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Inspiring ways to outline your next novel

18 October 2018

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At school, we’re always told about the importance of planning, and creating an outline remains - even for professional writers - the best way to get all of those initial ideas down.

During the planning stages, an outline helps you structure and direct your writing. They’re also great tools for when you feel lost or if you’re not sure where to pick up from after a break.

Below are three inspiring ways to produce an outline for your next masterpiece.

1. Mind-map

Mind-maps are often the first port of call when authors want to jot down their ideas, but they can also be a great tool for all stages of novel writing.

The most effective way to use a mind-map in the initial stages is to make it as messy as humanly possible, allowing all of your creative ideas to flow onto one piece of paper. Even if you decide to create a more structured outline later, a messy mind-map can always be referred back to for some inspiration.

Example - thematic: a mind-map is a great way to structure a thematic outline. Thematic outlines focus on key words that describe the setting, emotion and general feel of the novel.

2. Skeletal

A skeletal outline works as a more structured way to include all of the integral parts of your novel that can help speed up the writing process.

The skeletal outline works well for those who are writing fiction, or who have a chronological or chapter-by-chapter grasp of their novel.

Example - chapter-by-chapter: A skeletal outline works like a table of contents, so writing the expected chapter headings before you get there can really focus your thinking when it comes to fleshing it out with some real content.

3. Sticky notes

Sticky notes are a great way to outline. If you need to re-arrange a chapter (especially for non-fiction) you can simply move the post-it notes around rather than mess up a previously neat outline.

The Post-It note method can work wonderfully for those who are still structuring the chapters of their novel, because they’re easy to re-arrange, remove or replace.

Example - reverse: A reverse outline is a great example of how to use the sticky note method. Your first note can have ideas about how your novel ends, with subsequent sticky-notes demonstrating how the ending to your novel was reached.


Remember - you can also combine any (or all) of the above methods to fit your style. As well as identifying your goals and helping you stay on track, having an outline is a great way to avoid inadvertently creating plot holes or accidentally excluding vital information from the novel.

There’s no right or wrong way to produce an outline. If you’re more of a creative person, your outline may reflect that. Writing is a creative process, but depending on your learning and planning style, you may find certain ways of outlining more easy or difficult to follow.

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