Are you an aspiring novelist? Have you ever tried to put your ideas into the paper? Then you would know the struggle of connecting all the incidents and forming a solid plot. If you have not, don’t worry at the end of this article, you have tried or not you will at least have an idea on how to outline your novel. 

Plotting your entire novel is not going to be easy. Initially, you will develop your character, your universe, your world, the major conflicts and its resolution before you start writing the novel. The dilemma arises when you can’t put all of them together into a coherent story that would interest the readers. You can do this using a roadmap called Outline.

Novel Outline

A novel outline is a document that consists of the information, detail, the setting of the novel, plot, structure and character. You can design your novel outline on one page or make a more detailed one with drawings, mind maps and even make post-its and stick in a place that is easily accessible. The sentences in the novel outline can be crisp and clean that will help you in arranging.

Why should you create an outline?

Different writers prefer different methods when it comes to writing their novels. Some writers don’t deal with the whole plotting the novel and creating an outline. They prefer going with the flow and being spontaneous. Writers like the Nobel prize-winning Margaret Atwood and horror writer Stephen King prefer to go with the flow. They are called the pansters in literature. 

Many writers create a novel outline to help them with their novel; they are called the plotters in literature. Ernest Hemingway and the Harry Potter writer J.K. Rowling are extremely famous plotters. Every writer prefers their own way but it has its own pros and cons.

Pros of outlining a novel

  • You will have a clear idea of the happenings.
  • It will help you in not straying away from the plot.
  • It will tell you the timeline of the incidents.
  • The character arcs can be easily structured.
  •  It will help in times of writer’s block.
  • It will come handy when you can’t handle the middle with the series of incidents happening.

Cons of outlining a novel

  • It can sometimes make the narrative very monotonous.
  • Many choices will be made because it’s part of the outline.
  • Narrative instincts might get overshadowed by the outline.

There is one thing that both plotters and pansters agree in novel writing. That is, a writer can choose anything that would be comfortable for them. It’s simply a matter of what they want and what suits.

3 Questions a novel outline should answer

Your outline should not only show the characters and plot line but it should be aware of where the plot is going. Make sure your outline answers below mentioned three questions.

  1. What is the main theme of the plot? You must answer all the questions in the novel by the end of the novel.
  2. What is the time constraint your character has?
  3. What do the characters have at stake? Will the pressure increase as the time goes on?

How to create a Novel Outline

Now that we have told you about the three questions that a novel outline should answer, we will tell you how to create your novel outline. 

1. Craft your premise

A premise is the main idea of your plot. One of the best methods to find your premise is to ponder over the question “ What would happen if…?” You can take Fault in Our Stars as an example, the main question would probably be “What would happen if two teen cancer patients meet and instantly take a liking towards each other?

The “what would happen If.. ?” is the first question you will have to answer. Then, you will have to concentrate on the situation. Create your main protagonist and weave an appropriate situation. 

Then structure an outline of how a protagonist will change from the beginning of the novel to the end. Think of the objective of the protagonist. Concentrate on the needs of the protagonist and how they work for it while there is an opposing force. Then ponder over the central conflict and central theme of the novel. To sum it up, initially, you have to concentrate on

  • Main incident
  • Main protagonist
  • Protagonist’s character curve
  • His/her objective
  • His/her goals
  • What does the protagonist do to attain their goals?
  • What is stopping the protagonist from achieving the goals?
  • The major conflict of the novel 
  • Central theme

When you are done figuring out all of these, try to write a one-paragraph sum-up of the novel. This will help in knowing your plot more.

2. Determine your setting

In a novel, the setting and the background are extremely important. Readers should know the setting. This will only help in making the story real. The setting will depend on the genre of the novel you are writing. 

Before anyone else, you will have to know your setting. Research about the setting you are using. Never leave any loopholes. There are chances of a writer messing up in the details of the setting. This should be avoided. 

If your story is set in an African forest. You will have to get your facts right in the forest. With Google, you can easily do your research. Check twice before using it on your plot. When you are done with your research, note down all of your findings. Don’t just note down the details you feel is necessary at the moment. Jot down everything you find,  you never know what will come handy when the novel proceeds. 

Your setting will have to help readers in imagining the novel clearly. So, the setting can include time, place along with taste, feel, smell and anything to make it more real.

3. Get to know your characters

You will have to know your characters more than anyone else. Write the whole profile of your characters. Imagine and visualise them in your head. Think of them as real people, think of all the possible feelings you will have if you have to introduce them to your closed ones. What will you tell them? Assign roles to all of the characters. Decide who will be leading and who will be in the background. 

Create solid backstories for the character. Backstories are the key to making a character iconic. The backstory of the character will have to affect the things they do in the present. For example, the attitude of Severus Snape especially towards Harry and Ron made the readers loathe him but when the backstory was revealed everybody had mixed opinions. Someone even had a one-eighty degree turn in their opinions. This is the power of a backstory. 

You can try asking questions to your character and let them answer truthfully. As stupid as it seems, it will help you in knowing the people you created. 

4. Construct your plot

Make a timeline of all the events. Write everything that will happen in your novel from the beginning to the end. Include all the details you feel is necessary. It can be anything from the time, place the colour of the place or colour if you feel it is necessary. But note down everything, a novel writing is a huge process with so much detail you are prone to forgetting some nice details. If you have a complete idea of the incident and its impact, then you can write it by dividing the whole plot into three, Beginning, Middle and End.  


  • The beginning of your novel has the responsibility of introducing the protagonist and if it agrees with your plot, the antagonist. 
  • Then it will have to introduce the previous question we saw, “What would happen if…?”
  • Then also the main setting of the story will have to be included.
  • It should be written in a way that kindles the curiosity of the readers.
  • A prologue would be a good idea to grab the reader’s attention.


  • In the middle, the tension is a little bit less, so it’s better to decide your end first.
  • The end you decide doesn’t have to be detailed and perfect but it is just for the sake of you knowing your novel. 
  • Knowing the end will help you in not being stuck in the middle. 
  • There are chances of you getting distracted in the middle and be careful with that. This is one of the reasons for knowing the end. A planned destination will avoid unnecessary detours.
  • Create small sentences that make the plot and will eventually lead to the climax.


Don’t feel pressured that you have to figure the ending this soon. The ending can be easily figured out. Your ending lies with the question you made up in the beginning. If your question is “What would happen if the protagonist finds a treasure and tries to hide it from the biggest mafia who is after it?” The end would probably be among the lines of the who ended up with the treasure. 

5. Write your scenes

Once you are done with the previous step, you can proceed with creating your scenes. Write your scenes and see where they fit. Add the setting, background and time to the scenes. Write it detailed enough with the characters involved and add it to the outline. 

You can even add important dialogues to your scenes. You don’t have to be very clear and make it look like it is the final draft. It can be rough after all, it is just for your reference. The first step is to put down everything in paper and visualise them. You can edit it later. 

When you are done with the outline, you can start writing your first draft. You can easily navigate through your first draft because you have everything in your novel outline. You can refer to it anytime you want.

When you start writing you will have to check all the logic. In the first draft look for loopholes and check if all the settings and time match. Refer to your novel outline from time to time. This way you will not miss important details. You can add details to your storyline and update certain ideas. 

Though it is necessary to know your characters as much as possible, leave some details to ponder later. This will avoid the plot and characters from being predictable. Sometimes, go with your instinct even if you have your novel outline. If you feel your character choosing to remain silent is better than the initial two paragraphs you came up while writing the novel outline. Go for it. Your characters and your instincts should decide for you rather than the plot outline. 

Despite this don’t miss the detailing in your novel outline. You have spent your time researching and coming up with this outline. So, put it to use when writing your novel. It is going to come handy no matter what.  

We hope this article comes handy and will help you in writing your novel. You could be an aspiring writer and will want to develop your creative writing skills before you start writing your novel. In that case, you can take up a creative writing course to develop your creative writing skills. 

Henry Harvin’s creative writing course is one of the best courses for learning creative writing. This course will teach you different types of creative writing.  

A novel outline will help you in many ways and it will help you in keeping track of your novel. Remember the important points and try avoiding loopholes. You will be able to write one of the best novels. We hope this article will help you in creating your own novel outline. All the best in writing your novel.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Can I write a novel without making a novel outline?

Yes, a novel outline will be handy but many writers don’t make one.

2. Is it mandatory to take up a creative writing course?

No, a creative writing course will help in developing your writing skills but it is not mandatory.

3. Will a novel outline help in avoiding mistakes?

 Yes, it will help you in avoiding mistakes since you have important points jotted down.

4. Is it necessary to follow my novel outline all the time?

No, sometimes it is better to let your instincts take over. 

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