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How to outline your novel: 5 brilliant tips

18 April 2017

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“Just sit down and write” is great advice, and can knock writer’s block into a cocked hat, but it should always sit alongside a more structured approach if you’re an aspiring author.

Novels, short stories and non-fiction pieces need to be outlined if they’re to stand a chance of being finished. Think about the number of times you’ve started writing something, only to get bored a third of the way in or so lost in plot twists that you don’t know where to turn.

A solid outline will solve these common problems, and if you’re a self-published author who wants to plan their next novel with military precision, we’ve got five brilliant outlining tips below.

1. Start with the end and work backwards

This is a more common novel outlining technique than you might think. If you start with how the book ends and work your way backwards from that point, you’ll be able to build a fantastic outline that always has the ending in sight.

2. Get help from a friend

Just because you’re writing alone doesn’t mean you have to plan your novel alone. The guiding hand of a trusted friend during the outline process can be a very welcome accompaniment indeed.

Start by explaining the premise behind your new book and ask for your friend’s thoughts on how it might play through. Brainstorm over a cup of tea or two and turn the outlining session into a productive chat with someone close to you - the results could be incredibly useful.

3. Skeletal

If you’ve ever written a thesis, you’ll probably be familiar with the term ‘skeletal outline’. In the field of creative writing, it refers to the process of laying out the narrative elements of a story in the order they’ll play out.

You can do this simply by listing headings and a brief synopsis for each element. Doing so will provide a bird’s eye view of the finished piece and an incredibly handy guiding light during the writing process if you ever lose your way or need to remind yourself of what’s in store.

4. Post-It wall

There’s a reason detectives in crime dramas have a penchant for covering the walls of their offices with Post-It notes - it enables them to see the bigger picture and unload their thoughts.

It may look a little chaotic, but there’s often beauty in chaos, and a Post-It note wall could be the perfect way to get that brilliant story out of your head and into some kind of order. There’s also something delightfully tactile about rearranging and adding to your novel outline with small, sticky pieces of paper.

5. Mindmapping

Mind maps are used extensively in businesses as a way to facilitate brainstorming sessions, and they can be just as effective for book outlining.

The premise is simple; you take a big piece of paper and place the name or working title of your book in the middle, circled. From there, you can create ‘nodes’ which are additional circled notes or chapter headings, and against those, further nodes which go into greater detail. Everything is linked by simple lines, which results in a spider web of thoughts.

A little like the Post-It wall, mind mapping is beautifully chaotic and a great, visual way to unload the many thoughts swirling through your mind.

Final thought

Have fun planning your novel. The outline process should be exciting and force you to explore avenues for your masterpiece that you hadn’t previously considered. Just one of our outlining methods above could transform the way you write your next book.

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