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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.


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