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5 Ways To Outline Your Novel

You’ve probably heard of the terms ‘planner’ and ‘pantster’ in reference to writing, the latter referring to those people who don’t plan or outline their book and simply dive in.

The more writers I speak to, the more I realise these terms aren’t binary but sit on a spectrum.

Take for example, JK Rowling who is renowned for her in-depth outlines with pages of notes and every scene, plot, and subplot tracked. At the other end of the spectrum, the pantster will have multiple freewriting sessions with only their imagination for inspiration. The majority of authors will fall somewhere in between but for new writers, even having a basic outline can help.

The only way to find out what works best for you is to experiment and there are various methods you can try. Writing three novels, I quickly learnt where I am on the spectrum. The more detailed my outline, the easier and quicker the book was to write and I go into detail with this process in my digital course, Kick Start Your Book With Karen.

However, I thought it would be useful to write about 5 different types of outlining so you can see if any of them resonate with you.

1. The Synopsis

A synopsis is usually one or two pages outlining key information about your novel. It’s a factual document that includes the setting, main plot points, characters, and structure. While this isn’t my main outline approach, I often write a synopsis anyway as I know most literary agents will require it as part of their submission process and I go into a lot of detail with my students on how to do this. The benefit of a synopsis is that while it covers top-level information, it still leaves room for changes. In fact, I updated my synopsis several times during the writing of my book and I always feel it gives me a big-picture view of the story when I get too lost in the details.

2. The 3-Act Structure

One of the most popular ways to outline, this approach, popularised by Syd Field, focuses on clarifying the beginning, the middle, and the end with each part centred around key plot points. The beginning, or act one, should include an inciting incident, a plot point which propels your main character into the story. For example, in The Hunger Games, the inciting incident is when Katniss’ sister is chosen to take part in the deadly games, inciting Katniss to volunteer and take her place. The middle part, or act two, sees rising action in the form of obstacles the main character has to overcome along with the midpoint where another key plot point occurs. At the end of act two is the climax of the story which then leads into act three, the end of the story where you include the outline of your resolution. The 3-act structure is very popular and a great way to develop your narrative arc so I have created a FREE downloadable, printable guide should you choose to outline using this method. You can access it here.

3. Beat-Mapping

Originally used for screen-writing, beat mapping is where you write a list of pivotal and emotional points of your story and then connect them in a way that gives your narrative rising momentum. To decide which beats to include in your outline, focus on whether the beat changes the course of the story; if it does, include it. In the book, Save The Cat Writes A Novel, the author reveals the fifteen beats (plot points) that make up a story and is a great starting point for learning more about this method.

4. The Snowflake Method

Created by author Randy Ingermanson, you’ve probably come across this method already as it appeals to so many writers. It involves starting with a sentence or two about your story summary and then expanding from there into characters and plot points, building your information until you have an outline. You can access a snowflake method template here.

5. The Bookends Technique

Perhaps one of the most flexible outlining methods is the bookends technique, ideal for writers who identify more with being a pantster than a planner. To use this technique, you plot the start and end of your story, to bookend your narrative. You also outline your main characters but that really is the extent of it! Personally, for new writers, I wouldn’t recommend this approach but for those of you who have a strong sense of your story, you might welcome the creative freedom this technique provides.

Which outlining methods have you tried?

Don't forget to access my free guide for method two which is all about the 3-part structure. Get it now >>>



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I'm Karen, a best-selling novelist who left her corporate life to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Since then, I've written everything from travel articles to web copy before winning a novel writing competition which led to a 3-book deal. 


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