How To Write A Novel Outline (Like the #WriteBoss You Are!)
Hello again, lovely writers of the internet!
Did you know that you're a #WriteBoss? Yes, you! Am I confusing you? Here, let me break it down:
#WriteBoss - noun. 1. part writer, part boss. 2. 100% awesome, go-getting, bring-'em-to-their-knees writing hero. 3. the best kind of writer.
One of my favorite lady bosses, the lovely Regina of byRegina fame, created a Blog Business Plan for her followers that I thought was just incredible. It's the gift that keeps on giving! Months ago I used it to help define my brand plan and get myself organized while creating She's Novel.
And just days ago, it gave me a crazy light-bulb moment that I used to create this post:
"If business bosses like Regina create business plans to improve their brands, why
shouldn't #WriteBosses like us create novel plans to improve our books? "
And the angels sang hallelujah!
Let's face it, outlining is nobody's favorite part of book-writing. It's boring and time-consuming and tedious.
There are a million different "experts" telling you how it should be done and you never end up completing it anyway. So why not pursue something better, right? Something that is organized and professional and actually useful?
Sounds like a plan, right? That's why I've created the Epic Novel Plan. It's part business, part organization, and 100% awesome. So let's get to it!
Define a purpose for your novel that will keep you focused during the writing process.
1. Novel Summary + Goals
A. Novel Summary
Your novel summary is a short overview of the plot of your story. Typically between one and five paragraphs, the novel summary highlights the main points of the action according to your plot structure, including the resolution. If you are having trouble writing this, you might want to wait on drafting your Epic Novel Plan and go back to figuring out How to Choose a Story Topic.
A theme is the simple subject or message of the story, such as "love conquers all" or "there's no place like home". A motif is a recurring object or idea that acts as symbolism in the story. A popular example would be the green light across the bay in The Great Gatsby.
Both theme and motif are essential because they are used to convey something of importance to the reader. Writing them down will help you focus on incorporating those items while writing the first draft.
C. Mission Statement
Business plans have mission statements to help a company declare the purpose of their existence. Your novel should have a mission statement as well. It doesn't have to be long; just a sentence or two will suffice. Here are some questions to ask yourself while writing your novel mission statement.
- Why are you writing this novel?
- What is your novel's theme(s)?
- What issues are you highlighting in the story?
- Do you plan on publishing your novel?
- Who would be your ideal reader?
Your novel mission statement should be concise and effective in stating your intentions for the novel.
An example of a novel mission statement might be, "Undeclared highlights the importance of self-discovery in education for college students through the eyes of freshman art student Amy Smith, a self-declared 'hippie child' and lover of all things off the beaten path."
D. Ideal Reader
Who are you writing your story for? What is their age and sex? Where do they live and work? How much of an education do they have? Take the time to paint an image of your ideal reader so that you can focus on reaching similar people as you write.
E. Publishing Ideals
What are your plans for your novel? Is this piece just for you or are you looking to get it published? Will you self-publish or seek out a traditional publishing house contract? Do you plan to use this book to launch a writing career or was this just for fun?
Identifying your publishing ideals will help you create goals and expectations for your work that will help you improve as you write.
Identify often overlooked elements of your novel and solidify your writing plan.
2. Novel Basics
Your novel can be categorized into three different types of genre. The first is broad-term. These are umbrella genres like fantasy, romance, science-fiction, thriller, and horror.
The second type is your genre niche or sub-genre. These are sub-categories under the umbrella genres that include cyber-punk, magic realism, psycho thriller, police procedural, etc.
The third and final type of genre is your age market. This is typically broken up into children's (12 and under), young adult (13-17), new adult (18-25), and adult (25 and above).
Knowing your novel's genres will help you adapt certain elements in your book to better attain specific publishing goals. I suggest doing a little research into your umbrella genre's publishing market to see which sub-genre books sell best and how books in your own sub-genre are selling.
B. Estimated Word Count + Deadlines
How long will your finished manuscript be? Keep in mind that anything over 40,000 words is considered a novel, but most novels average at least 75,000 words. Anything over 130,000 words will be very hard to get published if you are not already an established author.
You may also consider planning out how many parts and/or chapters you are going to break your novel into. Knowing this ahead of time will help you set a pace for your story in the first draft.
Do you have any deadlines that need to be considered, either from an agent, a publishing house, or for yourself? Write these in this space as well to make them extra official.
C. Point of View
Identify the POV you will be writing from so that you know what language to use as you begin writing. Also, consider how many POV characters you are going to have and how their roles will be divided throughout the narrative. You can check out how POV and plot structure relate in this post.
Choose a driving force behind your storytelling and map out the course of action.
3. Arc Outline
A. Identifying Arc
Novels are written using either character arcs or plot arcs. Character arcs focus on the life events and emotional development of dynamic (evolving) characters. Think Harry Potter. Plot arcs follow the action of a story line that usually involves several static (unchanging) characters. Consider the search for the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones.
Identifying your story's arc(s) will help you consider what type of novel you are writing and what elements of the story you need to focus on to keep the novel moving forward. Keep in mind that readers usually love character-driven arcs because they are relatable and plot-driven arcs because they are thrilling.
B. The Outline
Yes, this is the part where you have to outline your book. The entire thing. However, this is not the part where I tell you that it has to be done a certain way or else your book will fail. You can outline your book in whatever way is most comfortable and effective for you. Here are some ways you might do that:
- Make a bulleted list of the events of your arc(s).
- Type up a full-scale Roman Numeral outline.
- Write a mini-essay covering the events of the book, like an extended novel summary.
- Make sticky notes with story events that can be moved around to help you nail down a story timeline.
- Write up summaries for each chapter or scene.
- Come up with keywords to describe the action.
- Create a mind-map of the story.
My personal preference is a bulleted list that gets as specific as the ideas are in my head. I keep this list in my Scrivener notes for easy access.
Get to know the players before the game
so you can pitch a consistent story.
4. Character Breakdown
A. Main Characters
Create a page for each of your main characters. Add in details about their appearances, their relationships, their motivations, their goals, and the events of their story for easy access during writing.
You can add any images or quotes that remind you of your character to help solidify their persona in your mind. Doing this will help you maintain a consistent and well-developed character during the course of your writing.
B. Secondary Characters
Type up a list of secondary characters. Write down any details about them that are pertinent to the story. A short paragraph summary should do.
C. Tertiary Characters
Create a list of your remaining characters. Put down a short sentence or two about them so that you remember exactly who they are and what their purpose is while you write.
Create a proper landscape for your characters
to live and your plot to thrive.
5. Setting Breakdown
A. Story Setting
Write up a summary of your story setting(s) for easy reference during the writing process.This is the overall setting for the story. You may have just one or several.
Consider noting the country and city the story takes place in, the era of time, the culture and language, the weather, the clothing, the religion, and any other details of note. This will help you maintain consistency throughout your writing.
B. Scene Setting
This is the setting in particular scenes from your story. You may have only a few or there may be tens or hundreds. Write down every one, including what objects are in the setting, what the weather is like, what cultures and religions were present in the setting, and any other details you might consider mentioning about the scene when writing.
As always, this will help you maintain consistency in your writing.
Keep all your hard-earned and lofty knowledge in one place for easy writing access.
A. Primary Notes
These are the research notes that are most pertinent to your story. Considering including entire articles, your own summaries of information, any images or screenshots that caught your eye, and additional media. Don't forget to include where you sourced your information as well.
Having these research notes nearby and well-organized will help speed-up the writing process as well as keep you straight when it comes to your sources.
B. Secondary Notes
In this section, place any research notes that are directly related to your story, but that you have yet to figure out where to use.
C. Tertiary Notes
In this section, place any research notes that might pertain to your story in the future, but that you don't currently plan on using.
Aaaand...you are done. Congratulations! Now that you've wrapped up the Epic Novel Plan, give yourself a nice pat on the back. And a cupcake. Always a cupcake. *wink*
Let me know how the Epic Novel Plan serves you as you write. It's a brand new plan, even for me, so I'm curious to see how it plays out in the field. Don't hesitate to let me know if it needs a few adjustments.
Did I include sections for everything you believe is important for planning out your novel? What else would you like to see included or might I need to go over in further detail? Let me know in the comments below!
P.S. Is this lengthy business-style outline not really your style? No worries! There is no "right" way to write. For more awesome outline ideas, check out this article from Self-Publishing School: 11 Ways to Outline Your Book.