How to Write a Good Novel Outline

Many novels start as a simple outline, so authors are sure that they have a fully thought out story before they get started. This can save them a lot of time and frustration when it comes to actually writing the book. When writers ask me how to write a great novel outline, they often just need the help getting started. Here are some steps you can take to write your first (or 10th!) novel outline.

1. Learn More About Story Structure

Great movies and novels share many of the same characteristics. They have stories with dynamic characters that progress throughout the story in a way that engages readers. Unfortunately, your audience comes to you with these preconceived notions about what makes a great story that they’re not even aware of. To write a great story, you need to make sure you hit all of those plot points. Spend some time reviewing story structure. Personally, I love Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat for both screenplays and novels. It’s why Horrible Bosses is a great movie, even if you don’t like the content.

2. The Snowflake Method

A lot of Blake Snyder’s process to turn a plot line into a beat sheet and then a storyboard is classic for the Snowflake Method. It’s where you start with this small, basic concept and keep revising it to make it longer each time. For instance, let’s say that you decide you want to write a novel about three old retired men who lose their pensions and want to rob a bank. Start your outline here.
Next, go back and ask some key questions. Who are these guys? Make a second version with their names and more information about them. Why did they lose their pensions? Write a third version. Keep doing this technique until your outline is done.

3. Divide and Write

Most commercial novels are in the 75,000 to 80,000 range. Unless you’re George RR Martin (and you’re not), you’re not likely to find a tremendous amount of readership willing to try out a first novel that’s 200,000+ words.
Since you accept that you only have this set amount of words to work with, you have a rough idea of how many words you need per chapter. Let’s start with the concept that your story has a beginning, middle, and end. Each of these sections could be roughly 25,000 words. You can keep dividing up by chapter or scene to have a rough word count goal to work from for each section.

Once you finish your novel and revise it, it’s time to hire an editor. Call me directly at 813-732-3666. I would be happy to help.