Basic Novel Outline Guidelines

Two of the most popular questions about writing novels I hear… How long does it take to write a novel and do you outline?  Both are great questions, but answers vary from writer to writer.  An average timeframe for writing a novel is about six months to a year.  I think that’s reasonable.  Everyone is different in speed and time they have to write a novel. 

I used to think that it was divided on whether or not to outline or not to outline your book project.  The more writers I talk to, they just dive right in without an outline or with just a basic story idea.  Whatever method works for you and the type of story you’re developing is a personal decision.  For me, I like to immerse myself into an extensive outline that eventually becomes the first choppy draft of my novel.  I don’t like to spend tons of time rewriting, so I find that doing a fairly comprehensive outline eliminates dozens of rewrites. 

I wanted to share some of my outlining tips that will help you to get ready for a book project.  These are my “big three” outline guidelines for beginning a novel. 

  • Brainstorm

Think about every aspect of your story, plot, and characters before you begin writing.  Write ideas down (even if you think you might not use it) and keep brainstorming.   Let your ideas simmer for a while.  You’ll be surprised at what you can come up with when you have some time to really think about your project.  Talk it over with a trusted friend or family member and brainstorm a little more.  It helps to talk about your story out loud. 

  • Preliminary Outline

Use your computer, notebook, index cards, recorder, or whatever feels the most comfortable to you to begin your preliminary outline.  Workout your character profiles, settings, plot sketches, and summary outline of beginning, middle, and end of the story.  Take the time to write everything about your characters: where they live, what they look like, dreams, secrets, etc.  Have fun with this process.  Know absolutely everything about all of your characters (good and bad ones), even their deepest, darkest secrets.  Write out the preliminary summary of the beginning, middle, and end.  You will begin to see a story developing.  This will quite often tell you if you really have a story worth pursuing or not.         

  • Research

This is my favorite part.  Research is very important.  You want to make sure that things make sense or appear logical.  It also helps to give a more richness to the story.  Many times you don’t realize that you need to research things, such as professions, details of actual places (cities or countries), laws, behavioral psychology, etc.  It’s important to research during the outline stage because it may affect your story and better to correct at the early stage.  Workout your facts, interviews you need to do, and crime timeline (for mystery novels).  Use all types of information gathering areas and don’t limit your research to the Internet.  You can use newspapers, magazines, library, actual people and businesses, notes from other novels, etc.   

Now, you’re ready to dig deep into the extensive outline or begin your writing.  Whatever method you choose… Happy writing!

About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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