Outlining: Tips And Ideas

To outline or not to outline… that is the question.

Last week I wrote a post called, “Why Outline?” The title is pretty self-explanatory. Why should you outline your novel? I gave a list of a few (good) reasons, but ultimately the choice is yours whether you want to outline your novel or not. It’s no big deal if you decide not to.

However, if you do decide to outline your novel here are a few interesting ways to do so (if you don’t already have a particular way to outline).

Via Pinterest
Via Pinterest

The Snowflake Method: Show of hands: who has heard of this before? I have, but have I ever used it? No. I had to do a bit of research for this one because I didn’t really know what it’s about. Basically, it’s a 10-step process on how to organize your writing. You start from a small summary of the novel and go from there. The last step is to begin your first draft.

Now I know it seems like a lot of steps just to go from idea to first draft, but the idea behind it is to start small and take baby steps in organizing your mind and thoughts.

This is to ensure you don’t miss anything while you write the story. All the scenes will be laid out for you, all the characters will be unique and have a certain purpose, and (hopefully) there will be no plot holes.

Does this mean you won’t have to do any editing when the first draft is done? Of course not.

That would be too easy.

Via Pinterest
Via Pinterest

The Skeletal Outline: You know that pyramid thing you learn in elementary/middle school? Well, some people actually put that to good use when they write their novels.

They use this pyramid (plot diagram, according to the picture) to summarize each part. Each part being the exposition, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the resolution. By summarizing, you write certain scenes you want, describe what the characters are going to do and what’s going to happen to them, etc.

Some people use bullet points to highlight key concepts in each part. Personally, I think the bullet points would be easier. Then again, it wouldn’t be as detailed… unless you use a lot of bullet points.

Like the Snowflake Method, I do not use this method. To be honest, I don’t even think of my novels in terms of exposition, rising/falling action, climax, resolution, what have you. I just kind of go with the flow and write the scenes in order as they would go.

However, if I had to choose between these two methods, I think I would go for the skeletal outline. I enjoy making lists and the pyramid seems to do just that. Then again, I’m sure you could modify each method to make a unique one that works specifically for you.

20150124_151016Chapter Summary: This is how I used to outline. Way back when I wrote fan fiction. 11 years ago. Wow.

Anyway, I have no idea if anyone has ever outlined like this before, but it worked for me way back when. I don’t use that way now, but I still think it’s a decent way to outline your novel.

All I did was summarize each chapter. It’s that simple. As you can see from the picture, it ultimately looks like a block of letters (especially with my handwriting). The highlighted parts show a new chapter. Everything written after each highlight is a summary of that chapter.

I explain what scenes are going to be in the chapter, sometimes I add in some dialogue I would like some characters to say… I even have notes that say things such as: “foreshadowing… yay!” You know, so I remember how to write my plot so readers can figure out the foreshadowing, symbolism, and all that fun stuff. I especially make those notes when I realize I foreshadowed without meaning to. It’s like your subconscious is smarter than you.

There you have it. Three different ways to outline your novel, plus more (if you click on the links below). Two I’ve never used and one I used to use all the time. Everyone works differently and at their own pace. So the outlines listed above may or may not work for you; especially if outlining isn’t even your thing. However, it never hurts to try.

As stated before (many times, actually) I use my own method I made up. Well, I thought I made it up, but I have seen it floating around on the Internet. It’d be pretty cool if I had my own method, though. It’s different, but similar to the chapter summary I used to do.

But more on that tomorrow.

Further Reading:

The Snowflake Method for Designing a Novel
8 Ways to Outline a Novel
7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story

12 thoughts on “Outlining: Tips And Ideas

  1. I use the chapter outline…but after I have written the first draft. I just can’t do the outline before I have written the story. I don’t always know whats going to happen before I write it. I tried doing an outline once and it was in the trash two days after I started writing. Nothing ever stays the same. But the chapter outline is great for after the first draft. It helps me see where they may be plot holes or where I may have messed up a description.

    • Outlines are more like guidelines than rules, which is why I love them so much. They will never stay the same, but at least it can keep your thoughts somewhat organized.

      Sometimes I only do half outlines if I get stuck. Then I write the first part of my outline and through that I come up with more ideas for the rest of the novel.

      But outlines just aren’t for some people. As long as we’re all able to get our ideas down, whatever works. 🙂

  2. I use the chapter outline as well! It works the best for me as I am able to write down all that I wanna accomplish in the chapter, whereas the snowflake method would only give me specific phrases, words and sentences 🙂 (I’m not sure though, the last time I used it was a very long time ago.

    The second looks really cool. I think I may just give it a try the next time I’m writing! Great post 😀

    • The chapter outline is great. It allows you to go in depth of each chapter. Each chapter summary can be a paragraph or a couple of pages.


  3. I’ve been using the chapter outline for freelance projects, and just plain bullet point event lists with my short stories. My outline process for novels keeps changing, and I’ll be doing a post about my different methods soon.

    I have to admit, the only time I’ve ever used the skeletal outline was in school, and I’ve never used the snowflake method until recently. I did a bubble map (that became a crazy bubble map) for “Changeling”, which I believe is basically the snowflake method. Maybe I’m wrong. Dunno.

    • I think the outline kind of depends on the project you’re working on. Different stories call for different planning methods.

      I have an app on my iPod that’s a bubble map. I downloaded it hoping to help me with world building. The bubble in the middle would be a “country” or “planet” and then the smaller bubbles would branch off from each other as states, then cities/towns, etc. I never found the time to sit and actually use it, though.

      • I’m going to have to find that and try it for the same thing. I am not good at actual map design (Although I did play around with it) and have a fantasy world I need to do this with.

  4. I use something like the chapter summary method to outline my novels – nothing quite so in-depth, but more like a very short and rough description of what’s happening in each chapter. I go WAY more in-depth with my characters, though, especially since I write mainly character-based stories… I just don’t find the plot as vitally important as the people, I guess!

    • Characters do drive the story, so I totally understand. I always go in depth with everything because I’m afraid I’m going to forget something, lol.

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