Writing

How To Outline Your Books


It’s never been a secret that I’m in love with lists. Lists are important to me and keep me on track. Plus, it keeps my thoughts organized so I may refer back without having to decipher any mystical notes. Now, not everyone uses outlines, but there are cases where they will be beneficial to you. Namely, when you’re working on a MS and inspiration strikes for another. I’ll discuss how to choose which work later, but for now, let’s talk about how to outline a book so that you can write up that MS later.

  • TRY TO KEEP IT TO ONE NOTEBOOK/WORD DOC
    I have a single notebook dedicated to outlines. Outlines usually are no more than 10 pages, front and back, for me, so I only need a single notebook. You may need multiple notebooks depending on how long your work is and how detailed you decide to make your notes. Regardless, using a single notebook will help to keep everything in order and will allow for easier reference later on.
  • MAKE NOTES IN PARTS
    I tend to have an idea of how many chapters I will have prior before I start to write, but that’s just me. Regardless, take notes and stop once you feel comfortable ending a chapter there. Then, make a break of some kind in your writing, then continue to take notes as if you are writing another chapter. It will help you see where you can end and begin chapters, plus you can always fill in details and combine chapters later once you’ve got a clear view of the timeline.
  • USE BULLET POINTS
    For example:
    – Crystal goes to her boss, nervous and bitter
    – She steps into his office and scans the room – describe the room as sparse and empty
    – The boss isn’t there and she is both frustrated and relieved
    Keeps everything clear, easier to read, and will allow for short spurts of note-taking with direct details and emotions.
  • BE DETAILED
    The more detailed and direct you can be in your notes, the easier it will be to apply into your writing. Notice in the previous example how I take down every emotion or image I wish to convey later on. I don’t say exactly how I will describe it that way, which gives me the freedom to do so later on, but I make sure to mark it down because it may be important for future characterization. Be detailed, but not so much so it becomes a first draft, instead of a list.
  • COME UP WITH A WITTY BIT OF DIALOGUE? OR A LINE YOU MAY WANT TO USE LATER? FIT IT INTO YOUR OUTLINE!
    I do this all the time. I’ll be working on an outline and be hit with a snippet of a scene with very specific dialogue or description. While I don’t want to turn my outline into a draft, if I’m hit with a major piece of dialogue or description, I add it to the outline. An outline is just a list of notes in a specific timeline format, and if you’ve utilized the short, detailed, bulleted aspect of the outline, then you should have enough room to go back and take down that bit of inspiration. If not, you can mark it down and put the page number where you wish to add it, plus the number of the bullet point on that page. But keep this info on a separate page, somewhere you can keep a separate list of direct quotes or descriptions to be added later so you don’t muddle your outline.
  • YOU DON’T HAVE TO FOLLOW THE OUTLINE EXACTLY
    An outline is there for you to refer to later. It’s for you to remember where you wanted your story to start and where you wanted it to end, but as time goes on you may want to add things to the middle or take them out. Just do the best you can with what ideas you have, then worry about pushing out the words.

Not everyone likes outlines, but they can be helpful if utilized properly, not to say there is one way to use them, either. Take these tools, use them, change them, and maybe they can help you pump out your next great novel. Now, for questions. Have you used outlines before? Do you prefer orderly outlines or scattered thoughts? Do you keep a notebook for outlines? Do you not use outlines at all? Will you now? Have another tip for making up outlines? Let me know, and comment below!

Thanks for reading.

-Lissy

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