How I Outline My Novels

How I Outline My Novels


It’s finally done! About a week ago, I finished up my rough draft. My work-in-progress is about 91,400 words and 30 chapters.

I started writing this book in September. I wrote 10,000 words in September and October, and then 50,000 in November (Thanks, Nanowrimo!) The last 30,000 words were slower, because I had to finish up my 1st book and I had a lot of school work, but I have to say, when I did sit down to write, the words came easily.

It hasn’t always been that way.

Here’s the truth: The blank page terrifies me. I used to open up a documents and just stare at the empty white space. Sometimes it took me twenty minutes before I started writing. Somedays I didn’t write at all. But I knew that if I wanted to finish my books faster, I’d have to avoid this step and actually get to the writing.

So I started outlining. To clarify, I’ve always been an outliner, or a planner, if you would. I plan what I have to do each day. I’ve even planned what to do in my free time. Yeah. It’s totally fine if you’re a pantser, or someone who doesn’t outline at all. You should just know, my version of writing books is as anti-pantser as it gets.

my book 2

Untitled design.png

Step 1. Have An Idea For A Book

If you don’t have any ideas for a book, you can have some of mine, because I have WAY TOO MANY.

I saw the amazing author Melissa Febos speak, and she said something along the lines of, “I’m terrified that I’ll never get to write all the books I have ideas for.” 

I like to take inspiration from Hamilton and write “like we’re running out of time.” If you don’t have an idea, you can check out my blog post, 8 Ways To Find Inspiration

Step 2. Figure Out What My Characters Want

Some writers think you should know everything about your characters. What’s their shoe size? Do they like bubblegum? I’m a fan of always knowing what would be in your character’s pockets. But you only have to know one thing about your characters in the beginning. It’s more important than knowing their backstory, gender, or even their name. What does your character want? 

You should know what every single character in your book wants. That’s what gives them purpose. Bonus points if their wants contradict each other, because that creates tension, which leads us to…

Step 3. Try To Stop My Characters From Getting What They Want

A “plot” is just a fancy word for blocking your characters with problems every time they try to achieve something. (Sorry, not sorry, characters.)

You might have a couple of ideas of scenes. Every time you picture a scene, ask yourself: How can I make this harder for my character? And then make it harder, up until the very last page. As much as readers love happy endings, just reading about happy people for a long time isn’t very entertaining. The conflict doesn’t have to be ‘dramatic.’ No need for robots and explosions on every page, unless that’s your genre. But even if it’s just an internal moral dilemma, there should be conflict.

Step 4. Pace For A Long Time

Not only am I a plotter, I’m a pacer. And I don’t mean pacing in stories – I mean literal, actual, walking-in-circles pacing. I daydream best when I’m on my feet. (I’m not crazy, researchers at Stanford say walking is good for ideas. So there.)

I spend a long time just daydreaming about my story. By the end of my pacing session, I like to know a couple things:

  • Several comebacks that are way too witty for me to have thought of when the argument was going on. I’ll probably put these in the book as redemption.
  • A couple of John-Green-Esque metaphors that I’ll write in my book and imagine fellow teenage girls pinning to their Pinterest boards.
  • My first line, so I have somewhere to begin.
  • A vague idea of how I want this to end.
  • Ideas for several scenes.

Step 5. All Together Now

So next, you take all those things, put them in a Mason Jar, shake it up, and presto! A novel. Just kidding.

I like to do my novel outlines as bullet point lists. I own Scrivener, and I know there’s probably some fancy way to outline using all of its amazing tools, but I like to just create a page and do an old-fashioned list.

I do a bullet point for every scene, which means that there are more bullet points than there are chapters, since multiple scenes can go in one chapter. In the bullet point, I write down EVERYTHING that I think could happen in that scene. I basically write my entire book, but in slang and shorthand.

For example, I’ll write, “Characters walk into store. Witty exchange with cashier. Describe cashier. Funny Line: Joke about jobs. Character is angry because the cashier won’t give them what they want.” Etc. etc. etc. I’m writing the scene, but without doing any of the actual writing??

Basically, I’m writing a lot of instructions for myself. That way, when I’m faced with a blank page, it’s not really blank. I know exactly what I have to accomplish. I just have to flesh everything out. 

I work chronologically, figuring out what characters want and what events lead to what as I go. My outlines are rather rigid – I know what lines, actions, and developments have to happen in each scene. I also try to note what the characters are feeling about the events.

This means my outlines are pretty long. (The outline for this book was 9021 words.) However, it also means that I’m never stuck. Goodbye, writer’s block!

Untitled design.png

P.S. I redesigned my website!

You should totally check it out. 😉 I have a new theme, a new About Me page, a new page for Publications, and more! 

My Instagram is also under going renovations. Check it out to see some pretty pictures.

In fact, I think my Pinterest is the only thing I haven’t changed. What changes would you like to see there?

I’m also going to be changing up a little bit of my content based on the results of this survey, which you all can still take! Get ready for more posts about my writing life and discussion posts about books.

Untitled design.png

Thanks so much for reading! If you haven’t already, go ahead and take my survey.  How do you outline your books? What do you think of my blog design? Let me know in the comments! Until next time, you can find me on Pinterest or Instagram.vivian parkin derosa.png


11 responses to “How I Outline My Novels”

  1. Great reads. Thanks for sharing your personal experience. Amazing how so many writers fail to see the importance of two and three. Characters need to want something, and our job as writers is to torture them every step of the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congrats on finishing your draft! That’s awesome 🙂

    I absolutely love this post! I used to be a big pantser, but I’m trying to become more and more of a plotter, so this is very helpful. Being a pantser is just not working out for me anymore hahaha

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: