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9 Tips for Writing a Book Outline That Doesn't Suck

Writing a Book Outline That Doesn't Suck

Tips for Writing a Book Outline #1: Embrace what an outline does!

Description: Many writers think they'll be able to write a book without a plan and just want to see where the keys take them, but an outline is an extremely helpful tool in actually getting you to write. You'll have a plan in place, you'll see how the characters work together, how the plot strings together, and you won't get stuck on a blank page wondering what should come next.

Tips for Writing a Book Outline #2: Keep it simple!

Description: Don’t worry about solving every problem and having a perfectly detailed description of what exactly needs to happen at each stage of your story, just get the basic ideas down. This will allow you to change as you go and come up with things you didn't expect. If you prefer detailed, go for it, but it's not absolutely necessary.

Tips for Writing a Book Outline #3: Remember, an outline will save you time in the long run!

If you're one of those writers who hate outlines with a fiery passion, remember that they're meant to save you time. It’ll help prevent dead ends and major rewrites. Know where you're going before you head there!

Tips for Writing a Book Outline #4: Enough for a novel?

An outline is extremely helpful in determining if you've got enough meat to your idea to flesh it out into a novel or if it’s better suited as a short story. Depending how many scenes you have, you might find out that your short story idea is screaming to be a full-length novel instead.

Tips for Writing a Book Outline #5: Make tables!

Using Microsoft Word or Excel, a common way to outline is to map out each scene. You can do this by chapter, or event. Then in another table, keep track of your major characters and another for research. Keep these as detailed or as basic as you like, but the idea is to break down your story so you can see where you need to get to or where there are holes.

Tips for Writing a Book Outline #6: Visualize your story with a mind map

Sometimes, your story and ideas can be clearer in a different format. Try a mind map! These are great to keep track of themes you need to track throughout different plot lines. You can also mark character traits and keep track of chapters where a character displays that trait. This way, you can visually see the development of your characters and themes and where there are holes.

Tips for Writing a Book Outline #7: Interview your characters!

To help flesh out your characters when writing your outline, think about their crisis moment and pretend you're interviewing them. Ask them how they got to this point, where they came your inner Oprah. Write their answers in their own words and watch as your characters take shape.

Tips for Writing a Book Outline #8: Outlines prevent over-plotting

The last thing you need is pages and pages of scenes that take forever to write and that you'll immediately cut in a second draft. Don't over plot! An outline will help you see what each scene is doing in the grand scheme of the story so you'll quickly be able to see which scenes you can lose.

Tips for Writing a Book Outline #9: Use an outline to flesh out important questions

When you sit down to write an outline, you should think of your story in terms of the important questions. You want your story to have depth and development. Ask yourself, who is the protagonist? Who are they at the beginning of the novel and who are they at the end? What changes them? Thinking about these broad questions will help your story take form.

Tips for Writing a Book Outline #10: Quickly check in to see if each scene is functioning

When your plot points are outlined, you can hone in on each scene and make sure each has purpose by making note of each scene’s goal, motivation, conflict and disaster.

Tips for Writing a Book Outline #11: Nail down a structure

An outline can also be extremely helpful if you want to stick to a specific structure for each chapter or section. The structure can vary from chapter to chapter, but if you're looking for consistent pacing, an outline can be invaluable.

Tips for Writing a Book Outline #12: Use apps!

Description: There are a ton of great apps available to help you keep your outline organized. OneNote, Mindly and Scrivener are just a few great tools that help make sense of all your fantastic ideas. They can make the task of making an outline a bit more exciting too!

Tips for Writing a Book Outline #13: Use your outline to make your setting more interesting

Setting can often function in a good novel like a character in and of itself. With your outline complete, you can see all the plot points and the thematic runs. Use these to choose the best possible setting for your story. Can you switch out the time period to make your story more effective without losing plot? Can you move the story to a more visually-interesting locale? With the outline in place, you can be more creative in the fun details of the scenes.

Michael Rogan

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