Outlining Your Novel – How to plan your story.

I recently tweeted a picture that showed the process I am using to outline my new novel. There were a number of replies which generally fell into two categories:

  • That is mental, you are mental #PantsersRuleTheWorld
  • Interesting, I might give it a try.


Of course, we all love to write and the more time you have to spend before you can actually sit down and indulge the core of your passion, is, well, a ball ache (or equivalent). However, by knowing where your story is going, you lose some of the ‘wandering’ that occurred in my first novel. You have a tight structure and you know the points you will need to touch to get from that exciting start to that raging climax of a finish.

That is not to say you can’t veer off course, but the degree of the veering will be vastly reduced by having invested more time during the outlining stage. As I look up to my left and see my post-it covered wall, I can easily work out the best points in which to implement a new subplot or notice where there are too many scenes of the same level of tension next to each other. Far from stifling your creativity, it provides you the capacity to expand it.

When I wrote my first novel, the thought of rewriting sections filled me with dread and fear because I did not fully understand where the other related impacts and aspects lived. It was poorly planned in that respect and had I outlined in the method I am now working with, the stages after the writing would have been more efficient. Providing you get to the end of the novel you have outlined, you get the time back!

The process is not one I have invented and there are naturally tweaks that you will implement to customise to your own particular preference, however, the steps are:

  • Brainstorm like a lunatic, writing all the ideas, plots, dialogue, and twists that fall out of your head.
  • Create an approximate story pattern with a W Storyboard.
  • Use a variety of post-its each with a direction for a chapter or scene.
  • Develop character profiles.
  • Lay the post-it notes on a wall and re-order them as appropriate.
  • See where you have gaps and fill them with worthwhile and credible content.
  • Alongside the post it notes (which I sub-categorised into acts), used different coloured post-it notes to identify the calendar timeline and chapters.
  • Document the post it notes to your laptop.
  • Get writing.


Where do you stand on the subject? Is this a crazy way to write a novel, completely contradictory to the idea of being creating? Or is this an approach you use or think could be beneficial to your writing process?

I will keep you informed with how it goes for me throughout.



9 thoughts on “Outlining Your Novel – How to plan your story.

  1. Nicci Fletcher says:

    Great process and one that makes perfect sense to me. I write both non-fiction and fiction and have always used lots of planning and detailed outlines for both genres. In non-fiction I think it’s a “no brainer” yet wasn’t sure how being so logical would work for non-fiction. I found that it works brilliantly for me. Having got the logical details down on paper (so they don’t get lost) my creative side is then free to explore and do “what it does best” without fear of forgetting something important.


    • fictionwriteruk says:

      That is a great point Nicci. When the novel exceeds 80000 it is difficult to remember which of the multitude of options you went for in a particular scene without scrawling back through it. I’m finding it beneficial to have the outline there to check on. I’m also finding that I’m running low on post it notes as I keep adding scenes that enhance the subplots!


  2. JM Sullivan says:

    So I’m one of those weird people that would fall outside those two categories (but since I’m a die-hard Plantser, it seems appropriate). I LOVE the way this looks and the organization of it all is amazing, but I know that even in a million years if I tried this I would fail miserably. So I will admire your process from afar for it’s beauty and neatness and tell you how awesome I think it is! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mica Scotti Kole says:

    I was a semi-pantser, but after spending over a year trying to make my first novel work (still working on querying it again), I realized that the plot tweaking I had done (on a huge scale) could have been avoided if I had only outlined according to the Hero’s Journey. So now I’m a die-hard plotter. My second book, written this way, has not even been officially on query, and it’s already made the agent round of Pitch Madness and had a full request. So, outlining REALLY worked out for me! http://micascottikole.com/2017/04/18/writing-transitions/

    Liked by 1 person

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