If you don’t want to become a “pantser” who allows each novel to evolve naturally through the writing process, you need to learn how to write a novel outline. Even if you do want to write without a strict storyline in place, it’s a good idea to create a loose outline that can give you some guidance if you get stuck. In this case, you will give yourself freedom to deviate from the outline at any time while keeping that safety net nearby.
I have come across some great resources that have allowed me to create my own novel outlining process. My goal for this blog post is to introduce you to some of those resources, delivering valuable tips on how to write a novel with the efficiency that an outline offers.
The Loose Outline
I came across this novel outlining strategy in a private mastermind group dedicated to online marketing. It was presented as a lesson on quickly outlining nonfiction eBooks, but I have found that it works well for fiction writers who want to create a short outline that provides some direction without restraining the natural development of the story in the writing stage.
Here are the steps involved:
- Create a brief summary of the storyline as you have it in your head at this time.
- Break your summary into 10 or more chapter titles, briefly noting the main plot points for each chapter.
- Write the story, moving from one chapter to the next as quickly as possible.
I like this method of outlining because you get to decide how much detail you put into it and how much time you spend creating it. The advantage of taking the time to add more detail to each chapter summary is that the writing process is faster, but more details may also make you feel more restrained while developing the story fully.
If you’re a pantser, you may use this method to quickly create a brief summary with basic plot points or character development ideas only. This gives you some direction as you start writing while giving you the freedom to go off on tangents and explore new ideas during the writing process.
This may seem too simplistic to actually work, but it’s intended to be bare bones and basic. It serves as a loose guide rather than a fully fleshed outline. It also works if you don’t want to spend much time in the planning phase.
The Fool Proof Outline System
I found this system in an eBook that I am using to write my first novel. It’s by author Christopher Downing and is called Fool Proof Outline: A No-Nonsense System for Productive Brainstorming, Outlining & Drafting Novels. You should know upfront that it is based on Scrivener, so you will need to purchase a copy of that novel-writing software if you don’t already have it.
This system includes a book writing outline template that you download right into your Scrivener program. If you have always wanted to learn how to use Scrivener effectively or would just like to see how one successful author uses the program, this is the book to follow.
Please note that this isn’t the fastest way to learn how to write a novel outline. The system includes brainstorming and character development in addition to outlining, so you will have a good understanding of how your novel should develop before you start writing. This is a far more detailed process than the loose outline method that we already discussed.
While you sacrifice speed, I would say that this is an effective way to learn novel outlining and book planning. I highly recommend it for first-time authors or those who may get lost when trying to keep track of the many threads and dimensions of a long, well-developed fiction story. If your novel is character based, this system will help you develop a plotline that is closely tied to your characters.
The Snowflake Outline Method
The official snowflake method was developed by Randy Ingermanson, who is now best known as the Snowflake Guy. The idea is to start with a small idea and develop it gradually through a 10-step process. Many of the steps have a recommended time limit, so you can accomplish a lot even if you only have an hour or two a day to work on outlining your novel.
I recommend this method for anyone who wants a detailed outline but doesn’t want to use Scrivener. You can use any word processing program or even plan it out on your phone in a note program, so the snowflake method is flexible when it comes to implementation.
There is a Snowflake Pro fiction writing software program that some people love, but you don’t need it to learn how to write a novel outline with the snowflake method. Start by learning about the method online and then decide if you want to use the software to organize your notes and summaries.
One Final Tip
Remain flexible as you learn how to write a novel outline using various methods. It’s possible that you will favor a different method for each novel that you write, or you could stick with one process forever. It’s important to experiment with all of your options so that you can pick the right outlining approach for the novel that you want to write.