Tuesday, 4 October 2011

How To Outline A Novel

It should be important for every writer. You don't have to follow the outline but it's great as a back up if anything goes wrong, such as, you suddenly develop amnesia.

Mind Maps

I find them quite annoying. They're messy and they can get very complicated. Mind Maps will only help if you're writing a simple outline. Some of the other methods may work a bit better for complicated outlines.

Write down the name of your project in the middle of the page and have different branches coming out that represent the different sections of your novel, such as: beginning, middle and end. Out of those branches, draw a little picture to show what happens in the section, like a comic. 

Revision Cards

These are quite fun to use and the great thing is that you can move the scenes around if you need to change the order and you can take scene in and out without too many problems. The only downside I see to using revision cards is that if you lose one then you lose the order. And if you drop your outline and forgot to number each scene, you're dead. Or you have to spend hours trying to remember the order. Yep, dead. 

Simple. One card = One scene. You can change the order. Just write a little bit about each scene on each card. Having a title for the card can help such as "Jimmy crashes car."

Post It Notes

Everyone loves post it notes. They're cute. You get them in loads of colours. They're sticky. You get them in loads of shapes. The way I see it: they fall out of books, they fall off walls, they rip easily, they're easy to lose and they cost way too much if you're using them by the bucket load.

This is just like the Revision Card method. One post it note = one scene. If you stick them up, make sure they don't fall down. Using pins like the ones in the example picture may help!


They can be both simple and complicated. But you can't change your order easily. And they're no fun. Lists are the most boring way to outline. But for someone who is lazy, they're ideal.

Do I need to explain this? Take a piece of paper and write down a sentence or two for each scene in chronological order. Keep a few spaces blank for added scenes or extended or edited scenes.

So here is a table about the outlining methods above.

Mind Maps
Revision Cards
Change order
Insert/delete scenes
Losing cards = nightmare
Dropping cards = nightmare
Post it notes
Different colours
Different shapes
Not sticky enough
Some of them are too small
Easy to use

Not as fun as others
Hard to change order

Now, you don't have to use an outline and for your first novel, I would suggest not using an outline just so you can see if you can write in a straight line. If you find yourself struggling, then stick to always having an outline.

Why you should have an outline:
  • They will make it easier to write. You will always know what is coming next.
  • You know where you are going. Getting lost gets harder with an outline. 
  • You can use it when you're querying agents. BUT!!! Always rewrite your outline so that it is correct, makes sense and is easy to read. 
So I hope this helps anyone who is having a hard time outlining!



  1. I totally use index cards, post it notes, and lists ALL THE TIME!!! I don't know if you saw my post last week about "Index Cards" but if not here it is...


    Let me know what you think :)

  2. Ah! I must have missed that post. I'll check it out thanks!


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