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How To,  Writing Tips

How To Outline a Novel

Learning how to outline a novel is perhaps the most crucial step in writing. An outline laid out with all of the details and stages of the story leads to a more uniform, more engaging read with fewer plot holes and less confusion.

Along with an outline, you need to keep track of your story’s details like characters, timelines, locations, and more. Finding a way to organize all of this can be challenging, but today we’ll make it as easy as possible.

I’ll be breaking down exactly how to outline your novel from beginning to end and how you can organize the important information. On top of that, I will have a story bible template available for you to download which is perfect to organize your story notes and keep track of everything.

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How To Outline a Novel

To begin your outline, you’ll want to start with the most basic elements of your story including the inciting incident, the climax, and the resolution.

You want to know the main plot points before you begin so your story can progress properly. These events may be changed as you continue, but knowing them will ensure that you have a relatively equal amount of plot between each. So you should now have these elements ready for your outline:

  • Inciting Incident: what sets your story in motion
  • Climax: the biggest moment of tension, the turning point for your story
  • Resolution: how your story ends
An example:
  • Inciting Incident: main character signs up for a race
  • Climax: antagonist sabotages main character
  • Resolution: main character wins race

Now, it’s time to add further detail. You want to fill in the blanks between these three main plot points. To simplify this, I recommend using the five-point story structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

You can make a beat sheet type outline or create a more intricate one. A beat sheet is a list of bullet points indicating major events in your story.

For example, here’s how you may fill in the blanks:
  • Exposition:
    • Main character’s parents make him feel inadequate
    • Main character confides his struggles in a friend
    • Friend suggests he should make his parents proud by winning something
  • Inciting Incident: main character signs up for a race
  • Rising Action:
    • Main character trains in secret for the race
    • Main character runs into antagonist and learns he is undefeated
    • Antagonist feels threatened by Main Character and decides to sabotage him
  • Climax: antagonist sabotages main character
    • Antagonist lies to judges of the race and gets Main Character disqualified
  • Falling Action:
    • Main character learns he’s been can’t race
    • His friend learns Antagonist lied to judges
    • Main Character and Friend explain what happened to judges
    • Judges let him race
  • Resolution: main character wins race

From here, you can continue to fill in details between each beat until you feel comfortable enough with the outline to write your first draft.

As you outline your story, be sure to keep track of important events and details by using a story bible or another organization system. This way, you won’t forget to track anything.

What To Track

I like to break down what you should track into two sections: characters and world-building.

For characters, you want to write down their goals, personal relationships, likes and dislikes—things like that. For world-building, you want to detail the locations, the rules your world follows, and any other important world-related information.

To receive a full list of what to track, you can download the printable below for free. And, to learn more about what a story bible is and how to make one, or to download a story bible template already make for you, you can view this post.

It has sections for characters, for summaries and themes, for locations, and more. It’s all laid out in an easy-to-use PDF so you can get straight to planning.

Sign up for my mailing list and receive a free checklist of everything you should track for your story!

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