How to create a book outline

The blank page can be a daunting prospect – especially for new writers. That’s why many authors choose to create a book outline before they take the plunge into writing a novel.

Book outlines help writers tackle novel writing with structure and clarity. It puts a clear plan in place to help you avoid plot holes, maintain character arcs, and create a vivid, well-structured story.

In this guide, find out how to create a book outline, and download our free book outline template to help you get started.

What is a book outline?

Think of your book outline as a map that will help you get from the beginning of your story to the end. Unlike a book synopsis, a book outline is written before you start writing your novel. It consists of an ordered list of key plot points that help your characters get from the start of their journey to their destination.

A book outline can take many different forms, but they’re all designed to do the same thing: give you direction and purpose when you’re writing your book. Outlining helps you understand your story from the start, so you can stay on track and avoid potential plot holes.

Outlining your book can also save you tons of time in the editing process. By having a clear idea of your plot points before you start writing, you can write with clear purpose and direction. As a result, taking a little time up front to create a book outline can save you lots of editing time down the road.

Should you create an outline for your book?

Not all writers believe an outline is necessary for writing a book. Known as pantsers, these writers prefer to dive straight into writing their novel. Stephen King famously relies on this approach — and it’s definitely worked for him.

That said, for planners, creating a book outline is a crucial step in writing any new novel, thanks to the structure it offers when you eventually jump in and start writing.

Pros of outlining a book

  • Stick to the story — It’s easy to overwrite when you don’t have a clear picture of where your story is going. Outlining helps you stay on track and deliver the details that are needed.
  • Don’t get stuck — Having a concrete outline means you always have a reference point when you’re writing. So on those days when words don’t flow as easily, you can keep trudging towards your next plot point.
  • Keep your story straight — Avoid plot holes and maintain suspense by creating a book outline that shows you where each scene should slot in the context of your overall narrative.
  • Understand your character arcs and motivations — Make sure your characters stick to their script and don’t surprise you by making any out-of-character moves.
  • Make editing easier — If you work to an outline, your first draft is likely to be more coherent than if you don’t. This can make writing a second draft much more manageable.

Cons of outlining a book

  • Lack of spontaneity — Some writers find that their story lacks the spontaneous nature of an un-outlined book.
  • You can’t start writing immediately — If what you love about writing is the thrill of letting your imagination run wild as you write, adding an extra step to the process can make the writing process a little slower.
  • Straying from the outline can have dramatic consequences — If you start with an outline and decide to change your story halfway through, you could end up with just as many plot holes as if you’d written the whole story as a pantser.

It’s ultimately up to you whether you want to create a book outline to guide your story. But if you’re new to novel writing, having an outline to hand is a great way to help you maintain momentum in your writing, and keep your story on track.

Sylvester Kandukira is a psychology-driven brand strategist for entrepreneurs. Through work with hundreds of clients national companies to solo entrepreneurs, he developed his signature sk24™ method. He believes that online business should be more human and that all entrepreneurs have genius they can use to impact the world.

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