5 More Outlining Methods For Your Novel

Yesterday I listed five different outlining methods for your novel. Today, I have more.

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Snowflake Method

This is also known as the expanding method. You begin with an idea and simple expand on it. It’s easier said than done, but if you have ideas, it’ll fill itself in.

I personally have never used this method but I know you can go about this one two different ways. You can start at the beginning and expand upon how the story starts – getting from point A to point B. Or you can start at the end and work your way backwards if you’re unsure how to get to the end. What events could lead to the end?

Contextual

This is a slightly different kind of outline in which you don’t necessarily focus on the plot and the events leading to it, but the mechanics of the story. This means if you’re writing a story with magic in it, be sure to have your magic system worked out. This could also be different languages, cultures, and the like.

Skeletal

This is a popular outline for academic papers. I’m sure most, if not all, of you have heard of this and used it for essays in school. This is an outline that focuses on the core points of your plot. This includes the exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. This outlines your plot in detail breaking it up into different sections.

Visual Map

This is a fun method. You can create charts, maps, or timelines. I love using a web diagram to write one idea in the middle and then expand around it, expanding on those other ideas in the process. I mostly use that kind of map for the setting and various locations.

I’ll write the main setting in the middle and then list all the places my characters go around it. I’ll write why they go to each location in their own bubbles as well. That’s the best way this kind of outline has worked for me; especially since setting is something I personally lack at when it comes to writing.

Free Writing

Writing the first draft can be a kind of outline. We all know the first drafts aren’t going to be published. They’re guidelines for the second draft and so on. However, as you write the first draft, it doesn’t hurt to keep a list of notes. Plot ideas, characters, and even notes for editing down the road. Even if you keep a list of scenes, it’ll be easier in the long run to keep track of. Sometimes writing the actual novel is the best outline because everything is already in place and all you need to do is just move things around and look at your notes.

Do you have any other methods? Let me know in the comments below. If you liked this post, please share it around.

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The Downside To Outlining Your Novel

When it comes to any stage of the creative writing process, there’s always some pros and cons to it. Not all writing is glamorous and it sounds more exciting than it really is at times. Outlining is a step some people skip and one that everyone does differently. So, here’s the downside to outlining your novel.

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Before the First Draft

When I outline before the first draft, I feel a certain thrill for my novel. I’m excited, the ideas are brand new and fresh. I can’t wait to get to know my characters and explore a new world I’ve created.

If I get any new ideas, I have to write it down otherwise I’ll forget. Sometimes I write details that I believe the event might occur but other times I just write the basic idea down and call it day.

So, when the outline is over and it’s time to write the first draft, there’s one of two things that might happen:

1. I write the first draft without a problem.

Obviously, this is the best way to go. The outline guides me as it’s supposed to. Some ideas stay the same, some change. New characters are added and so on and so forth. This is the ideal way I’d love for all my novels to go.

But it doesn’t always happen that way.

2. The thrill is gone.

There have been times where I’ve outlined and then, when it comes time to write the first draft, I have no more motivation to write the story anymore.

Why?

Because I more or less already wrote it. Sometimes I write so many details into the outline, or I’ve worked on it for so long that the idea has been cooking for a while, that when I start the first draft I feel like I already wrote it.

This makes the process of writing the first draft slow. I wish that it was already written and I could just get started on the editing process. There’s a lot more detail and description that has to go into the first draft though.

I love outlining but there have been times where it’s been more work than I meant it to be. Sometimes, even if you outline all the time, it’s best not to outline and just wing the project. Everyone works differently but also I think every project needs to be tackled with its own unique approach.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you put yourself in a writing slump before? Let me know in the comments below. If you liked this post, please share it around.

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Using Research As Your Novel Outline

I’ll be honest – there haven’t been too many people I’ve come across who outline before writing the first draft of their novel. Outlining isn’t everyone’s favorite thing to do in the world. I personally love it, but that’s a blog post for a different day.

Research, on the other hand, is something that people do quite often and at during multiple stages of the writing process. If I have an idea of what information I need to know, I always spend a good amount of time researching before writing. Using research as your novel outline is a great way to outline without “spoiling” the novel for yourself.

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A lot of research goes into novel writing. Despite it being fiction, we as writers try to make things as realistic as possible. We want it to be real for our readers. Researching is the way to do that and there are many different things we can research in outline form to set up for our first draft.

Setting & Time Period

Setting is easy and hard. If you’re writing about a place you’ve been to before, it comes somewhat easily. If you decide to base your novel in a foreign place unknown to you, then you need to research. This may include traveling to that place, jotting down ideas, taking pictures, and the like. I mean, why not make a vacation out of it?

Unless you were born in the 50s, you have no idea what it was like to live in the 50s. School was different back then, they dressed differently, and there are even different slang terms than we have now. This is research you need to do in order to make your characters authentic.

Characters

Speaking of characters, people were named differently back then as well. Certain names are more common in certain generations. Do you necessarily need to follow that? No, not really, but sometimes it’s helpful to know. We all have different “roles” as well. Yes, everyone should be treated equally, but maybe in your novel they’re not.

How To…

How many of you out there are writing about war or have frequent battle scenes? Do you know what it’s like to wield a sword? Do you know any fighting stances or techniques? Researching this before you write your novel will help the first draft go smoother when you get to those scenes. It’ll still need editing for sure, but less so in the long run.

Then there’s horseback riding, how to sew on a button, how to murder someone, and so much more. We can write about what we know and what we have experience with, but it’s more fun to write about what we don’t know and experience it first-hand through research.

So, whether you outline or not, doing a little bit of research beforehand is always a good way to go. Unless you want to completely wing and make stuff up… that’s cool too.

Do you research at all? If so, do you do some before the writing begins? Let me know in the comments below. Good luck! If you liked this post, please share it around!

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Why I Outline As I Write

Most people outline before they being writing their novel.

If we learned anything last week, it’s that we can outline before, during, and after we write the novel.

This isn’t something I realized I could do until recently, though. I always thought I had to outline before I started writing. Last year for Camp NaNo I didn’t finish my outline in time and ended up outlining as I wrote the novel.

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After spending the time before the writing process to outline and adding additional writing time to outline some more as I put words to paper, I discovered a brand new world and realized that I had been outlining all wrong.

I mean, for me, anyway.

I used to outline each scene, picking out plot points and important things here and there before I began to write. Then as I wrote, I tried my best to stick to it. Of course, outlines always change and characters have a mind of their own and decide to change course without telling you.

So, as I wrote my novel I stuck with the guideline, changing it as I saw fit. I added to it when I wrote new things, rearranging the scenes, and taking some away. In the end, it was a pretty big mess. I found myself working more on the outline than the actual novel. I was spending more time trying to figure out what I was trying to say rather than just saying it.

For the next novel, I decided to outline differently. I summarized each chapter before writing as well as made a list of characters, plot points I hoped to get across, settings, and more. I realized summarizing the chapters would allow me more wiggle room rather than practically writing the story scene by scene, just minus the extra details and words.

Then I started writing.

As I wrote, I realized something else. Why can’t I map out each scene like I had before as I wrote? By the time I get to the editing stage, the scene map would be more accurate than the chapter summary allowing me to find certain points easier and understand more of what’s going on, what to edit, and how to edit.

In the end, I have a list of characters, settings, and more, alongside a rough summary of each chapter, and then an accurate map of each and every scene.

It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s actually not that bad at all. My mind works in strange ways and it helps.

So, that’s why I outline before and during the writing process. Will this work for you? I don’t know, but feel free to give it a shot. It can’t hurt.

How do you typically outline? Do you outline as you write, too? Let me know in the comments below!

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Should You Outline Before, During, Or After Writing?

We talked about researching for your novel at any time of the writing process. Research when you feel it’s right. But when should you outline for your novel?

You may be thinking, “Before you write the story… duh.”

And that would be the logical time, especially if you’re a planner. But what if you’re not a planner? Or what if you are, but your mind just works differently?

when-should-you-outline

I outline before I write and during the writing process. This is mainly because I want to remember every detail and make sure I’m making sense along the way. Plus, it helps with the editing process later on.

Outlining before writing

I’ve talked about 4 outlining methods and then 3 more methods afterward. Most of them are typically used before you write, but you can use those methods whenever you want.

I don’t think I need to tell you that outlining before you write probably makes the most sense and it’s most likely what most people do. The point of outlining is that you have a good idea of what your novel is about and where you want it to go so you don’t get stuck on the side of the writing road.

If that’s how you feel, then outlining before you begin writing the main story is a good idea.

Outlining during writing

I find it helpful to get some outlining done during the writing process. I keep a list of scenes and what happens in each one as I write them. This helps me remember what exactly happens when I edit.

I do this mainly because outlines are like guidelines and the story can stray pretty far from the outline once you begin writing.

So, outlining during the writing process can break you out of the story a bit, but it’s also a pretty good idea to keep track of the changes from your original outline. Or, keep track of what happens especially if you don’t have an outline or any notes.

Outlining after writing

I’ll admit that I don’t think I’ve ever outlined after the writing process was complete. If I did, I don’t remember it.

But I do think outlining after writing the main story can be beneficial. Just like keeping track of what happens as you write, you can easily recap everything that happened once you’ve finished.

Once you start editing, summarize each chapter as you read through them. This will help zero-in on what you’ve written. It’ll help you remember what happens from chapter to chapter and be easier to catch plot holes and the like.

In Conclusion…

Can you outline at any of those times for one novel? Yes. Outline, write, outline, edit, outline. Why not? It sounds like a lot of work, but I’m sure it would be worth it in the end. It’ll save a lot of headache later.

Personally, I outline before and during for each novel. I find it helpful and it works for me. If you’re a planner, switch up when you outline. You might get something new out of it.

When do you outline for your novel? Let me know in the comments below!

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3 More Outlining Methods That Help Your Novel Along

Yesterday we touched upon four outlining methods for your novel. I decided to split the post up because there are three more ways to outline.

These are the ways I outline my own novel.

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Summary

This method is pretty straight forward. You write a basic synopsis for your novel. Play around with various summaries for your story.

Write a one-sentence summary. Write a paragraph summary. Write a whole page summarizing the novel.

Summarizing gives you a good idea about what you want the point of the story to be and allow you to think about how you want to get there.

Of course, it’s sometimes easier to write a summary for your story after you’ve finished the novel. So take this one as you will.

How I use this method:

Similar to the free writing from yesterday’s post, I tend to babble out the beginning, middle, and end of my story. I actually haven’t used this method in a long time, but I used to find it helpful because it allowed me to figure out how to get from point A to point B.

Flashlight Outline

This one is pretty similar to summarizing your novel. Flashlight outline is summarizing each chapter. “In chapter one, this will happen. In chapter two, that will happen.”

You summarize each chapter without the minor details and description. This one is great so you don’t end a chapter and have to ask, “now what?” You know what you want to accomplish in each chapter and you know how to get from one idea to the next.

How I use this method:

The flashlight method is something I’ve always used, even way back when I first started writing fan fiction. And I just found out that this method has an actual name!

I use this method now before I begin any novel writing. I write a summary of each chapter, some being a paragraph long, others being a page or two depending on my thought process that day. It helps me to know what’s going to happen next and why it happens. Do I always follow it? No, but it’s a good guideline.

Scene Map

Instead of planning out each chapter, plan out each scene. It seems like a little more work, but you get a little more out of it over the chapter summary. More detail is added and you can figure out what you want to happen when. It’s easier to move around a scene from one chapter to the next rather than reworking an entire chapter.

How I use this method:

In addition to the flashlight method, I currently use the scene map. I used to do the scene map before I began writing, but now I outline a bit different.

I flashlight before writing and I use the scene map during my writing. I outline first and then outline a little deeper as I write the story.

The scene map helps me know what I wrote and when (I include the page numbers). This helps me refer back if I forget something so I don’t have to go scrolling through pages upon pages of text. It’s always easier to move scenes around in the editing process.

I use sticky notes in a notebook so they’re easy to pick up and rearrange if need be. I also have a back page dedicated to “deleted scenes.”

I think this method, along with the flashlight, is the way to go. It is for me, anyway.

Do you use any of these methods? Or do you outline in a different way? Or not at all? Let me know in the comments below!

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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.

4-outlining-methods

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 the 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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Why Outline?

Who actually outlines their novels? I know a well variety of people who outline and people who don’t outline. For the people who do not outline, is that a bad thing? No.

Outlining means to lay your novel out flat before you even begin writing it. You write the basic idea, certain scenes you want, character bios, etc. in a notebook, on the computer, on index cards, what have you. It’s almost as if you’ve mapped out your brain so when you do start writing, you’re able to write, write, write!

Outlining is optional when it comes to writing. It’s not like the first draft stage or the editing stage; you can actually skip the outlining stage. It works for some people, but it doesn’t work for others. Some prefer to freewrite from the get-go and go from there.

Via Google
Via Google

Personally, I find outlining to be a huge help, but even I don’t do it all the time.

I think it depends on the kind of project your writing. When deciding if you should outline your novel before writing, ask yourself:

–Are there going to be a lot of characters that need developing?
–How many different ways can my plot go? Will there be any opportunities where the plot will rip and cause a hole?
–Where are my characters based? Is the setting fiction or based off of a real place?

Of course, there’s also genre to consider. I believe that if you’re writing a mystery or a science fiction/fantasy novel, it always helps to outline. If there’s a lot of information the reader will obtain while reading the novel, how can you as the author be expected to remember it all while writing? That’s how plot holes happen.

As I said, outlining is completely optional. Will it hurt your writing? No, of course not. Does your outline need to be complete before you start your novel? No.

Via Google
Via Google

That’s what I love about outlines; there are no rules. You may not stick to your outline (or your characters might not), but that’s okay. An outline is just a guideline.

You can map out your ideas however you want, where ever you want, whenever you want. If you get stuck on your outline at some point, you can begin writing what you have already outlined. By the time you get to the end of your outline, you should have thought of new ideas to continue on.

When that happens to me, I continue to write and outline as I write. It makes editing a lot easier for me.

Speaking of editing… outlining is a great way to help edit; not just help with the first draft.

Once you finish your first draft, you can always refer back to your outline to look up certain characters, change some scenes around, etc.

All in all, outline helps you further understand your novel.

Related Articles:

How to Make a Novel Outline
Writing an Outline of Your Novel
Outlining Your Novel: Why and How