5 ways to outline your novel.

Anyone who has been reading my blog knows one thing about me for sure: I am an avid believer in outlining. I don’t believe most really great works of writing can be created without some kind of blueprint as to where the story begins, where it has to go, and what happens in between. There’s some debate about that, but I’d argue that everyone, every single writer, makes some kind of outline or another that ends up being written (or rewritten) into their final product.

That being said, there are several different kinds of outlines people make. I’ve come up with five different kinds of outlines writers use–you should try some of them out!

The Bullet Point List
The most basic of basic outlines is the Bullet Point List. This outline is exactly what it sounds like–a breakdown of the major plot elements in a bulleted list. Pretty simple, eh? This outline is really easy to design, since all you do is hit the “bullet point” tool on your word processor and fill it in. It has some great advantages, in that it’s easy to write up and edit, but there’s usually not quite as bit of information in this kind of outlining. There will still be spaces you’ll need to fill in as you’re writing–which is the point of writing, isn’t it?

The Sticky Note Board
This is the kind of outlining I did all through college for pretty much every single paper I had to turn in. The Sticky Note Board (or Notecard Board) is also exactly what it sounds like: instead of using bullet points, you write down all your basic elements on sticky notes or notecards and arrange them in roughly chronological order on a corkboard. The best part about this is that you can easily rearrange your elements visually, without having to do the copy/paste thing on a computer. It’s also nice to have your work displayed next to your desk.

The Timeline
To be honest, I usually only see Timeline outlines in novels in which the exact time and date is important for the plot, such as historical works where certain events happen in actual historical time (like, for example, if you have a particular character who does something on the day Obama was elected). These outlines are great for keeping details like this in order, as well as for working out backstory (that’s what I use my own timeline for). You could make one by hand, but I highly suggest you use this program if you’re seriously interested in making a timeline for your novel.

The Novella
When I write outlines today, this is the kind of outline I usually make (though, actually, I use a combination of outlining techniques to get here). I call it “The Novella” because my outline for The Martyr Series is over 50,000 words long–about the length of a novella. Keep in mind, this outline also spans the course of all seven books. Anyway! A Novella outline essentially breaks down the book chapter by chapter with quite a bit of detail–much more detail than any of the other outlining methods. The primary advantages is that you get a really solid idea of exactly what happens and when it happens. The biggest drawback is that it takes a lot of time–and planning–to fill it out.

The Really REALLY Rough Draft
For those who “don’t outline,” this is for you. I’d argue the Really REALLY Rough Draft is actually an outline. The first time you write through your book without an outline, what you’re essentially doing is creating the skeleton for your first rewrite. You most likely won’t actually use the rough draft itself (writing a first draft without an outline pretty much ensures it will be exceptionally hard to “edit and revise” to a high quality draft). Instead, you’ll use the rough draft as the basic outline next time you write the book. You’re doing the same thing–figuring out the primary plot points, working through plot holes, and figuring out how and where to develop characters–in a much longer time period and more complicated venture.

Any other writers out there have different outlining methods? I’d love to hear them!


Categories: Exercises, Tips and Tricks, Writing

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