Writing Masterclass: How to Outline Your Novel

When we looked at plotting our manuscript I discussed the idea that writing a blurb, or a brief overview, will help you to gather a solid understanding of how to formulate a path for your story. This is also known as outlining and in today’s masterclass, I would like to suggest a few hints and tips on how best create this.

So you have the idea, something simple like, ‘Guy meets girl but turns out to be a werewolf.’ That’s a great beginning but we need to ask ourselves a few questions in order to develop this further.

  1. Who is the protagonist? Who’s point of view will the story be told from?
  2. When will the story take place?
  3. Where is the conflict? We know that the character is going to turn into a werewolf but how is this going to affect the protagonist’s tale? What quest are they going to undergo to reach their resolution?
  4. Who or what is the antagonist? What obstacle is going to stand in the protagonist’s path?
  5. What will be the low point in the story? What will set the character back and create friction in the plot?
  6. How will the story end? Will there be a happy ending? A cliffhanger? A devastating end?

Once you’ve answered these, try combining them into a few short sentences to create your premise. For instance:

Sheltered country girl Sandra thinks she has found love with Liam and wants to create a home with him. When she finds out Liam is a werewolf and has been murdering the local wildlife things begin to change and Sandra’s life is turned upside down as she comes to terms with this revelation. When Liam starts killing people Sandra must stop at nothing to end the beast but at the cost of sacrificing her love and any chance at a happy ending.

To further flesh out this premise into something even more substantial we can start building scenes that begin to emerge from the above ideas. Start writing scenes down that come to mind and create a list of possible moments.

Once finished, review your list, separate them into three piles: scenes that would fit in the beginning before the conflict has arisen, the middle where the conflict is occurring, and the ending where the story is being resolved. If the scenes don’t work with your story, get rid of them. Be ruthless. Create a timeline of events, gain a solid understanding of the key scenes you want to add.

Look at your scenes, assess your characters. Would your characters actually act that way in that scene? Go back to your characters and adapt your story to suit. For instance, if your plot involves your protagonist doing something heroic when their character is a rebellious, self-gain type, then maybe you need to adjust the plot so that your protagonist has reason to be heroic.

So you have your timeline of scenes, maybe you’ve numbered them, what we need to do now is to address each scene with a little bit more attention, what is the scene’s purpose? How does it move the plot forward? Write a sentence describing each scene in as much detail as you want to write.

Pat yourself on the back, you’ve created an outline.

Lastly, check your plot for holes. Sometimes it’s best to do this after taking a break when your mind is fresh. Make sure your plot doesn’t head somewhere and then miraculously end up somewhere else. Check your settings, if your character is racing against the clock to get to their destination and is all the way across the city, make sure they don’t arrive at the destination in the next scene (unless of course your novel includes magical portals or flying).

Congratulations! You’re now ready to start writing your novel.

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