Fiction Writing Tips: Writing a Novel Outline

Last week I told you how to get to know your characters with a character outline and gave you a free character outline template to use for creating your characters. This week I’m going to tell you how to write a novel outline. Writing a novel outline will help you build a story from beginning to end. And like the character outline, you can refer to it as you’re writing your fiction novel. Shall we begin?

Writing a Novel Outline: The Working Title

Each novel outline you create should begin with the working title for your fiction novel. You’ll want to choose a title that not only describes the storyline but attracts attention. Here are a few tips for choosing a title for your fiction novel:

After you’ve come up with a few titles, poll your readers and ask them to vote on the title they like best. You can poll your blog readers and those on your mailing list.

Ask family and friends what title they like best and what attracted them to that title.

Keep it short and simple. You don’t want a long title, and you certainly don’t want a complicated or hard-to-pronounce title. In other words, make it easy to understand and remember.

Writing a Novel Outline: Choosing the Genre

After you’ve written your fiction novel, you’ll be busy trying to sell it to publishers or agents with a query letter, and all query letters should tell the publisher or agent what genre your book is. So in this section of your novel outline, specify the genre of your fiction novel. In other words, is it a romance, mainstream fiction, mystery, Christian fiction, western romance or etc.?

Writing a Novel Outline: The Description

Describe what your fiction novel is about. What you include here could be the text for the back cover of your novel. If you’d like some examples, grab some of the novels from your bookshelf and read the back covers.

Writing a Novel Outline: The Setting

Where will your story take place? When deciding on the location for your story, pick a place that you’ve visited or know well. If you choose a location you’ve never been to before, research the climate, population and etc. Although the story is fictional, you’ll still want to make it believable. For example, many people know it doesn’t snow often in Los Angeles, California. Therefore, if Los Angeles is the setting for your fiction novel and you have it snowing often during the winter, then you may risk turning your readers off or losing them entirely. You can make up names of stores and even streets, but keep the scenery and weather as realistic as possible.

Writing a Novel Outline: The Time Frame

What year will your story take place? Again, keep your story realistic, so research the year well. For example, don’t have your characters talking on cell phones in the year of 1970.

Writing a Novel Outline: Create Conflict

The conflict is an obstacle or obstacles that the main character (usually the protagonist) must overcome. Therefore, in this section of your novel outline, list the conflict(s) for your main character. If you’re creating more than one conflict, don’t list too many.

Once you’ve listed the conflict(s) for the main character in your fiction novel, describe how your main character will overcome the obstacle(s), which I refer to as the resolution to the conflict(s). Remember, though, you don’t want the conflict(s) resolved until the end of the novel. Having the conflict(s) remain throughout your fiction novel will keep your readers reading.

As an example, when creating the novel outline for my Christian fiction book, the conflict in my story came about with Ronald, the angel. Ronald’s assignment from God was to help George recover from his drug and alcohol addictions, but George’s stubbornness didn’t make things easy for Ronald. In addition, George didn’t believe in angels and had lost his faith in God, which also made it hard for Ronald to help him, and finally, the way the drugs and alcohol affected George created conflict as well.

In the end, a miracle happened and the resolution to the conflict finally took place, but I won’t reveal the resolution because it would give away the ending, so you just have to read Help From Above to discover the resolution. Nevertheless, this should give you an example of what you should include in this section of your novel outline.

Join me next week for Fiction Writing Tips: Writing the First Draft. Until then, feel free to download the novel outline template for free. You can use my novel outline template for each of your fiction novel ideas.

What do you include in your novel outlines? Did you find my tips on writing a novel outline helpful? Please share your advice and feedback in the comments area.

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