How To Write A Novel, Part Two: Outlining & Details
January 25, 2019
Welcome to part two of “How To Write A Novel”!
In case you missed it, part one was about getting and committing to an idea that makes you excited! You can check that out here before continuing, if you’d like.
Heeeeeere we go!
Part Two: Outlining and details.
Some people opt to not outline, which is totally fine. But when I’m feeling lost and aimless within the throes of a tangled first draft, my outlines are my life rafts.
From my own experience, I can say that:
I’ve finished basically all of the stories I’ve outlined beforehand, while I’ve finished approximately 0% of the stories I tried to write without one.
Having at least a general idea of how I’d like the story to end helps me begin to figure out what needs to happen to get there, immediately making my job easier.
It’s a lot harder to feel lost when I have an idea of how many chapters I need to write and what is going to happen in each one.
Not once have I felt boxed in by my outlines, because I approach them knowing that they are allowed to change even as I write the story.
I put my bets on my trusty outlines 🙂
I really want to emphasize that even your outline does not have to be set in stone. Your story might change a lot as you write it, which might be why some feel more comfortable without an outline. But often, my outlines evolve as I write the story and are a mob scene of margin notes, strikethroughs and added/deleted chapters by the time I get to the end.
Remember, the outline is a tool, it’s yours. It can be whatever you want or need it to be.
*cracks knuckles* But let’s get down to business. There’s no one way to outline. You could do paragraph summaries for each chapter, you could do sentence prompts for each chapter, you could divide it into three acts and have bulletpoints for what needs to happen in each–whatever’s most comfortable for you. You may find it helpful to read about my no-nonsense outlining process, which involves taking the scene fragments you already have in mind and building the rest of your outline around them.
Another thing to think about is the details. You know: setting, backstory, character relationships, and other fragments. You may want to take some time to write all of these nuggets down in a notebook for continuity’s sake, keep it with your outline and have both with you whenever you sit down to write.
Write even the little things, like “these two characters knew each other in first grade,” and “Sarah’s favorite candy is Skittles.” They might not seem of prime importance right now, but believe it or not they just might be relevant later.
Start by listing the scenes and ideas you already have in mind, then build around those by getting to know your subplots.
Your outline need not be long or substantial. A paragraph for each chapter usually suits me best, but even a few sentences is good if it’s enough to get you started.
On another page, you might write the idea fragments that don’t really have a place in your outline but are still good info. For instance: more information about a restaurant that appears in your story, the dynamic between two of your characters who used to date, or childhood memories, to name a few.