4 Easy Outlining Methods: Find What Works Best For You

Outlining is hard. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re working on, outlining your novel is a tricky thing. Sure, it may help you in the long run, but it still requires time and thinking.

There are many different ways to outline a novel and you need to choose what works best with your line of thinking. Or, you can outline different novels in different ways. Like I said, it’s all up to you.

To ensure this post isn’t too long, I’ll be talking about four outlining methods today. I’ll have three more for you guys tomorrow.


The Snowflake Method

I remember my teachers talking about this method in school when we had to outline our essays. It was never anything that I truly understood (for whatever reason) and I never enjoyed using this method.

With that said, the snowflake method is pretty simple. Snowflakes are complex, no two ever look alike. The idea behind this method is to slowly expand upon your idea and your plot.

You start with one idea, write it down. Then you add on to that idea bit by bit slowly developing the plot and getting new ideas and a new understanding for your own novel.

It’s easy, it’s careful planning, and it takes time.

The Skeletal Outline

Exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. I’m sure you all recognize this one from school.

This is the basic outline of your plot. The beginning, middle, and end in a nutshell. You show what’s going to happen and when.

You’ll know the basic gist of your novel leaving plenty of wiggle room to add in things as you write.

Contextual Outline

This type of outline isn’t so much about theΒ plot, but about the mechanics of your novel.

If you’re writing a Harry Potter type story, you need to make sure you have a good understanding of your magic system. Otherwise nothing you write is going to make any sense.

Make a list of spells, what they mean, how they’re pronounced. Are some spells are going to be more important than others (the three killing curses, for example)? What are the rules of the magic? Do you need a wand or can you just flick your wrist?

That’s just an example. Contextual outlining builds your world, the general rules of your novel, characters, and everything in between. Just not necessarily your plot, which you may just wing it.

Free Writing

Sure you can free write your novel without having to outline anything. Or you can free write your outline.

Free writing your outline means you just babble on and on about your novel and plot. “This is going to happen to Character A and then Character B will come along and do this. After that, Character B will die, but Character A will end up prevailing and save the world.”

You’re more or less writing the story without the major details. You’re just getting the bare bones down on paper to make sure you don’t forget any ideas.

You can also write certain scenes and lines that you’ve thought of and you want to go into the novel at some point.

In conclusion…

As I said, there are many ways to outline and novel. I have seven different ways (three of which we’ll talk about tomorrow since those are the methods I use), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other methods out there.

Everyone works differently.

Do you outline your novels in any of these four ways? Or do you use a different method? Let me know in the comments below!

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34 thoughts on “4 Easy Outlining Methods: Find What Works Best For You

  1. I can’t quite tell what system I use. Some parts seem skeletal while others are contextual. Yet, I feel like free comes into play for the details. The initial idea tends to work like the snowflake too. Guess it depends on my mood and what I’m focused on in regards to the outline.

  2. Interesting and useful post. I had an outline, chapters and the like, before I wrote my first novel, but if that experience taught me anything it’s that I needed a better one! I know you can’t stop the characters from travelling down unintended paths sometimes but I scrapped such large parts of the book as they were properly fleshed out before I wrote them. For my next full length novel, I’m trying to be more rigorous about planning and these ways give food for thought.

    • Free writing is fun. Though the few times I’ve done it I always get stuck. But it’s a fun challenge for me. πŸ™‚

  3. I outline in reverse. I write the main points of what happened in a chapter after the fact, but as the book goes on what needs to happen falls into place in the overall story arc.

    • Oh, I forgot about reverse outlining. That’s an interesting way to do it, though I’ll admit I was never able to outline that way. I would just end up confusing myself, lol.

  4. Great article. I flick between structural outlining and free outlining. Usuallly after U;ve written at least a quarter of the manuscript I go back and do more structural outlining. (usually in the style of sitting on the floor with tabs) πŸ™‚

    • That’s good. There are times when I only outline half the book or so before heading into the writing. I didn’t outline for NaNo this time though. I had every plan to, but time got away from me. Freewriting it is, lol.

      • Lol sometimes free writing can be the best. I don’t do NaNo but I am doing the 85K90day challenge again when it starts in Jan 2018. I am (hoping) to have at least some kind of loose outline by the time that deadline comes around. *fingers crossed*

          • It was started by author Julie Valerie, it runs from Jan to March and you have to write 85K words. There is an official website https://85k90.com/ and a closed facebook group for people to support each other.

            This year when the new website launched Julie even built it up that the whole year was designed so there are the 3 months for writing, a month to finish, 2 months of editing, prep for publishing etc

            I love it, done it for the last two years and it’s made such a difference. πŸ™‚

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