Some people find it boring to write from detailed outlines, because they enjoy discovering the story while writing. If you are one of these people, I have a technique for you too in this article! However, I can’t imagine trying to juggle plot, characterization, and writing style all at the same time. I’m also too much of a control freak to leave it up to chance. Additionally, if you only have a limited time to write, then a detailed outline helps you dip in and out of the writing process whenever you have a couple of minutes to spare. So for me, a detailed outline is key!
Some people use Microsoft Excel to draft their novel, but I prefer to use Microsoft Word, because I like to ramble and dump all my thoughts into one big document. If I used Word the same way most people do, though, then that would soon become an exercise in frustration. I would lose the plot before I’d even come up with it! To maintain an overview of the entire novel outline, I make use of Word’s Outline View.
The Outline View, as its name suggests, was designed with outlining in mind. There are different levels of the tree structure, starting at 1, followed by 2 and so on. Under “show levels” you can select how many subheading levels are displayed. I think 3 levels is always a good start for outlining a novel. I reserve subheading 4 for “related information” and “outtakes.”
I start with level 1, which will be the working title of the novel. Each chapter heading is level 2. Inside each chapter, I mark off scenes with level 3, and finally, I use level 4 to copy and paste or free write any scraps of information that may be relevant to that part of the chapter. This section is useful both when I’m outlining and writing a novel. If I have a piece of description or dialogue that I had to cut from a chapter, it doesn’t necessarily have to head straight for the dark nothingness of the recycle bin. I can copy it into that chapter’s level 4 subheading in case I decide to keep those sentences after further revisions. Alternatively, I might decide that these outtakes might work well in another scene I’ve already written a couple of chapters ago. In that case, I can copy my dialogue as it is into that chapter’s level 4 section and deal with it later. Similarly, if I have a flash of inspiration that doesn’t relate to the chapter I’m currently writing, I can make a note of it in the relevant section and forget about it again. This doesn’t waste time and more importantly, doesn’t break my writing concentration.
There is a lot of free advice on the internet on how to structure your novel. Some of my favorite resource websites include:
dramatica.com: You’ll find extremely detailed advice on how to break down a novel into individual story arcs, including main character arc and relationship arc.
Glen C Strathy and luisescobarblog: These are the webpages I turn to when I need to remember the basic outlines of Dramatica theory but don’t want to waste weeks of my time re-reading the theory. You can also skip the first link directly and just take a look at these two if you aren’t interested in losing your life to writing theory!
Jami Gold: This one provides a handy reference sheet for planning romance novels. I use it as inspiration when constructing my novel outline.
advancedfictionwriting: This site gives advice on how to structure your novel from scene to scene. Start at the beginning and just keep adding scenes until you reach the end! No big plan is required to create your outline this way.
The plotting advice in the last link lends itself especially well to those who like to keep it simple or for those who don’t even like to outline. If kept in mind, it can help someone craft a plot on the go while writing. For those of us who like to outline, it is a way to organically come up with a detailed outline, which we can then go back and edit, revise, and edit again until it’s as close to perfect as we can manage.
For those of you who prefer using outlines, how do you do it? What software do you tend to use when outlining your fanfiction?