Book Writing 101: The Outline

You’ve probably been brainstorming your book idea for some time, and now feel confident enough to organize your story. The first step in doing so is to think back to high school English class and create an outline. The following are some tips you can follow when developing your next book or short story.

1. Genre.
There are many genres, as well as sub-genres, so it’s important that you choose which one suits your story. If it’s romance you’re after, there are over thirteen sub-genres in the category. Research and see which genre your story fits best.

2. Where and When.
To avoid a lot of re-writes, where your story takes place and when, should be defined before you begin writing. Will your story be set in the 1800’s or the present? Be as specific as you can in your outline.

3. Characters.
At the beginning of the outline, introduce your main characters. Give each one their own heading and briefly describe them. Include their physical description (height, hair, eye and skin color, and any other distinguishing features). Also add a few words about their personality. Add a sub-heading for each trait that would be important to the story.

4. Your character’s goals.
Each character should have a goal they want to achieve. The hero may want to slay the dragon and win the heart of the princess (I know, a little cliché). The villain has his own agenda, which is usually to stop the hero from fulfilling his goal. List each character’s goals separately.

5. Bumps in the road.
Write down obstacles that could hinder the main character from achieving his/her goals. Perhaps it’s another person, circumstance, or something non-human. Remember, you are just listing possibilities; you can add (or delete) to this list as you go.

6. Create your main scenes.
The main scenes in the story should add to your reader’s understanding of the characters and their goals. Don’t toss in a scene just because you need more words or you can’t bear to delete it. If it doesn’t propel the story forward, it needs to be removed (or perhaps saved and tweaked for another book).

For each scene include the following:

  • Which character/s are in the scene?
  • What is the character’s purpose in the scene?
  • Where and when does the scene happen?
  • Which character’s point of view is the scene written (it’s important to keep to one point of view for each scene)?

To sum up, as important as it is, an author rarely stays completely true to their outline. Keep your mind open to taking your characters someplace unexpected.