How To Make An Outline For A Book – Planning & Structure

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Hi everyone, I’m Stephanie London. Welcome back to my channel. Today’s video is going to be a look at the process that I use when planning to write a book.

Now I feel like there’s going to be a lot of information, so I’m probably going to switch this up into two videos. One is going to be looking at the difference between plotting and pantsing, or writing by the seat of your pants, and kind of where I fall between those two things.

Also, how that has changed as I’ve written more and more books, and also how plotting and pantsing kind of fits in with me working with a publisher, and what I actually have to kind of give them upfront in order to contract a book.

Then in the second video I’m actually gonna go through the document that I use to plan out a story and to tell you what I do plan, what I don’t plan and what level of detail I kind of go into through that process, and how I use that document.

I think that’s how this is gonna go. When I wrote my first book, I wrote it or started writing it during NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that on this channel before but I didn’t decide that I was going to write that book until like day one of NaNoWriMo.

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Creating An Outline For A Book – The Right Choice

Video Transcript (cont’d)

It was at my office on the 1st of November and I was having work eating, my lunch at my desk, answering emails, which I used to do a lot and I decided. I had this idea for awhile. I already joined a writers group but kind of scribbled a few things here and there.

But I was like, ‘no, this is like the perfect opportunity. I just need to to go for it’ and I had an idea which was kind of a paragraph long. Just a bit of a concept, and literally, I went home that night, I sat down, I typed chapter one and I started writing.

There was no planning, there was no kind of figuring anything out. I just sat down and I wrote that book until it was finished and there are a lot of writers who write like that. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that at all. Sometimes that’s just how the creativity comes.

I definitely don’t think that writing a book like that is a bad thing to do. However, I did have to rewrite a lot of elements within that book because I was a very new. It was my first story and so I found myself the feeling like I was getting a bit frustrated with writing books like that, after I had done the next couple of books in much the same manner.

Creating an outline for a book guidelinesThat’s when I started to do a little bit of planning beforehand. So I like to think of plotting and pantsing as kind of a spectrum. Like you don’t necessarily just have to be one or the other. People kind of, you know, might be extreme at one end or extreme at the other end or you might fall somewhere in the middle like I do.

I definitely wouldn’t put myself staunchly in either plotting or pantsing camps because I really do a bit of both. I sit down to write a story and I plan a little bit but then often when I write, sometimes I deviate from the plan. Sometimes I don’t and that’s fine.

I take a very relaxed approach to the whole planning pace. One of the things that made me plan my books out more was working with a publisher. With the publishers that I’m already involved with, so that will be Entangled and Harlequin, when I go to give them a new book I have to submit what’s called a proposal.

That is generally speaking a synopsis and three chapters. Now it’s very hard to write a synopsis if you don’t have any idea of what the story is about, so just by having to do that I was kind of forced to bring more planning into my life.

I found that in some elements of that I really enjoyed it and it definitely helped me from avoiding that kind of getting stuck in the middle feeling with the book. It has definitely been a good thing for me to incorporate a little bit more planning into my process.

How to do an outline for a book tipsNow having said, that my planning is quite a high level. I don’t go down into the details and you know have every single little thing worked out in the book like some authors do. It’s definite that planning is not the same thing for every writer.

Now when you’re writing a synopsis, you’re writing a summary of the book. That means you have to know what happens at the end, so the difference between the synopsis and a blurb is that a blurb is kind of a teaser. You wanting to pique the readers interest.

Often in a query you’ll be using a blurb type thing, to kind of get all of your hooks in there, to get all of your themes and to really make it sound as interesting and enticing as possible. However, when you’re writing a synopsis, you have to write the whole story.

You can’t just say ‘and then you have to read on to find out what happens’. No, there’s none of that. You have to have the ending planned out and I’m very lucky in that my editors will know that sometimes things change when I write the book.

I’m writing and the plan doesn’t feel right anymore, that something happens in the story and I kind of deviate and I go with it. That definitely does happen and it doesn’t mean that I’m a bad writer, or it doesn’t mean that the editors are gonna get angry with me, if what I’m writing deviates significantly from what I’d planned initially.

Then often I will just go to my editor and and let them know and say ‘hey, this has happened. The story’s going in a bit of a different direction now’ and so we can we can talk about that. At that point say I’m wanting to start a new series, or I’m wanting to picture-book to one of my publishers, I start with the crux of the idea.

I think about what it is that has sparked my interest to start writing this particular book. Now as I’ve mentioned in one of my previous videos that could be anything. It could be an idea about a character. It could be about how two characters meet.

How to create an outline for a book adviceIt could be a sort of set up of the conflict. It could be a location, it could be anything. So often when I’m starting out, particularly if it’s for a new series and I don’t kind of have anything sort of tucked away in mind for that story, I will start with that initial idea.

Then I will kind of scribble down a bit of a blurb for myself, just to think about what are the key elements of the story. How am I going to go about like fleshing that tiny idea out into enough that it’s a story, and I just kind of free write at that point to get everything out of my mind.

Sometimes that process can go on for a while, of just me thinking about the idea I’ve got, something for a project that I want to pitch to a publisher at the moment. The idea is not fully formed yet and so I’m like laying in bed at night ready to go to sleep, that will be churning and I’ll be thinking about how I can flush that idea out.

That’s kind of at the very, very first level how I go about starting the process. Then the next thing that I do is I start work on the document, which I’m going to show you in the next part of this video series. I go through to really kind of flesh out the characters first and then to start looking at the plot and the story.

At that point, that’s when I start thinking about the synopsis, so generally speaking it comes with the idea first. I do a bit of a blurb, I have a bit of a think about it, I then go through my document to help me try and flesh out the idea. Then I start writing the three chapters and do the synopsis at the same time.

How to make an outline for a book - post That might be different for other people but sometimes I find that I can’t. I feel very blocked and I can’t even think about writing a synopsis until I’ve written a chapter, or the opening scene or whatever that might be.

For me, that’s what helps the characters to come alive and so as I’m writing I’m doing the synopsis and refining my planning document kind of all in the same period.

What generally happens next is once I have my three chapters and my synopsis, I will send it to my agent and she’ll have a read and come back to me and give me her feedback. That could be, you know, that she likes the story or there’s ‘but’, there’s an element of the conflict that she thinks needs to be kind of fleshed out a little bit more.

Or the story’s great but she thinks the synopsis isn’t kind of capturing the romance enough, which tends to happen with me a lot. I think because I know as a romance writer that the romance is going to be in the book, this is kind of ‘why do I need to put it in the synopsis’ because I know it’s gonna be there.

Obviously she’s right, I need to put that innocent OPS’s, particularly if you are approaching a publisher for the first time. That’s the kind of stuff that needs to be fleshed out, so really that step is about getting some secondary feedback.

Sometimes I go to a critique partners at this point as well and get them to read the proposal, or I might sort of share a little bit of the opening scene with some people that I feel comfortable with to get some feedback there. That’s just kind of the initial stage of getting other people to look at it.

How to write an outline for a book chapter templateThen I consolidate that feedback. I will kind of rework over the proposal and then send it to my editor at that point. Now even with books that are going to be self-published, a lot of these steps will still happen. In my case not the synopsis because, I’ll be honest, I really hate writing those.

They’re not fun to read, they’re not fun to write and I only do them because that’s part of the process when working with a publisher. When it comes to doing books for self-publishing, I will do the document that I’m going to show you in the next video.

I will get other people to have a look at the first couple of chapters and to maybe have a look at a blurb or some initial planning that I’ve done, which can be a lot rougher than what a synopsis has to be.

That just makes it easier for me to get on with the story and just kind of get into the world but I still like to have some of that initial feedback. I still do my planning document, even for books that I’m planning to self publish because I need to know all of that information in order to really kind of immerse myself in the story when I’m starting to write.

Now if the book that I’m going to be planning out happens to be part of a series, some of this activity may have already happened at this point. So generally speaking, when I’m writing a series I might be writing the first or the second book and I already kind of have my thoughts on the other secondary characters that I’m planning to write stories for.

How to write an outline for a book infoSome of that thinking is kind of bubbling away in the background while I’m working on a different book and so I may already have some notes or I may already have some blurbs written. Just some ideas jotted down, things like that.

When I put a proposal forward to my publisher for multiple books, generally speaking, I’ll have to give them blurbs for the subsequent books in the series and so I already have that and some initial feedback ready to go when I sit down to start planning the book that I’m up to in that series.

Other than having some of that initial planning and thinking done, the process is pretty much the same. I go through the document, I go through having a bit of a brainstorming period, go through getting some feedback and then ultimately, when I’m ready to really get into working on that book I will still do the synopsis and the first three chapters.

I’ll send that to the publisher even if the book has already been contracted. That’s the first video in this series. In the second video I’m gonna actually take you through the document that I use and show you exactly what sort of stuff I’m not out to do with planning a particular story. Then how I keep track of details when I’m looking at the series.

I hope you found this initial video helpful. It was kind of glossing over the whole process a little bit, just because I wanted to give you guys a bit of a background on how I’ve kind of changed as a writer, and what influenced working with a publisher has actually had on that process.

If you do have any questions that you’d like me to cover in future videos, by all means please leave them below. Let me know if you enjoyed this video by giving it a thumbs up and thank you so much for spending time with me today. I’ll see you guys in my next video. Bye.

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