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        Novel Outline: A Proven Blueprint [+ Free Template!]

        • calenderSep 11, 2023
        • calender 5 min read

        Do you have a fantastic idea for a novel? A novel outline will help you to analyze whether the story is interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention. In this article, we’ll explain how to write a novel outline. We have also provided a novel outline template to kickstart your writing journey. 

        A novel outline is an organized document with important elements such as the plot, characters, and setting. It helps to understand how to use these elements while creating the novel draft. We have also provided additional steps to help you create your novel outline. So let’s get started! 

        Here’s how to outline a novel in seven easy steps: 

        • Define your story idea 
        • Define the novel’s themes and genres 
        • Finalize character personas 
        • Jot down details about the setting 
        • Decide the novel’s structure  
        • Create the novel’s plot outline 
        • Summarize the chapters briefly

        1. Define your story idea

        The first step to outlining your novel is writing down the heart of the story that you wish to convey to the readers. The protagonist’s journey,  the conflict he/she faces, and the end resolution are the heart of the story. The message or theme you wish to highlight through your story can also be a part of your story idea. This story idea can be written in 2-4 sentences.

        Answering the following questions will help you define your story idea:

        • What does the protagonist do? 
        • What does he/ she wish to achieve? 
        • Which obstacles does he/she face? 
        • Does he/ she achieve their desired goal? 

        2. Define the novel’s themes and genres 

        Noting down the novel’s themes and genres while writing a novel outline has a huge advantage: There is more clarity while conducting research for the novel. This will also help to determine which tropes to use in the novel. You can define the theme in one word and then build around the theme. 

        Ideally, the novel’s themes and genres must be described before developing the characters. This will help develop characters later on. For example, you can decide whether the character’s traits suit the novel’s themes and genres or are different from what you originally thought. 

        3. Finalize character personas 

        When learning how to write a novel outline, it’s crucial to recognize the importance of grounding your characters. A good strategy is to list all essential primary and secondary characters and their traits.

        You can note down the characters’ names, strengths, weaknesses, occupations, qualities, and how these characters are related. Following are some factors to consider while describing characters in the outline of a novel: 

        • Determine your major and minor characters and the general arcs they follow. 
        • Note down if the characters have any biases or unusual qualities. 
        • Use popular stock characters such as mentor, common man, creator, joker, and explorer to show the motivations or qualities of the main characters. You can utilize stock characters smartly by including them at specific points in the story to hook the readers’ attention. For example, to diffuse tension after a conflict, to motivate the hero after defeat, to create conflict etcetera. 
        • Create mind maps to build character personas. 

        4. Jot down details about the setting

        The setting is the novel’s foundation that cannot be ignored in the outline of a novel. The novel’s setting is the place, time, and environment where the story takes place. Following are some tips to effectively define the novel’s setting: 

        • Use maps: You can mark relevant cities and important tourist attractions on maps with different colors. If you’re using fictional settings, you have the option to get creative and create a map of all fictional places. 
        • Attach sticky notes and photos to the novel outline of location details that will play an important part in your novel. 
        • You can also divide the setting into two parts: the main setting and sub-settings in the novel outline. 
        • Instead of writing minute details, the better approach is only to mention those setting details that are important and unique to the novel. 

        Pro tip: You can use Google’s Streetview app to find interesting locations for your characters and jot them in your novel outline. 

        Answering the following questions will also help to accurately describe the setting in your novel outline: 

        • What are the characters’ relationships with the setting? 
        • How will the setting affect the characters’ lives? 
        • Which are the important landmarks of the setting? 

        The history of the places can also play a key role in the novel’s plot. For example, Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities is set in London and Paris. Since the novel centers around the French Revolution and Paris played an important role in it, the setting of Paris is significant. 

        5. Decide the novel’s structure 

        The novel’s structure is the order in which you’ve organized all your novel content. This refers to the chronology of events, whether the events occur in linear progression or if are there any flashbacks in the story. Mentioning the novel structure in 1–2 sentences gives clarity about content flow and sequence of events. Following are some of the types of novel structures you can use: 

        • Three-act structure: The beginning, middle, and end are the three parts of the structure. In the beginning, the protagonist and other important characters are introduced. This is followed by a conflict involving the protagonist (rising action) after which there is a resolution. 
        • Begin from the middle: Novels using this structure start the story with an important event that sets various events in motion. In this type of novel structure, no background information or backstory is given to readers in the beginning.
        • The hero’s journey: This is one of the most well-known concepts given by Joseph Campbell. The Hero’s Journey involves a hero going on an adventure, facing various obstacles, and overcoming them. 
        • Parallel plot structure: In this structure, there is more than one plot and all plots are linked by common characters. All parallel plots have their own rising actions and these parallel plots later play an important role in the climax. Using this plot structure helps to make the climax intense and emotional.

        What is a trope?  

        A trope refers to concepts that have been very frequently used. The crazy  scientist, the old man with wisdom, and the anti-hero are some examples of tropes. 

        6. Create the novel’s plot outline 

        This is the most crucial step of writing a novel outline which gives clarity about the core story. A plot outline is a brief summary of what happens in the novel. You can create a plot outline of 1-3 pages summarizing the main events that take place in the novel.

        You can also use the concept of Freytag’s pyramid to create a simple plot outline. Freytag’s pyramid has five elements which are exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. While exposition is the introduction to the characters and setting, rising action is the build-up between characters before the climax. Falling action is what happens to the characters after the climax and resolution is how the story ends. 

        7. Summarize your chapters briefly 

        While this is an optional step of how to outline your novel, including chapter summaries gives a sense of direction while writing. Writing a summary of 2-3  sentences summarizing the main event that takes place in every chapter gives clarity while writing.’

        You can also mention how one chapter is linked to the next chapter while writing chapter summaries. This will help you to write the scenes effectively while creating a novel draft. 

        Pro tip: You can also use various apps for creating novel outlines such as Pluot by Pluot Studios and Fabula. Story Planner by Natasha B.

        Novel outline template 

        Go through the following novel outline example of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to create your own novel outline: 

        We hope this novel outline example has given clarity about how to outline a novel. Writing a novel isn’t easy,  but we’re here to help! PaperTrue provides expert novel editing services and valuable feedback to enhance your novel. However, this is not all.

        Whether it’s how to create unforgettable antagonists or how to punctuate dialogues, we have all the answers. Here are some other useful resources to help you in your novel writing journey:

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        Priya Linkedin

        Priya has a talent for academic research and enjoys simplifying complex topics. When she's not helping students improve their writing, she can be seen reading poetry, playing the harmonium, or learning classical dance.

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