Diving straight into writing without a novel outline isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you run the risk of “derailing”, of drifting off course from how your story would best unfold. It may feel good to just let the writing come as it may, but the lack of a structure can mean that you can develop writers block or outright deviate from your story’s goal.
For these reasons, we highly recommend forming an outline. Here’s what we recommend to get this done as quickly as possible in order to form the backbone of your story.
#1: The Summary
Before you even begin writing the final draft of your book, you should know how it begins and how it ends. To prove this to yourself, write down a single sentence that summarizes your book.
For example: A young boy discovers he’s a wizard, goes to a school for wizardry, makes friends, and stops the villain at the end.
It doesn’t have to be full of details. After all, this is the part of the outline that sets the barebones theme of your story. Get this down.
#2: Growing the Summary
Think of your novel outline as a balloon; you start small and expand.
Now grow your summary from one sentence into a paragraph, or even two. Roughly touch on the beginning, middle, and end. This has also been called a “three act” structure.
Act #1: The character begins and ultimately comes across their first big dilemma.
Act #2: The character deals with the dilemma, yet more form before the end of this act.
Act #3: The tension grows and the story reaches its climax… and ultimate ending.
Now the ideas for your own story begin solidifying in your mind. This is a much better approach to writing than to pound out a story, spending many hours on something you don’t know the direction of, or even how it will end.
#3: Developing Character Pages
You should already know which characters you’re going to introduce into your story, but for your own mind, you need to flesh them out.
Create an outline for each major character in your story, and have its features:
The character’s name, age, and appearance
The character’s inner desires, their goals and dreams
The character’s fears and what holds them back
How the character will change and grow throughout the story
Write a full paragraph that explains the character’s role and overall storyline
#4: Starting to Include the Details
Now you’ve developed a basic novel outline with believable characters to put inside. Here’s where a great deal of structuring can start occurring.
You can look at this as a bit of a “rough draft” phase. There are plenty of approaches to it, but to keep things simple, we’ll give you a single one to work from that’s very practical and keeps you well-guided for the final draft.
This time you’re going to write out paragraph outlines. You’ll write what’s going to be explained in the paragraph, and then move on to the next. This is a bit like script writing, but it’s very powerful and it can work wonders for your story.
It will go something like this.
Paragraph #1: Describe Julian’s home, the setting, and the weather. Explain how he feels about living here by himself, and how he enjoys his solitude.
Paragraph #2: Julian is cooking a meal, describe the smells. There’s a knock on the door, he answers it.
Paragraph #3: A stranger from Julian’s past is at the door, describe how she looks, how she talks, her behavior towards Julian.
That’s the basic principle, and you can adjust it however you need in order to make sense to you and maximize your progress in both your rough and final draft.
#5: Flexibility is Key
Sometimes you’ll be hit by inspiration, and it will give you a plot that has nothing to do with the outline you’ve made. So what should you do? Follow your inspiration, of course!
You’re a writer – this process isn’t mechanical, it’s artistic. The novel outline is to serve as a frame, a structure, but nothing is truly set in stone. You can change the outline as much as you wish, just make sure that everything matches up in the end, and that you’re satisfied with the outcome of your story.