Outlining a Novel

In the novel I am co-authoring at the time of this post I did not have to do much outlining – the client already had a great outline and I only had to write the scenes out, with a few plot/pacing tweaks here and there and adding my own touches. But for writing a novel from scratch, the process is a bit more involved, for me at least.

Some folks are “pantsers”, writing from the seat of their pants as whim takes them, but that’s not a talent I have. Or at least, doing so scares me! I’m an outliner at heart, though I don’t get into as much detail as some authors I know, who practically write the novel in a vast outline and then flesh that material out. Also a great method, but not for me. When I outline ideas for novels, I have several steps that give me everything I need to charge full-steam ahead.

  • 1-line synopsis – fairly detailed sentence that gets the gist of the story down. This is my “bible statement”, and everything I write thereafter must support this main statement.
  • Theme – I don’t bother stating a theme in the beginning. The theme reveals itself to me as I write the first quarter of the book, usually, and I just keep it in mind as I keep writing.
  • Expand the synopsis – Given what I now know about the players, the conflicts, and the key points of personal development I’ll expand the 1-line synopsis into a full summary paragraph of 4 sentences, each covering 1/4 of the book or so. Then I brainstorm each of those sentences into a full paragraph of its own.
  • Characters – Generate the ‘tagonists (protagonist, antagonist). History, key personality traits, moral conflict (such as “justice vs duty”) that colors their perception of every situation I put them in, character defect, and overarching goal. Then the supporting characters I add while I do the outlining itself.
  • Conflicts/Ending – How can these characers, with those traits, goals and flaws, bash into each other in a way that is consistent with their goals and such, but which lead inevitably to a resolution at the end of the book. I look for key points in that brainstorm that can lead to character development for both ‘tagonists.

That is all prep to start the outline, which I’ll discuss further in a later post.


2 thoughts on “Outlining a Novel

  1. Jodi says:

    Do you follow your outline to the letter while writing the draft or do you leave room for other events and characters to evolve? Ones that you never planned on but screamed for a part in your story later on.

    1. Jeremy Menefee says:

      Hi Jodi, no I don’t. Usually I find inspiration for changes and additions as I write, and I just update the outline as I go. Sometimes I’ll leave placeholders for scenes I want but haven’t quote figured out yet, too.

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