How To Write A Novel Outline – Writing A Book Outline

How To Outline A Story Or Novel

For this post, I chose a video that explains how to outline a story. Some authors miss out on this important step and try to just write by the seat of their pants. It can work (John Grisham did it) but for most of us mere mortal writers, planning the structure of our novel with a clear outline is vital to it’s flow and success.

How To Outline A Story – 3 Acts : 9 Blocks : 27 Chapters

Hello – different kind of video today. This is a computer screen recording, so I didn’t have to brush my hair, and you guys don’t have to look at me. Win-win! I’m going to outline my NaNoWriMo novel later today and I wanted to do a quick run-through of my outlining process beforehand, so I don’t have to try to explain it whilst outlining.

How To Outline A Story pdf

I did a video like this last year that is called ‘9 blocks in the plot board’ or something along those lines and it goes over all this stuff. I wanted to do an updated, more coherent version so I made a slideshow presentation. Now I will talk you guys through the three-act, 9 block 27 chapter, outlining process that I’ve been using to outline all of my novels lately.

I did not invent story structure and I make no claims that this is the best and/or only way to outline. This is one of many different methods and this method is still like a work in progress. If you want to use this 27 chapter structure, that would be awesome.

I hope you let me know how it works for you and if you have any ideas for changes or refining certain points. Definitely let me know because, like I said, this is still a work in progress and I’m still trying to figure this thing out. So 3 act structure is the base of this. I like 3 act structure because it makes a lot of sense to me.

You know, beginning, middle, end – straightforward. It’s also familiar because you know most things in life have a beginning, a middle and an end. In writing a three-act structure, the beginning, middle, and end translates into setup, conflict, resolution. The first act is setup, the second act is conflict, and the third act is resolution, but it also goes deeper.

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Each act will also have its own set up, conflict and resolution, and this pattern of set up, conflict, resolution will constantly appear. Each arc within the story will have a set up, a conflict, resolution. Each chapter, each scene beginning, middle, end – set up, conflict, resolution.

Act one is the set up act. The general point of act 1 is to set up everything for the rest of the story but within act one, this set of act there is, of course, a beginning, a middle, and an end. The setup to Act one is introducing the hero, the hero’s ordinary world and the problem that will disrupt the hero’s ordinary world.

The conflict is how the inciting incident changes the hero’s life. The resolution to this setup and concept combination, is that the hero’s life has changed and the hero is pushed into a new world. Act two is the conflict Act. This act is usually harder to pin down and describe because it will change drastically for every story you know.

Introductions are straightforward. You introduce what you’ll be working with. Endings are also pretty straightforward. You need to resolve everything you introduced from the beginning. If the first act is the stuff happening to the hero, and the last act is the hero taking action and resolving the story, then the middle is the hero’s emotional and mental transformation.

The hero at the end of act 1 is not yet equipped to handle act 3, thus act 2. Within act 2 we of course have a set up, a conflict and a resolution. The set up is the hero experiencing the new world they were pushed into from the first act.

The conflict is the hero experiencing a crisis of this new world and evolving and changing. The resolution of the second act is the hero being transformed and dedicating themselves to finding the solution to the problems they face.

The third act is where everything falls apart and goes to hell and gets put back together again. In the first act, you introduce the problems. In the second act you play around with the problems, and in the final act you resolve those problems. The setup of the third act is, you have a dedicated transform hero who faces such crazy problems that victory seems impossible.

The conflict of this act is the hero working harder than ever to overcome these struggles and find the power within themselves to take action and complete their story. And finally, the resolution is the solution to all this. In many stories this means the hero goes to battle, wins and thus resolves all of their problems.

Obviously, not every story is the hero winning and succeeding, but even if the hero fails, the problems must still be resolved. Most, if not all the questions still need to be answered. I’m personally a happy ending kind of girl, so I don’t really have much experience with failing hero resolutions. In my version the hero wins – hooray, go hero!

how to outline a short storyNow we have three acts and three parts within each of those acts and that leaves us with what I call the nine blocks. The first act has introductions, the effect of the inciting incident and the pinch or the plot twist, and the push into the second act.

The second act has the hero experiencing the new world which contrasts with their old world. The midpoint, which is the point of reversal for the hero, the point where they stop letting things happen to them and decide to take action.

Then the hero beginning to take action and dedicating themselves to finding a solution. Then in the third act we have the second plot twist pinch. The hero is more determined than ever but then something bigger than ever gets in the way to deter them. This leads to the darkest moment where things look bleak and impossible.

The hero must find the power within themselves take action and make all the different strings of plot converge and combine. Then you have the big battle the climax in the resolution. These are the nine blocks. Now I take the nine blocks and give each of those a beginning, middle and end, and that is how I end up with a 20-7 chapter outline base.

how to outline a story or novelThe act one set a block is the introduction, the inciting incident and the immediate reaction of the inciting incident. The second block is divided into chapters, of like a long term reaction how this will continually affect the hero’s life. The hero taking action because this far just stuff has been happening to them and begging to stand up for themselves.

Then of course there is a consequence to taking action. For the third block of act one we have rising pressure and stress the hero’s life is changing. Change is scary and then – BAM – the first plot twist or the pinch. Something happens that the hero can no longer ignore or even try to ignore. They are being pushed into this new direction whether they like it or not.

Act two block. This block I feel has the most room for flexibility. You want to cover the introduction into the New World, contrast with the old world and give the hero some time for fun and games and playing around in this new world. If it’s like a new romantic relationship, for example, then this block could be the lovers getting to know each other.

But maybe they have conflicting opinions on something, and they have to make compromises, which is different from how they lived in their old life. The second block is the build-up to the midpoint. The midpoint itself and the reversal, what the midpoint most dramatically and immediately changes for the hero.

how to plan out a novelThe final block of this act is the hero reacting to this change in themselves and deciding to put on their hero hat and take action, dedicating themselves to solving the problem at hand. No matter what in the third act the hero experiences, trials unlike anything they’ve dealt with before. Good thing they are so dedicated now after the midpoint, because a weaker version of the hero would not survive this part of the story.

They are put through trials, they experience another plot twist that makes things even worse and they find themselves in the darkest moment. Things look bleak. Victory is impossible but then they pull themselves together, find the power within and take action because now they are determined. Things can’t get any worse and they can only go up from here.

The hero takes action and now they are the one making stuff happen. The action the hero takes forces the plot to converge and gather and then the explosions happen. In the last block of the last act we have the battle struggle, the final fight the hero must overcome. We have the climax, the point of no return and then we have the resolution.

What happens after the climax? What is the aftermath? What is the falling action? The story is wrapped up, maybe with a few loose string,s maybe with a pretty little bow but either way there is a satisfying battle and a resolution to bring about the end of the story. And there we have it. This is the outline I use; 3 X 9 blocks 27 chapters.

Sometimes chapters get combined or split out, but I use these 27 points as a guide for 27 story events that push the plot forward. Try to make it pretty open-ended and a lot of the time I will twist it a bit to fit better to the story, rather than the other way around of twisting my story to fit the outline. The structure is like a skeleton for the story but it’s not supposed to be something really prominent.

how to plan writing a bookWhen you’re talking to a living, breathing, smiling, laughing person, you aren’t thinking about their skeletal structure underneath. At least, you’re probably not because that’s a little weird, but hey no judgement here people.

Books have souls and personalities, and life. The structure is just the foundation it gives it a bit of shape but what you put on that skeleton is not always restricted to this shape.

A lot of people have similar skeletons but that doesn’t mean those people are anything alike. A quiet literary novel could be built off this outline, as well as a dynamic explosive thriller. This is just a foundation on which to build your story up, and there are lots of different structures.

In my version of the three act structure, all the acts are the same length but sometimes the middle act is 50% of the story and the first and third each get 25 percent. Sometimes the acts are broken up in different places. I’ve seen a couple of story outlines where the second plot twist is at the end of the second act not at the beginning of the third act like I do it.

There are just so many different ways to structure story and this is just one of them, so yeah . I hope you enjoyed this video I hope I made at least some sense. Again, I’m not a professional at anything. I would love to hear your thoughts though.

What do you think of the structure? Would you ever use something like this to outline, or what structure do you prefer to use? Now I am going to outline my NaNoWriMo novel using this 27 chapter, structure of course. Good luck with all of your writing and outlining endeavours. I’ll have a new video up soon – I hope you have a good night.

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How To Write A Novel Outline

How to write a novel outline - featured

To outline or not outline, that is the question! We hear arguments for and against, and I’m assured that many prominent authors have had great success writing as a ‘Pantser’, that is, writing by the seat of their pants.

It could be exciting, I suppose, writing as a stream of conscience, but from my own experience it’s quite easy to write yourself into a corner with no escape in sight. It would seem, for most people, a plan is a definite advantage to their writing. Knowing how to write a novel outline is the first step in creating a story.

Did Shakespeare plan? Was Dickens a Pantser or a Plotter? Even if Charles Dickens didn’t plan as we do, he surely knew all about plot structure and how to keep a reader turning the pages, as he had his first successes writing ‘penny dreadfuls’ for the masses.

It may be reasonable to assume that most new writers would benefit from some kind of novel structure planning, so the only question is – which method should you use? The following video explains how chapters can not only be used to plan a novel, but also used as a submission tool to agents and editors.

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How To Create A Novel Outline Out Of Chapters

Video Transcript:

Media bistro on-demand presents: ‘How to outline your novel’ will show you how to structure, outline and begin writing your novel.

So you have a great idea for a novel. You know basically what it will be about and who the characters will be. You’re ready to sit down and begin but where do you start? If you’re anything like me or most of my friends who have published books, you’ll start with an outline.

You wouldn’t leave home for a cross-country drive without a map or at least a functioning GPS would you? It would be just as unwise to dive into a novel without having an idea of where you’re going, and how you plan to get there. Some writers write without outlines but even they generally have a basic idea of where they’re going.

I just find it easier and much more efficient to have those ideas down on paper. The thing about an outline is that it’s not set in stone. Just like when you’re taking that cross-country drive, you’re free to detour from your planned route but you always know where the road is and you can see the way forward and the way back.

Novel outline template detailsHow do I know? I’ve successfully written six novels published by Random House Warner Books in Grand Central using outlines and I’m in the midst of writing my seventh. I sold all but my first novel using only an outline in sample chapters.

Here’s what we’ll cover. First we’ll talk about how to learn by example and how to teach yourself to be a master of outlining. Then we’ll discuss how to analyze, how things work in the books you love and how you can emulate these patterns and devices to create your own successful novel.

We’ll cover the rules of writing an outline, all the basic tools you’ll need to begin and finally I’ll show you how to write your own outline. Even if you don’t think you’re the type of writer who will need an outline, what can it hurt to sketch out a plot before you begin writing?

A first novel is tremendously hard and I think that every single advantage you can give yourself along the way helps. Having an outline is one such advantage. It’s a road map, a safety blanket and a safeguard against writer’s block.

First, it gives you the ability to plan how you’ll get from point A to point B and eventually all the way to the other side of the map. Second, it’s a psychological security blanket. Even when you’re stuck, you have something to cling to that will lift you out of the mess.

Finally, with an outline writer’s block is impossible. Sure you may have an off day or you may be uncertain about how to get from one scene to the next but you can always jump ahead because you know where you’re going and how to get there.

One more argument in favor of outlining – if you get 2/3 of the way into your outline and realize the story’s not working, you’ve only lost 10 to 20 pages of work or you’ll only have to go back a few pages to make substantial changes.

Novel outline worksheet outlineBut what if you’re working without an outline? You’ll be 250 pages into your novel before you realize your plot is going nowhere. Outlining is therefore a valuable tool to save you time later. It’s a way to test drive all the intricacies of your plots before you begin writing chapters in-depth.

They say the best way to learn is by doing, so why not outline someone else’s book, book you’ve liked that is already done well in the market? In fact, choose two or three of your favorite books, books you’ve read before and that you think are somewhat similar structurally to the one you hope to write.

They should be standard books, in other words, not a book that’s written in Diary style or told in a complex series of flashbacks, unless that’s the kind of book you plan to write. These are the books you’re going to pick apart.

Starting from the beginning of the first book read each chapter carefully. Underline important lines and make notes in the margins. Then after you’ve read each chapter, write a one to two page summary of that chapter in a single text document on your computer.

At the end of the book you should have a chapter by chapter summary of the entire book. This is ultimately what your own outline will look like. The more you look at these complete outlines, the more patterns you’ll see.

You’ll see how the books progress from start to finish. You’ll see when characters and conflicts are introduced. In fact, you’ll want to mark those in pen. You’ll see when various plot points occur and the way the books are paced. Why is this so important?

Unlike screenwriting, there’s no hard and fast formula to novel writing. You have to learn to do it by feel. Picking apart a few books you like and respect will help you to develop your own feel for building a plot. It will also help you to develop your own intrinsic understanding of pacing.

This is something that I can’t teach you, it’s something you can only teach yourself. It’s why any writing instructor worth his or her salt will tell you that the most important preparation for writing your own book is to read often.

Understanding what works in others we’ll help you to understand how to successfully structure yours, once you’ve outlined a few books. Buy yourself a pack of colored pencils or gather pens in four different colors. Print out each chapter by chapter outline and go through each one with your colored pens and pencils.

Look for four specific things :

  • the introduction of new characters
  • the introduction of conflict
  • examples of foreshadowing
  • and physical descriptions

Novel outline example and templateEach time a new character is introduced underline it in red and then jot down in the margin what role they play – main character, best friend, coworker, love interest, nemesis, family member.

Keep an eye on when various characters appear and look for patterns between the books you’ve outlined. Each time a new conflict is introduced, big or small, underline it in blue and jot down a few words in the margin about what the conflict is. Also note whether it’s a large conflict a small one or something in between.

In addition to characters and conflicts you should also make note of foreshadowing. Each time an event in the outline foreshadow is something that will happen, later mark it in purple. For instance, if a main character will discover halfway through the book that her husband is having an affair but in Chapter three we see him call to tell her that he won’t be home from work until after midnight.

Underline this in purple because it foreshadows is something that will happen in the future. Finally, every time something is described physically in a notable way – a new person, a new setting, something like, that mark this too.

Of course, you don’t have to use the colors I’ve suggested. Those were just examples. Use your own rainbow if you like. Right now you’re writing the outline for yourself to guide your own novel writing process but eventually you’ll revise it and use it as one of your tools to help get agents interested in your completed book and eventually to sell your book to publishers.

Novel Outline Template vs Detailed Novel Outline

So there’s no time like the present to learn the correct submission format for outlines. Outlines first of all are written in the third person present tense. In other words, you write ‘Jane Smith is the 36 year old mother of 13 year old Madeleine’ instead of ‘I was the 36 year old mother of 13 year old Madeleine’.

That stays true no matter what tense and from what viewpoint you’re writing the actual book in. Outlines are always third person present tense. Second, your book should be written in 12-point standard font. The most common is Times New Roman. Arial is another acceptable choice.

Third – your outline and your entire manuscript, once you’ve written it, should be double-spaced. I prefer to outline in single space because I can see more on the page as I’m writing but before I submit it to anyone I always double space it.

Fourth – you should spend no more than a single double-spaced page on what you envision is a chapter. In other words, if you think your book will be about 25 chapters your outline should not be any longer than 25 double-spaced pages at the very most.

How to write a novel outline for beginnersFinally, you don’t need to note chapter numbers or chapter divisions in the outline. Most outlines simply tell a story from beginning to end. Chapter breaks happen naturally later when you’re doing the actual writing. Here’s an example. This is how the top of your page one should look.

Note that it has my name, address, phone number and email address, as well as the title of the book. The estimated word count and the genre. Then I begin with the stage setting summary. Now it’s your turn. First of all come up with the title, if you haven’t already.

Stuck for title ideas? I’d recommend walking into a bookstore and spending 15 minutes jotting down the new release titles that grab your attention. What do they have in common? How many words do they have? Are they action-oriented titles like ‘How to sleep with a movie star’ or ‘Whistling Dixie in a nor’easter’ or are they description heavy titles?

Take that list home. Think about what your book is about and then try brainstorming your own ideas. Next, estimate your final word count. You’re not bound to this but it helps to have an idea of the typical length of books in your genre. I write women’s fiction and I tend to shoot for 90 thousand to 95 thousand words.

Come up with the word counts of several novels in your genre by multiplying the page count by 250, that should get you in the ballpark. Finally, start with a paragraph or two describing your main character in your book, similar to what you’d find on the back of a book or a book flap.

How to write a novel outline PDF