With NanoWriMo (that’s National Novel Writing Month) starting November 1st… let’s hope you have a good idea for your novel and have your outline started. Now, I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month without an outline and with an outline… Let me tell you… it’s much easier with an outline. It saves you from that knot in your stomach each morning when you wake up and try to key in a quick 1600 words for the day.
So here’s how I make an outline. This is assuming, of course, that you have a few plot points in mind. For our purposes, we’ll talk about levels of an outline here.
1. You’re writing a novel, so in many cases you wouldn’t have chapter titles, but for the purposes of the outline, think in terms of level 1 as the subject of each chapter of your novel. And have these chapter titles tell the reader the major plot point of that chapter.
2. Once you have all the level 1 items for the entire novel, go back to the beginning and write two or three (or however many you need) headings that would name the major scenes of each chapter. Write these headings under each level 1 item. These are your level 2 items.
3. Go back to the beginning of the outline and break each heading down into the scenes that will accomplish what you pictured happening in each level 2 item. These level 3 items will include the major action of the scene, the character who instigates it, and the reaction that the action causes.
4. Continue to return to the beginning of the outline and expand each level with a new and more detailed level under it until you feel you have sufficient detail to have the outline function for you when you start writing.
Remember that outlines are not static. They are alive and continue to change throughout the process of writing a book. If you get into November and find that a certain part of your story is not working (and this will happen… count on it), just let your outline expand and contract to meet the needs of your story.