Outlining your Novel

One of my very first posts was about whether as an author you outline your novel before you write or do you just sent down and write. Basically are you a plotter (outliner) or a pantser (someone who flies by the seat of their pants).

I have never been one to plot out my whole novel in advance. I tend to have an idea what the novel is about and maybe some ideas for some scenes. As I begin to write, I generally plot out what will happen in the next scenes. Since this is a very loose outline, I am free to let the characters drive the story.

Now there are many benefits to have an outline of your novel before you begin. It helps to create a well-developed plot and there is less rewriting involved. If you write just whatever comes to mind, you will most likely have a lot of editing and pruning during subsequent drafts than if you had it planned out in advance.

So let’s say you don’t want to do that extra work, and you want to do all the work upfront (along with your world and character building). You want to know what is going to happen and where your characters will go. You want an outline. How do you go about doing that?

Outlining methods

snowflakeSnowflake method (aka Expanding Outline) – Here you start with a basic premise. (I found this example on another website.)

Jack and Jill get injured while climbing a hill trying to get water.

Then you expand on it.

Jack, the mayor’s son, is sent to fetch water. Jill comes with him. They get injured while trying to climb the hill where the well is located.

Then you expand on it some more.

Jack, who is the mayor’s son, is sent to fetch water for the town. His girlfriend Jill comes with him. At the top of the hill, where the well is located, the two are attacked. They attempt to escape but trip and fall down the hill. They are both injured.

You continue this process until every part of the story has the level of detail you want. This method can be very labor intensive. You can find out more about the method here.

Pure Summary/Narrative – On this method you write the story from beginning to end but in summary form. There are no descriptions or dialogues. You can pretty much do this one by bullet point or you can just write it out almost as a synopsis.

  • Susan lives in the jungle.
  • She is struggling to survive with very few supplies.
  • Susan receives an unexpected visit from her daughter.
  • Susan decides to leave the jungle and live with her daughter in the city.

flashlightHeadlight (or Flashlight) Outline – With this method, you plan out a few scenes or chapter. You plan just enough to get you writing. Once you have written that and reread it to see if you like where your story is going, then you do the next few chapters.

(Now as I write this, I realize this is my method of writing though I don’t do it in chapters. I write down ideas for a few scenes (never full chapters) and then usually write and connect them while keeping the big picture somewhere in the back of my mind. I like that I can change directions as things develop, and I am not restricted to having the whole novel planned.)

Chapter by Chapter Breakdown – Some writers do a quick summary of what will happen in each chapter. Again, it can be almost like bullet points, but if you add a little more information, you can plan out cliffhangers for the end of your chapters.

These are really just a few of the methods, and as you can see some of the methods are very similar to others. Outlining had its benefits and if one of these methods doesn’t tickle your fancy, simple use Google and find other outlining methods that do.

And remember, if outlining a novel doesn’t work for you, don’t force it. There is nothing wrong with being a panster. There are many authors that plan and many who don’t. You just need to do what works for you. The most important thing is getting a comprehensive well written novel done.

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2 thoughts on “Outlining your Novel

  1. A combination of the two is what seems to work best for me. Aside from the openings of short stories, I never write with NO idea what the story is about, but neither do I plan the whole thing, start to finish.

  2. […] Now how well this draft goes depends on many things. If you developed your world and characters or outlined your story, this draft will probably go better than if you just “winged” […]

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