Friday, September 23, 2011

How to Prep for a Book, Step 3: Outline

This week is dedicated to preparing your novel before you start it, or “plotting.” The third step: make a plot outline.

I keep this outline simple. Boy meets girl, boy can’t be with girl, boy sacrifices everything to get girl, boy and girl live happily ever after. The more thorough you can make it, the better. The outline for Hunger became ten pages.

Some people make changes, get into the book, and realize they want to change everything so they abandon it. I recommend just making a new one. If your outline makes you feel too restricted, make it simpler. Take out the details so you have blanks to fill in.

I make many changes to the outline as I write, but no matter how flexible you make it, it will always be an important foundation.

One thing I love about an outline is when I get ideas faster than I can write the chapters, I can scribble them down. I’ll add quotes, dialogue, or themes just to remember them.  

I also write in where there’s a gap in the story or where I have a question and highlight it in red. Then I know to get back to it later.

And here’s the thing; eventually, you will have to make a chapter outline anyway.  At some point in a novel you have to look at all your scenes objectively and decide what to keep, what to cut, what to add, and how to arrange it all. If you’re a pantser, you do this after writing your chapters. If you’re a plotter, you do it before. Personally, I'd rather do it before.

I didn’t make an outline for Sacred Fire and I made one for Hunger, and I can’t tell you what a difference it makes. It was awful being half-way through my book and then asking myself, “So… where am I going with this?” Having an outline beforehand helped keep the book structured and fluid.

Seriously, I swear by outlines.


  1. Any suggestions for outlining for NaNo? I hear that it's a whole other ball game, but I've only pantsed through November. I'm really tempted to plan this year's, but I don't know where to start.

  2. I don't think it's a whole different ball game; the only difference I see is you have to be more thorough because you don't have a lot of time to fix it.

    I wish I could give you more information, but that's all the advice I have.... I can show you my outline for my last Nano book, if you think it would be helpful. Send an email to teralynpilgrim at yahoo dot com and I'll send it to you.

    I'm going to talk about another kind of outline tomorrow that you might find helpful.

    Please feel to ask me specific questions, too.

    Thanks for asking! It's good to hear ways I can help readers.

  3. I was thinking NaNo as well. I'll be back tomorrow!

  4. I always do a fairly simple outline. This will happen then this then this. But if I don't get enough information my story seems to die out pretty fast.

    It is a horrible feeling to not know where you're going with a story. Recently, while working on my rewrite, I got confused with my timelines since I have multiple POVs. So I just set down and wrote down what each scene was. It helped me a lot.


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