Effective Outlining: Creating An Outline

Step 1

Start with the big picture by crafting the premise/underlying idea of the story.
Expand on this premise, asking:

  • Who is the main protagonist and how will they change from the beginning to end?
  • What is the situation and central conflict?
  • What are the character’s objectives and wants/needs?
  • What are the stakes—what will happen if the character fails or doesn’t get what they want?

Write a one-paragraph summary of the novel

Step 2

Determine the setting. Setting should relate to the story, either because it directly effects the story or characters or because it sets the right tone/mood.

Research the details and plan how they will interact with the story

  • What elements will impact the story?
  • What elements will set the tone/mood

Determine secondary scenes.

  • Determines which scenes will play out in what settings
  • There should be a good reason for each placement

Step 3

Write character profiles

  • Include backstory, current situation, and endpoint
  • Determine what the character needs to learn by the end of the story
  • Plot the steps the characters will need to take to resolve internal issues
  • Determine what external forces will push the character to develop

Develop secondary characters

  • Develop limited backstory
  • Develop how they influence or support the main characters
  • Determine their mini-arc in relation to the main storyline

Step 4

Construct the plot

  • Construct a timeline of events broken into the 3-Act structure
  • Act 1: Meet Cute, Refusal/Rejection
  • Act 2: Giving in, Testing the relationship, Midpoint crisis, Reconciliation, Falling in love, Breaking up
  • Act 3: The sacrifice, the HEA/HFN

Break the timeline events into chapters

  • Each chapter MUST have a timeline event
  • Don’t cram too many events into each chapter

Step 5

Develop individual scenes with a chapter-by-chapter outline

  • Organize major events into appropriate chapters
  • List one major event/scene for every chapter
  • Each chapter should have its own theme and major/minor plot point

Add limited details about what will happen in each scene

  • Something must happen in each chapter: action or character development
  • Each plot point should move the story forward and be relevant
  • There needs to be constant progression in the storyline and the characters

Add as much details as necessary to guide the writing

  • Develop setting, character traits, backstory, and more
  • Focus on the big picture elements first