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How To Outline Your Novel

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Introduction

Are you ready to write your best-selling novel? Are you having trouble organizing the plot, keeping track of the characters, and brainstorming ideas? Use these helpful tips to kickstart your writing process! It takes a lot of time, planning and patience to create a good novel. Before you open up that notebook or get onto Microsoft Word, you might want to consider doing a good amount of planning and brainstorming. This will help you get to know your characters, develop an easy to follow plot, and generate good ideas before you jump into the action of your story. 

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Basic Outline

The first thing you want to do when you are planning a novel is to create a basic outline. This should contain the general information about your book to provide you with what you are hoping to accomplish with this piece of writing. In your basic outline, you should include a working "title" for your story, a list of general characters (probably just your main characters first), and a 100 word summary of what your novel is about. This will not only help you get started with your writing, but your 100 word summary can later be edited and used as your synopsis in query letters when you are pitching your book to publishers. 

Detailed Outline

This is the next step up from your basic outline. Now that you have narrowed your topic and have a short summary of your novel, let's work out some of the details that will be involved in this story. This is specifically designed for you to think about the major events and plot points in your story. In your detailed outline, you will want to include all major events/plot points, the names of the characters involved, and the possible outcomes for each events. Remember that this is a working template and that you will (most likely) be changing this and drafting new versions of it often. 

The Freytag Model: The Plot Diagram

Once you have drafted up a finalized version of your detailed outline, use the Freytag model to help you further understand the elements of your novel. The Freytag model is the basic plot diagram. It is used by many scholars to analyze stories and novels, but it also works as a wonderful tool to help you organize your story. The Freytag Model includes the following elements of a story: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and the resolution. Take the main events from your detailed plot outline and determine where your events would fit on the the model. Then, fill in your own Freytag Model Chart. Keep this somewhere that you can access it constantly while you are writing your novel; it will come in handy during those times when you feel like your novel is losing steam or you are steering from the path a bit. Always know what the main goal and path is of your story. 

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General Character Profile

Now that you have sorted out the plot of your story, you need to take some time to get to know your characters. Creating a basic profile for each of your characters will help you keep track of them and add detailed information about them in your manuscript. A general character profile should include their role in the story (protagonist, antagonist, or side character), name, main goals, and motivations. Keep in mind that this is a basic profile, so you may choose to write this in bullet or list format to keep it clear and concise. 

Detailed Character Profiles

This is where you really get into the meat of your characters. Feel free to pick their brains and get inside their heads. A detailed character profile should include the following information: date of birth, age, hometown, family life, favorites (food, movies, music, hobbies), and personal qualities (relationships, behaviors, habits, etc.). If you want to have a little more fun with this, create a fake Facebook profile for your character. It should tell you a lot about who this person is and help you develop your ideas and interests with your characters. 

What's In Your Pocket?

This is a fun writing prompt that you can use to really understand your main characters better. Write down your character's name on a piece of paper, then decide what items this character would have in their pocket at this exact moment, and explain the significance of each object. The purpose of this is for you to get to know your characters and also understand what things might be important to your character. This is really great for adding details to your writing when you are adding in character descriptions to your manuscript. 

Deciding On A Perspective

Hasn't anyone told you to avoid the old "character soup" mess when you are writing a novel? It is very true that trying to write a story from too many perspectives can actually be more harmful than helpful to your book. Consider sticking to either first person or third person, and decide how you are going to write in this perspective.

Things to Consider:

  • What tense will your be writing in?
  • How will you transition? (if you are using more than one perspective)
  • Omniscient or limited perspective?

Conclusion

Writing a novel can be very difficult. Probably the most challenging thing is the planning process for your story. Make sure that you take the time to go through all of these steps before you begin typing that manuscript. In the long run, it will save you a lot of time, tears, and sweat. It's an easy way to stay organized and know where you are headed, even if you haven't quite ironed out all of the details of your novel yet. I hope this information helps and leads you to creating your wonderful masterpiece! Remember; anyone can write anything, you just have to have the courage to do it...

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