How to Outline a Novel

You have your big idea and you’re ready to write a novel. Congratulations! We’re here to help you on this long and exciting journey, so today, we’re here to help you learn how to outline your novel so the writing process is easier for you.

Why Outline Your Novel

Starting the journey of writing a novel is an exciting endeavor, but the path can be daunting without a roadmap. Understanding the benefits of outlining your novel before diving into the writing process is crucial to crafting a well-structured and compelling story.

Outlining provides a roadmap for your narrative, offering a clear direction and helping you stay focused on your story’s core elements. Here are some key benefits:

  1. Structural Guidance: Outlining ensures your novel follows a coherent structure. It helps in organizing plot points, character arcs, and key events, preventing your story from meandering aimlessly.
  2. Character Development: An outline allows you to delve into your characters’ motivations, conflicts, and growth throughout the story. This deeper understanding enhances the richness and authenticity of your characters.
  3. Avoiding Writer’s Block: Knowing where your story is headed eliminates the uncertainty that often leads to writer’s block. An outline provides a safety net, allowing you to navigate through your narrative with confidence.
  4. Consistent Pacing: By plotting out your novel, you can maintain a consistent pace. This ensures that the tension and engagement in your story ebb and flow effectively, capturing the reader’s attention from start to finish. Learn more about how long it takes to write a novel here.

Methods to Outline a Novel

Novel outlining methods vary, catering to different writing styles and preferences. Here are three effective approaches to outlining your novel:

The Hero’s Journey Novel Outline

Derived from Joseph Campbell’s monomyth concept, “The Hero’s Journey” is a widely-used and versatile outline method. It involves a hero who embarks on an adventure, faces challenges, and ultimately undergoes transformation. The key stages include:

  1. The Call to Adventure: Introduce the protagonist and the catalyst that propels them into the story.
  2. Refusal of the Call: The hero hesitates, resisting the adventure initially.
  3. Meeting the Mentor: The hero encounters a guide or mentor who provides wisdom and assistance.
  4. Crossing the Threshold: The hero enters a new, unfamiliar world, marking the beginning of the adventure.
  5. Tests, Allies, Enemies: The protagonist faces challenges, forms alliances, and encounters adversaries.
  6. Approach to the Inmost Cave: The hero approaches a significant challenge or conflict.
  7. Ordeal: The protagonist confronts their greatest fear or faces a life-changing ordeal.
  8. Reward (Seizing the Sword): The hero gains a reward, often linked to the main quest.
  9. The Road Back: The hero begins the journey back to the ordinary world.
  10. Resurrection: A final challenge tests the hero’s transformation.
  11. Return with the Elixir: The hero returns to the ordinary world, bringing newfound wisdom or a reward back with them.

The Skeleton Outline

The Skeleton Outline is a minimalist approach that focuses on key plot points and major events. It provides flexibility while offering a framework for your story. The main components include:

  1. Introduction: Introduce the main characters, setting, and the central conflict.
  2. Major Plot Points: Outline the significant events that drive the narrative forward.
  3. Climax: Identify the peak of tension or the turning point in your story. Learn about how to write a climax here.
  4. Resolution: Conclude the story by resolving the central conflict.

This streamlined approach allows for creative freedom while maintaining a structured framework.

The Somebody Wanted But So Then Outline

This method simplifies the narrative into essential components, ensuring a clear and focused storyline. The key elements are:

  1. Somebody: Introduce the protagonist and their desires.
  2. Wanted: Clearly state the protagonist’s goal or what they desire.
  3. But: Introduce the conflict or obstacle that stands in the way of the protagonist’s goal.
  4. So: Describe the actions the protagonist takes to overcome the obstacle.
  5. Then: Outline the consequences or subsequent events that unfold.

This straightforward method helps maintain a tight narrative focus while guiding the progression of the story. You can learn more about the nuances of the Somebody Wanted But So Then method here.

Our Editor’s Take

While I recommend you consider utilizing a novel outlining method, don’t let that paralyze you from starting your novel. At times, writers can get so sucked into the idea of getting the outline right that their passion for a story fades. To satiate the creativity in you, go ahead and write an intro or a chapter and then continue outlining. – R. R. Noall


In conclusion, outlining a novel is a fundamental step in the writing process, offering numerous benefits that contribute to a well-crafted and engaging story. Whether you choose “The Hero’s Journey,” “The Skeleton Outline,” or “Somebody Wanted But So Then,” the key is to find a method that aligns with your writing style and allows for creativity while providing the structure needed to guide your narrative. Embrace the power of outlining as a tool to enhance your storytelling and set yourself on a path to success in the intricate world of novel writing.

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