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Don’t Just Sit There! Start Your Novel Outline

Your Novel Outline Can Make You Invincible


For a writer, nothing feels better than writing The End when your novel is finished. Beginning novelists can flounder around trying to make the first novel work. An outline can keep your story on track and make all the difference when it comes to writing your entire novel and reaching the end.

Novel outlines are as different as novel writers and there are many good sources to use. The difference for you is creating the outline and writing your story to The End

Working through your outline will

  • make sure your idea works – from start to finish
  • guide you when you are stuck
  • keep to your storyline without wandering or putting in “extra” scenes that don’t move the story forward

The more detailed your outline, for example, each scene within the chapter, the easier you will find the writing. 

Your novel outline is flexible. You can add or delete scenes or move them around in the storyline. Scenes can change as you write them. The outline makes sure that every component keeps your story on track to the end.

 Novel Outline Choices

A novel outline can be anything that helps you create an overview of the entire novel. It can be as simple as writing the chapter sequences in a notebook or as detailed as using a spreadsheet. Some people enjoy the reassurance of boxes in a spreadsheet and some the flexibility of a mind map.  There’s a style for everyone.

The Old Standby

The traditional storyboad outline is constructed with 3 x 5 index cards on a wall or bulletin board. Cards are lined up in the three act structure. 

You can carry the cards with you anywhere to make a note. This writer also added notes torn from a notebook. The beauty of this storyboard is that you can rearrange the cards any way you wish. Especially in the planning stage as you work through the complete story, it is easy to rearrange scenes.

Since 1974 when Post-it notes were invented, some writers use these sticky notes rather than index cards. The ease of use is the same.

Computer Software

Computer software has added new space-saving ways to create an outline. You can create a MS Word document with a table as a story outline. 


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Or a spreadsheet. You can create your own or search for the many available templates online.


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Download the Word or Excel templates and get started.

Many novelists rely on Scrivener as their go-to software for writing. Within the software is a bulletin board where you can “pin” cards just like the index cards on a bulletin board. As you create your outline you can move scenes and chapters the same way you can with a real life bulletin board. 

A mind map is useful for complex novels with many characters, opposing political factions and alignments, or completely different worlds. The map can not only list all the characters, but group them and illustrate interrelationships. I use FreeMind a very flexible and detailed open source tool. You can add links to research urls.  

​If free flow appeals to you, mind maps are a great way to construct your story overview. There are many options, just search for mind maps and take your pick.


There are a number of outlines available for a modest price such as Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. And many that are genre specific. A web search for your genre novel outline will give you many choices.

If your story is based on sequenced events in one day or takes place over a long period of time a timeline will help you make sure your events are in correct sequence. Aeon Timeline not only makes it easy to visualize the entire sequence but integrates with Scrivener.


In The Cloud

Cloud storage frees up space on your computer’s hard disk. Google Drive offers Docs and Sheets for word processing and spreadsheets. I use Docs when I am writing short stories. I keep it simple by creating a character list and chapter outline in the main document. I can quickly go to the outline using a header which shows up on the left. 

Sterling and Stone is beta testing a writing app called StoryShop. You can get on the list now when it goes live.

Do The Work, Then Write

The number of ways you can create your novel outline are manifold. Choose the method that fits your personality, your writing style, and your genre. The important step is to create the outline.
Work through your story. Use whatever structure and beat sequence you want. Fill in all the components of your novel. You’ll find that writing will go faster when you know exactly how a scene fits into a story. 
The novel outline is a power tool for getting to the end of your novel.

Zara Altair

​Have questions about outlining your novel? Get in touch. zara@zaraaltair.com

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