They grow up so fast!


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About Author

John Paul Schmidt is a former news journalist. Now he's a freelancer by day and bartender by night while he works on his novel.

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