How to Outline Your Book

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How to Outline Your Book

Whether to outline or not depends only on you, while some people believe you should throw outlines out, because of the horrible effect they might have on you. The others believe they really help to overcome writer’s block and keep the process on track when you feel like you got stuck.

What is this outline?

In other words, it’s a list of the chapters or scenes which will make up the plot of your book from the first page to the last one. Think of it as of your grocery list that you need to do before cooking your special dish. You should think well what ingredients will be essential in order to prepare the dish you’ve planed. You may not yet know what exactly this dish will be, but you have a sense of the taste you’d like to have at the end of cooking. It’s like you reconsider the whole process of cooking, that’s the moment when you realize what you want to write.

Why should you outline?

There are millions of ways to outline a book, no matter what you’re writing a non-fiction history, novel, or anything else, outlines are different. It may happen that you’ve already written hundreds of pages, but later it turns out that those pages of well-crafted scenes don’t tell a full story. You were full of hope that you would manage your way to the end, but something had gone wrong. You have nothing to do with too many scenes which only a few chapters before seemed reasonable for you, what to say about the main characters that haven’t been properly developed. Hundreds of pages and scenes and no idea what to do with them, only disappointment, nothing more…

The idea to outline a book came to me, after my painful experience, and now I’m deeply convinced that outlines do matter! How did it work? Very simple, later I came back to my disappointment matter that of hundreds of pages one, and tried to outline my story, by taking those numerous scenes step by step and pieced them all together in my outline, the whole process reminded me doing a puzzle. How did it really help would you ask? A real story was created from the written pages of a full mess. Yes, it took some time, but If I only did it in time, before writing those messy pages of my disappointment! Personally for me, an outline really makes sense.

Okay, let’s go closer to the ways your book can be outlined.

Writing a Mind Map

Take your central idea as your starting point, and create the other different ideas and scenes from your main ones. Creating this mind map, you shouldn’t be too formal rather your ideas should be flowing with no restrictions and strict rules. Just relax, the rules don’t even exist when it goes about your mind mapping! Pay no attention to grammar or structure, it’s not about that, you should be comfortable, reveal your thoughts and imagination as they come to mind, no matter will they fit together or not.

When you’re ready with your map, it’s high time to look at it and try to make connections between the different ideas, scenes, and characters, just make lines between the pieces that go together. You may begin writing as soon as you’ve created your mind map, if you feel that you need more formal outline structure, go ahead!

Use the Snowflake Method

Created by Randy Ingermanson, this method allows you to reconsider everything in a more detailed way, as the Snowflake Method suggests a more detailed and formal approach. Writing an outline usually doesn’t require lots of time and is better done when you don’t carefully ponder at all. The Snowflake method, on the contrary, requires more time, but it improves every single part of your outline to a much better degree before you start working on the first draft.

How does it work? First, you take general details and then go the main idea, the characters, and scenes. With every single step, you move further and finally, you get a solid plot and outline, and then you begin writing.

The Simple Outline

Think about the scenes and write them in the order you’d like them to go. You may use your paper and pen or benefit from outline generators online; there are lots of them, by the way. The most extraordinary way to do it is hanging a wire across your room or office and pin the note cards with written outlines with clothespins. Haven’t you done this yet? Just imagine how you reorder these note cards as you wish and literally see what’s happening in your book.

The Reverse Engineered Outline

This reverse engineered outline suggests that you write your ending first and move your way back to the beginning. It’s like a planned trip to Paris, for example, you know when you’ll return and how long time you’ll be away, and you are filling the points from your end date to the beginning.

The Three Act Structure

It is a combination of three points of reference (1. the first scene where the characters and mood are followed by are set; 2. an inciting incident that stimulates the action of the novel leading to the 3. point of no return.) which enable you to develop a specific structure and arc of the book at the same time. What is more, it allows you to change and displace any detail of the plot as you move.

The Six Part Outline

Is like an enlarged type of the three acts, the six-part outline still leaves more room for your story but you are able to plot more points on your arc.

These six points are:

  • Exposition, in other words, where everything starts (setting, the place and time, and some characters are introduced).
  • Inciting incident. What happens to stimulate the characters to action?
  • Rising Action. The relevant characters take steps which became necessary due to the inciting incident.
  • Climax. When all elements are put together to answer questions, the initial incident and action all are played out dramatically.
  • Falling Action. Put it simply, it is the consequence of the climax.
  • Resolution. Sadly or happily but everything is resolved, taking us to the end of the story.

While writing your book keep in mind that there are no fast and hard rules, just follow your instinct and do your best to enjoy the whole writing process no matter what!