SPD StoryStudio Logo

Outlining a Novel I

Jeremy Menefee

Jeremy Menefee

Copywriter, Editor


Mar, 2017

This article series was originally posted on Jeremy Menefee’s Freelance Writer & Editor blog. He has a lot of great content for writers and is an amazing editor. In this series, he takes a look at the outlining process and breaks it down in a simple, yet effective way.


In the novel I am co-authoring at the time of this post I did not have to do much outlining – the client already had a great outline and I only had to write the scenes out, with a few plot/pacing tweaks here and there and adding my own touches. But for writing a novel from scratch, the process is a bit more involved, for me at least.

Scrivener is a great tool to help with both outlining and writing.

Some folks are “pantsers”, writing from the seat of their pants as whim takes them, but that’s not a talent I have. Or at least, doing so scares me! I’m an outliner at heart, though I don’t get into as much detail as some authors I know, who practically write the novel in a vast outline and then flesh that material out. Also a great method, but not for me. When I outline ideas for novels, I have several steps that give me everything I need to charge full-steam ahead.

“When I outline ideas for novels, I have several steps that give me everything I need to charge full-steam ahead.”

  • 1-line synopsis – fairly detailed sentence that gets the gist of the story down. This is my “bible statement”, and everything I write thereafter must support this main statement.
  • Theme – I don’t bother stating a theme in the beginning. The theme reveals itself to me as I write the first quarter of the book, usually, and I just keep it in mind as I keep writing.
  • Expand the synopsis – Given what I now know about the players, the conflicts, and the key points of personal development I’ll expand the 1-line synopsis into a full summary paragraph of 4 sentences, each covering 1/4 of the book or so. Then I brainstorm each of those sentences into a full paragraph of its own.
  • Characters – Generate the ‘tagonists (protagonist, antagonist). History, key personality traits, moral conflict (such as “justice vs duty”) that colors their perception of every situation I put them in, character defect, and overarching goal. Then the supporting characters I add while I do the outlining itself.
  • Conflicts/Ending – How can these characers, with those traits, goals and flaws, bash into each other in a way that is consistent with their goals and such, but which lead inevitably to a resolution at the end of the book. I look for key points in that brainstorm that can lead to character development for both ‘tagonists.

Many people outline using a notebook.

That is all prep to start the outline, which I’ll discuss further in a later post.

In part II, Jeremy will start to get in more depth with the outline process and take it one step at a time. If you’d like to know more about Jeremy Menefee, check out his website for Writers & Editors.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Thanks For Commenting!

Share this post to help us grow!

Like what you see?

Share it! Every share helps us grow!