How To Outline a Novel Like a Pro

Stop Thinking of Outlines as a Boring List of Headings and Subheadings

Photo by Léonard Cotte on Unsplash

Outlining a novel is not the same as outlining academic papers. I taught my basic English composition students to create traditional outlines. You know, you begin with your Roman numerals and type in the main heading, followed by capital letters for the main points, and below that Arabic numbers for subpoints.

Novels cannot be outlined that way, though it will work for non-fiction books. Novels are outlined differently. And to make things more confusing, there are multiple ways to outline a novel. Most of the “different ways” to outline that have been devised by authors in the last fifty years all stem from the hero’s journey.

- The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler follows this exactly.

- The Fourteen Signposts by James Scott bell is a version of the same. He writes about this in Super Structure

- Even Libbie Hawker who wrote Take Your Pants Off: Outline Your Book for Faster, Better Writing presents an outlining method for non-plotters that technically follows the Hero’s Jouney

- Save the Cat by Blake Snyder — same idea. The hero’s journey using different terms for the plot point

The reason, these how to write books return to the hero’s journey is because this is the structure of all good storytelling. But it’s a good idea to read how different authors interpret the hero’s journey and describe their plotting method because we all absorb information differently and one of these descriptions of the hero’s journey might make more sense to you than the others.

Before we talk more about outlining, what I suggest writers do, even before they think about creating an outline is to brainstorm ideas for the book. Get those all down on paper or in an electronic file to make it easy to refer to them later. To read more about gathering ideas see my blog post: How to Generate Story Ideas.

Back to Outlining

Outlining means figuring out how to structure a novel to make it flow best and to create the effect we want readers to have. This is why an academic outline is not what we want. There is no story flow in that type of…



Julia Amante - Fiction author, Speaker, Mentor.