5 Different Ways to Outline a Novel

5 Different Ways to Outline a Novel

Writing a novel can be a lot of work, and at times, it can be stressful. Sometimes, planning your thoughts and ideas out help you as a writer. That is where outlining comes in. Outlining is a way to put your thoughts and ideas on paper in a constructive way. By being able to visualize the road map of your novel, it makes it easier to write.

Below you will find five methods of outlining. Read each of the descriptions carefully and pick a method that works best for you. Maybe you try one outlining technique for one project and then another for the next. It is completely up to you! These methods are designed to help you as a writer. You will also find in this post and outlining cheat sheet that will help you pick your technique and start putting it to work. 

1. The Reverse Outline

The reverse outline works sort of in a backward method. There is two way you can do this. You can either just full out free write your novel then go back in and break it down into scenes, or you can start with how you want to end with your story and work backwards. The choice is completetly up to you!  Either way,  the whole idea is to do things in a backwards fashion.

2. Snowflake Method

The snowflake method, or the expanding outline, starts off simple then grows. For example, you start with a single sentence or idea point. "Johnny likes to play baseball," then you add to it. "Johnny likes to play baseball because his father puts pressure on him to succeed." You repeat this process over and over again by continuing to expand. "Johnny likes to play baseball because his father puts pressure on him to succeed. After his mother died, his father started to get tough on him." The best way to do this is to put down a bunch of idea points on a piece of paper, then tackle one at a time. 


3. The Skeletal Outline

Think bareboned and academic, this outlining technique is a popular method in schools. The idea is to lay out your narrative points to give your story a structure. You want to make a classic outline but with the title points shown below.

1. Exposition

2. Inciting Incident

3. Rising Action

4. Climax

5. Falling Action

6. Resolution

Underneath each point, you want to bullet point main ideas or "scenes." This gives your story a basic structure for you to work off of and follow. 


4. The Three-act Structure

This outlining technique is a really good way to get your story's plot down. This structured approach goes off of screenplays. It works in three acts: the first quarter, the middle, and the final quarter. Act One is the beginning of your story. Act Two is the middle of your story (about 50%), and the final quarter, Act Three, is the ending of your story. 

In the first act, there are three elements: the opening scene, the inciting event, and the main conflict. The opening scene is meant to introduce the character, the setting, and the problem. The second act is where the action rises to the climax. This is where the pivotal changing point happens. The third act ends in the resolution.

The best way to plan this out is by either writing it down or using index cards. 


5. Free Writing

Free Writing is really all about just letting your ideas flow freely. The idea is not to follow a specific sequence or chapter. It is to just write down whatever comes to mind. How is this effective you may ask? Being spontaneous and allowing yourself to write in the moment brings out the best of your work as a writer. It is also fun! You can worry about piecing all of your work together later. 

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