Now I know some of you out there are saying ‘ha! … I don’t do outlines’ and you know what? Fair enough but I am a huge believer in outlines and I’m the type of writer that can’t function without one. Here’s what I’ve realised.
There are so many different ways you can outline and just because something works for one book it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s going to be your go-to for future books.
Here are the five different methods that you can try when outlining your novel.
- Number one – the Snowflake Method
- Number two – the three-act structure
- Number three – the cork-board method
- Number four – the goals, stakes, and motivations method
- Number five – Freytag’s Pyramid
How To Outline A Novel Plot
Hi everyone, happy Saturday. So as some of you may know I have recently completed the outline for my brand new book project. Yay! and while I was going through the process I was reminded of just how hard it is to outline a book. It’s been a while since I’ve done one and I think I had forgotten just how overwhelming and frustrating the process can be.
Now I know some of you out there are saying ‘ha! that’s why I don’t do outlines’ and you know what? Fair enough but I am a huge believer in outlines and I’m the type of writer that can’t function without one. Here’s what I’ve realised:
There are so many different ways you can outline and just because something works for one book it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s going to be your go-to for future books. So I really wanted to do a video about all the different types.
I already have one video on how to outline which I will link to below, but I really wanted to give you guys an introduction on some of the other ways you can outline, and hopefully by adding these to your writing tool box it will prepare you for whatever your outlining needs may be.
Now will this list include all the different ways outline? Well no, like I said, there are lots and we don’t want a 35 minute video now do we? But these are ones that are my favorites and the ones i think are the most useful and the most helpful. Here are the five different methods that you can try when outlining your novel.
Number one – the Snowflake Method.
If you’re the type of writer who gets really intimidated by the idea of outlining or you struggle to come up with ideas, the snowflake method might be one that you want to give a try.
This method of outlining is the brainchild of fellow novelist Randy Ingermanson and the whole idea behind this approach is to start small, to take a single overarching idea and expand it very slowly.
The first step is to write a single sentence blurb for your book. This is basically a summary sentence that details the foundation of your story. Once you’ve done that then the next step is to take that sentence and expand it into a paragraph, dividing the information into the three main acts of your story.
This is going to give you an overall snapshot of your plot. The next step is to move on to your characters. For each of your characters write a one-page character profile, giving specific details about what that character hopes to accomplish by the end of the story.
Then you jump back to plot. Take that paragraph and expand it into a one or two page synopsis. Then guess what? You move back to characters, adding more information and details as you flesh out what the story is going to look like and so on and so on.
From there it’s all about taking what you’ve written and expanding it. There are 10 total steps in the Snowflake method and in theory, by the time you’ve completed them you’ll have a thoroughly fleshed-out plot and really well developed characters.
I’ve not tried this method myself but I know a lot of writers who swear by it, and if you think about it, this method would also be super helpful if you plan to query your books later on. Because you have to have those condensed versions for your synopsis and your query letter which you will have already done. The Snowflake method is definitely one you want to give a try.
Number two – the three-act structure.
This particular method of outlining is what I would consider to be the traditional form of outlining. It involves breaking your story down into 3 acts, act 1, 2 & 3 or beginning, middle and end.
This is a really great method for writers who are looking for a really solid foundation to their story or a very organised structure that they can work with. It’s also good for people who aren’t really worrying so much about all of the little intricate details, more about kind of the overall big picture.
It’s also really great for plot-driven stories as opposed to character-driven. Using this structure breaks down your story into three main chunks and each of those chunks consists of specific elements.
For example, in act 1 you get the introduction of the main character and what everyday life looks like for them. We also need to see in Act I some sort of inciting incident, something that’s going to launch the protagonist out of everyday life and onto the journey of the story.
We also need to see some sort of hint or introduction of the major conflict. Act II is considered to be the bulk of your story and in Act II what we need to see is all of the scenes and the action and everything that takes place leading up to the climax of your story.
Finally there’s act III, which kicks off with the main character facing whatever the main opposition of the story is, and then of course, whatever resolution there is to be had. In terms of organizing all of this information, I think the best way to go about it is good old roman numerals and bullet points.
So roman numeral one Act one and then all the bullet points are all of the scenes and things that you want to include in that act. Roman numeral 2 – act 2 all the bullet points are all the scenes. You get where I’m going with this? Ok. So this is a very clean and organized way of outlining.
Number three – the cork-board method.
This is a beloved method for quite a few writers that I know and i have actually used variations of this in the past, so this is definitely a tried and true method.
In order to outline using the corkboard method, you’re going to need several packs of index cards, some markers and thumb tacks, and a big old cork bulletin board. To start, you take each of the main plot devices in your story and write them down on individual cards.
You’re going to do the same thing with your sub plots. I like to use different color cards for main plot vs subplot but whatever floats your boat. Any major plot device, minor plot device, any scene that you might have in your head but you’re not sure where it fits in your story, you’re going to write it down on a card.
Everything gets its own individual card. On that card you want to write down a one to two-sentence, kind of detailing what that little plot device is about. You don’t have to be super detailed but you need at least a one to two-sentence summary.
Once you’ve worked through all of your story plot lines then you should have a lovely little stack of index cards in your hand. The next step, lay them all out on the floor and arrange them on the board. This is your opportunity to experiment to try different things, to test out different levels of pacing and sequencing and structure.
That’s what’s so great about this particular type of outlining. It’s organized but it gives you a lot of freedom within that organization. Once you have the cards in the order that you like, then you flip them over and that’s where you really begin to flesh out the details of the scene.
It can be bullet points, or sentences, or maybe snippets of dialogue, whatever you need to help you best envision the scene. What’s great about this method too is, just because you’ve put it in a particular order, it doesn’t mean that you’re stuck to that order. As you start writing and as new ideas come along you can take the the cards off the board and rearrange them however necessary for the flow of your story.
Number four – the goals, stakes, and motivations method.
This is the method that I used to outline Keeper and I do already have a video on this method, but i wanted to go ahead and mention it on this one as well.
It is one of my favourites and I really think this level of outlining helps create strong developed well-rounded characters. So if you find that your story is very character-driven and not so much plot- driven, then i really encourage you to give this method a shot.
Basically, for this approach what you want to stop and think about is what are your characters’ goals at the beginning of the story. What is the character’s goal and then what is the motivation behind that goal?
You also want to take it a step further and think about the stakes. What is at stake if the character doesn’t achieve that goal? You’re going to want to do this for all of your characters, including your Antagonist.
Throughout the course of the book the characters’ goals are going to change due to the momentum of the story, so you need to know at each different act what those goals look like, what scenes in what action and dialogue you need to include to show that transformation of the goals.
Let me give you an example. In a Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, the main character Feyre’s goal in the beginning of the story is to find meat. She’s out hunting. What’s the motivation behind this goal? Well her family is starving. They are hungry and if she doesn’t bring home meat, they don’t eat.
What’s at stake if she fails? They’ll die. However, when Feyre gets taken into the land of the fairies her goal changes and instead of trying to provide for her family her goal is to escape back to the mortal world. What’s the motivation? Survival.
What’s at stake? Well if the faeries catch her trying to escape, she might die. They might torture and kill her. So you see as the story progresses. The character’s goals and motivations and the stakes behind those are going to change for each of your characters.
You need to think about the progression of this change and what it’s going to look like in terms of your story. Once you’ve nailed down all of the goals, and have detailed and fleshed out those ideas, then the next step is to determine whatever scenes or bits of action are necessary to bring that progression to life.
I do this using post-its. It’s a kind of my own variation of the corkboard method but you can easily do a bullet point list if you need to. The main focus here with this method is goals, motivations, and stakes for each of your characters and in each act of the story.
Lastly number five – Freytag’s Pyramid.
I don’t know if other people actually use this but Freytag’s pyramid is actually what I used to finish my outline for my new book and it kind of makes me laugh a little bit because this is not something that I ever thought about in terms of outlining.
This is a concept that I teach in my english classes when I’m talking to my students about how to analyze literature but this was something that I found extremely useful when i was working on the outline.
I was struggling in my ideas down on paper and this is just what worked for me, so ain’t life crazy? This approach is very similar to the three-act structure. It’s just a little bit more visual in my opinion.
Gustav Freytag was a German novelist who broke down the concept of storytelling into 5 main components: The exposition, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the resolution.
He then took these five components and diagrammed them visually in a structure now known as Freytag’s Pyramid. It looks like this. Not familiar with the terms? Let me review those for you real quick. The exposition is where we get the setting the introduction of the characters and a sneak peek into what the main character’s everyday life looks like.
The rising action is all of the action that ultimately leads up to the climax of the story. What’s the climax of the story? The moment where the main character faces the main opposition. Falling action is basically where loose ends are tied up and all of your subplots come together.
Finally, the resolution of the story is where the main character continues on, except life looks a little bit different, where they have found a new normal, so to speak. What I love about this method is that you don’t have to work linearly if you don’t want to.
When I started outlining my new book project, I had the exposition, I had the climax and I had the resolution in mind, nothing else. And so for me it really helped plotting those on a visual diagram and then simply saying ‘ok, so to get from here to here, what is everything that has to happen in between?’
It was a very visual way of outlining for me that I found super helpful. Again, it is very, very similar to the three-act structure, so if you’re more of a list person, then maybe try that one. But if you’re somebody who needs that visual to help them kind of break through, then i definitely recommend using Freytag to help outline your book.
Alrighty folks there you have it. Five different methods that you can try when outlining. I really hope these are helpful to you and if you have a favorite that i didn’t mention please let me know. I would love to know how you go about outlining your stories, if you’re new to my channel.
Thank you so much for stopping by, I’m so happy to see you. Make sure you subscribe on your way out, I post new videos on Saturdays. If you have a question for me or just want to say hello, you can leave me a comment below or you can tweet me at _Kim Chance. I hope you guys are having a stellar weekend and I’ll see you next week. Bye!