Outlining a Novel Effectively

Outlining is one of the hardest parts of novel writing for me because this means I have to cut out things that I usually thought were good at the brainstorming stage.

For me, this stages involves the use for a program called Scrivener. Many writers already have this, so I feel it’s safe for me to put this in. If you don’t have it, it’s $40 dollars and it’s for Windows/Mac. Both versions are a little different but I have each of them.

My method is a little complex. I start with writing each character’s goals in the story. Whoever has the most goals becomes my main focal point (point of view). Those goals also become the focal point for the novel. Once I have those, I know which order the plot needs to be focused on.

The second thing is to actually write down the sequence of events. For this first part, I usually do it in notebook paper. My cats have a habit of tearing my notebooks and using them as playtoys. My recommendation is to have two to three good scenes per chapter so that way you don’t feel overwhelmed. (Quality better then quantity.)

Here is an example of what I do in a notebook, which is several sections. I have an overall notebook of my one series so I keep a separate Scrivener file for it.

1. Characters and goals

  • Character traits, personalities and little tidbits (physical appearance, abilities, who they can’t stand and possessions

2. World building

  • Cities, land markers, frequent places characters visit, history of world, why it changed and ruling authorities

3. Teams or organizations

  • Who is in which one, their rank, specs of cars and abilities

4. Species (because there are more than humans in my series)

  • What race, special unique traits, markings/physical appearances

5. Abilities

  • Types of abilities, examples

6. Outlines

  • All before and after outlines of each book are in the back to compare notes or if I’ve missed something.

Usually my story notebooks are a bit excessive because I’m very detailed oriented. You do not have to be this way.

The last phase of my outline process involves redoing it each time a draft is written. The reason for this is to compare what my earlier intention was with what has happened in the draft. If the two do not match, I try to see what went wrong and decide if I want to keep something or remove it before handing it in to the editor. Normally this helps also if I’m iffy on a part and something made its way in it shouldn’t have.


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