Want to learn about outlining but don’t know where to start? How about going over the basics first?
By Adric Laser | June 07, 2020
Creating an amazing outline for your book is one of the best things you can ever do to set your book up to be the best it can be. Outlining is an important skill and having a comprehensive book plan is key to its success. This guide will cover all the ins and outs that you should be aware of as you go about creating an amazing book plan.
When it comes to outlining, an outline should cover the complete structure of your unwritten book and it should assist you in articulating the innovative ideas within while at the same time helping you stick to the main points and essentials. So, without further delay, let’s dig deeper.
Do I absolutely have to create an outline for my book?
The answer to the question above is a resounding no. But then you may ask, why should I then? In order to answer this question effectively I’d have to cover an important detail about outlining. Most people think outlining simply refers to writing all the important events of your story or topics in your new proposed non-fiction title. Sadly, this is a mistaken view with many gaps.
A proper outline consists of listing all the events or scenes, storylines, as well as major and minor story arcs. It is even a place where you can pack in raw brainstorming that can assist you in writing a much more detailed story with details that go well beyond anything you would be able to do if you simply wrote your story as a stream of consciousness.
So if you ask me if you really need an outline I’d definitely answer that, yes, you should surely outline your novel or any book before you make your first draft.
Take your time in the outlining process and it is sure to pay off ten times fold when you begin the writing process.
Creating an amazing outline
Here is a quick guide on how you can create an amazing outline for your book. Outlining is all about asking proper questions to yourself. Here are some of the things that you need to ask yourself.
- What’s the actual story?
- Name of the characters and the theme of the story
- The ending
- You should also find all the main twists of events that will occur in the story
Here are some questions to start writing the outline
- Write what is in your mind
- Find the plot holes and see if you can fill them
- Asking “What if” will help you find new areas that your story could explore
The heart or core of the story at hand
Every story needs a central theme, a core so to speak. It is the true reason why people stay glued to a story and are willing to spend their time and effort to read the entire story to the end. For example, this could be something that the main character is struggling with or it could be an external objective.
You just need to look at the entire theme of the story to find its essence. To do this I would recommend looking at the outer problems that the character is facing, exploring the internal and external conflict, and digging deep into the true motivations of the characters within your story.
Finding the plot holes in your story
The next thing you should do is identify all the plot holes that make your story illogical, incoherent or unbearably dull. Then you’ll simply need to brainstorm some ways to fill them in by fixing each identified problem in a way that adds to the flow of the story and improves the overall context. Sometimes these holes are extremely hard to identify without a critical eye to look over your work. I recommend finding a test reader that can look at the story objectively and hunt for these holes. Sometimes when we write a story we are simply too close to it to see its flaws.
Backstory does matter
Most people ignore the backstory while writing a novel. The back story is usually based on the following questions:
- Why does your character want to achieve their goal?
- What made your character powerful?
- Where did your character come from, what do they struggle with and want to they want?
You can write a backstory based on the answers to these three simple questions that will be very effective as you keep the answers in mind and go about writing your book.
Weaving your story together
The next step in the outlining method I’m explaining to you today is making an attempt to weave all the pieces of your story together in a way that is both logical and entertaining. You need to make sure that all the characters have some sort of relationship to each other. But don’t get that last statement confused. Even if one character is the exact opposite of another character that too is a sort of relationship, and if in fact you decided to have them meet it would be like looking into some sort of dark mirror from another dimension. The relationship of a protagonist and antagonist are often based upon this idea. Also, remember to spend extra time listing out the goals and ambitions of both of these characters so you can better understand where conflict will exist as you write up your story.
If you follow this process correctly, you’ll be surprised how these actions effectively end up giving you a very firm grasp of the true plot that your story will end up following.
A few ideas about structuring your story
Now that we’ve covered most of the basics in the pre-development of your outline, let’s look at the task of structuring a story perfectly.
Here is a sample of a very common path many story’s take:
It is very important that you plot out a structure that effectively addresses each of the states above. The way in which you go about it has an infinite number of combinations but a good story should apply each of these elements without fail.
Here is just a short example of one way you could go about this:
The first act: This should include the main setup of the story, basically, the introduction to many of the characters and clues into what may be around the corner. This section should take up around twenty five percent of the total length of a story in terms of completed word count or total number of pages.
- The hook
- The inciting event which becomes the premise of the story
- Key events that help to prepare your characters for the tasks ahead
- First plot point
The first half of the second act: This should encompass the next twenty five percent of the story.
- The first pinch point is included here
The Midpoint: This is the point in the story usually around the fifty percent mark where things are made quite clear. You’ll need to find a way to explain a lot while leaving a nice handful of surprises that the reader can find out for themselves as they push ahead.
The second half of the second act:
- The second pitch point is included here.
The third plot point: This should be introduced at about the seventy five percent mark of your overall story.
The third act: The final conflict and resolution will be found in this part of your story.
- The climax
- The climactic moment
Outlining Individual Scenes in Your Story
Here are some easy steps to write your story scenes in an effective way
- Decide how many scenes your story should have
- Effectively label each scene to give it some context
- Write a detailed-outline for each scene which also includes small obstacles and character reactions to the events within
- Follow the structural points made above
Ideas for Outlining a Series Based on a Story
Another question many others often have is whether they should write an outline for an entire book series before they begin or just start with the first book’s outline.
Here are a few thoughts about outlining a series and how you may choose to go about it:
- The first book can offer a basic story with a well-defined plot and the beginnings of many other interconnecting plots that can be explored in future books
- The second book can explore the innerworkings of the universe your book is placed within and can offer some resolution that leads it towards an ultimate goal
- Your third book can focus on major resolutions to problems identified in the first two books and can offer a prolonged climatic period in which major actions are taken to fix these problems. An ultimate resolution can be offered or a compromise of sorts if you prefer to leave things a tad open ended and deviate from the ‘happy-ever-after’ story ending model that so many other authors have relied upon throughout history.
Final thoughts about outlining
In conclusion, I can’t state enough just how much outlining has helped me become a more effective author. I always look for ways I can improve my planning process and outlining skills as the benefits gained from a clear and effective outline when you go about the writing process are in a single word, unbelievable. You don’t have to outline and highlight every single detail of the book as that may take some of the fun out of things but you should have enough in your outline that without any additional components, it can effectively produce a story that has people glued to from beginning to end. Don’t forget to add in incredibly creative plot twists and major opportunities for self-discovery and reflection and I’m sure you’ll end up with a winning title on your hands! Thanks so much for reading.