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Novel Outlining.

*puff puff pant pant*

I've just finished outlining my novel, and boy, it feels like I just jogged a few huge rounds. And I haven't even started writing it yet!

Of course, some writers prefer not to outline their novels. It stifles their creativity. Take Stephen King, for instance. He just dives straight into his prose and hopes for the best. His reason, he says, is that he loves to be surprised when he gets to the ending. I totally get that, but I'm not Stephen King, so I have to outline.

An outline is useful for keeping me reminded of what to write next and, hopefully, will stop writer's block from happening. And who's to say there won't be any surprises? A novel outline is like a road map. Sure, you know where you're going, but if you take a little detour, you might see some stuff you weren't really expecting.

Now that the outline's done, I more psyched than ever before to get done with my novel. Hurrah!

Here are some links for those wondering about outlining:
  1. Effectively Outlining Your Plot by Lee Masterson
  2. Novel Outlining by Paperback Writer
  3. Footsteps to a Novel by Margaret McGaffey Fisk
  4. Creating the Professional Plot Outline by Holly Lisle
Happy outlining!

John Ling (author of Fourteen Bullets) offers an alternative technique to outlining in the comments section.


  1. Hi Ted,

    There's actually another technique that's pretty effective. It's called 'the conversation'. It helps you not only outline, but to question and probe the viability of your story as you go along.

    In essence, you are having a conversation with yourself. It goes something like this:

    "Hi Andy, how are you doing today?"

    "I'm doing great. I'm real excited. I'm going to start on this new novel."

    "Really? What is it about?"

    "Well, I saw this documentary the other night. About the witness protection programme. Wouldn't it be cool, you think, if you found out one day that your next door neighbour was formerly involved with criminals?"

    "Aha. Go on."

    "My hero used to be involved in intelligence and black operations. Think Alias. However, he got sick of the bureaucracy and inept politicking. He decides to call it a day and moves with his family to a town. Life is good. It's the ordinary life he always wanted."

    "And then?"

    "Then, one day, his neighbour is attacked by gunmen and his house explodes. In the confusion, he neighbour slips away. But my hero's daughter gets hit by a stray bullet and lands in the hospital. My reluctant hero feels compelled to go after his neighbour and find out the truth..."

    "Wait, wait. That doesn't make sense. Your hero is a family man, right? A family man wouldn't do that."

    "He wouldn't?"

    "No, of course not. He'll stay with his family and make sure that his daughter is okay. He would leave the messy bits for the police to unravel."


    "Andy, keep in mind, every story has to start with a character wanting something, if only a glass of water. You build conflict on that. Now, being a family man, what does your hero want most? Does he want to pursue his neighbour or does he want to stay with his family? The guy left intelligence already, for goodness sake."

    "Uhm, he stays with his family. He needs to protect them and comfort them. That would be his first instinct."

    "That's right. He wouldn't go running off just like that."

    "But I still want to use the basic plot."

    "Okay, let's look at it a different way. You want him to go after his neighbour, correct? Well, let's take away his family. I mean, let's make your hero a single man who is burnt out and wants a normal life. Furthermore, let's make that neighbour a woman. Create an attraction. Create a relationship from scratch. Then, without warning, she gets attacked by gunmen and her house thereafter blows up. She disappears."

    "Hmmm... that's right. We can create some conflict here. It looks like she only had a relationship with him because she was using him like some sort of bodyguard. To selfishly protect herself from anyone who would harm her."

    "Yup, and that's why he has to go after her. He is confused and hurt. He has to know whether their love was real. That is what ultimately drags him back into his old ways."

    Pretty long example, I know.

    The conversation works very well because you are constantly asking "why, why, why?" and "so what?". It helps to keep your work organic and character-driven. It's a nice trade off between writing a mechanical outline and writing as you go along.

    John Ling

  2. Wow! That really was an exhaustive (but certainly not exhausting!) example. That's a pretty good technique, sort of like brainstorming, but on paper, and with uh, an imaginary person. I must try that out sometime with some of my short stories.

    Thanks for the tip, John!

    btw, is this a preview of sorts of a future story you have in mind? *cough cough* *hint hint nudge nudge*


  3. Yes, indeed.

    It helps you avoid the pitfalls of the 'idiot plot', where your characters do or say things mechanically simply because the outline requires them to. The conversation technique works well because after you work out all the emotional undertones and motivations, it's rather easy to convert it into a formal outline, if you so wish. =)

    But no, haha, it's not a future work I plan to do. It's just something I dreamed up on the spot. =)

  4. I was concerned a bit about the "idiot plot" thing at first, but I decided that to overcome that particular problem would be to think of the outline as a rough "guide" rather than a strict A-to-B-to-C plotline.

    So if I were to find my characters acting out of er, character, I'd bend my outline a bit. No idea if it'll work for my novel but it's been helpful so far in writing my shorts. Of course, it's also helpful that I actually design my characters before I start outlining.

    Anyways, I assume this dialogue technique is how you plot your stories? It sure is interesting getting an insight into how you write! :D

  5. Yup, absolutely. =)

    It has to start with your character wanting something. Conflict develops when your character is challenged in getting what he or she wants. A series of conflicts then become a plot.

    John Ling

  6. Make your character climb a tree then throw rocks at him huh? Hehe

    Once again, thanks for the insight!


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