Why You (Don’t) Need A Novel Outline


If you’re a writer reading this, there is a chance that wrong beliefs about a novel outline are holding you back from producing your greatest work. 

It is entirely possible that as a writer, you’ll fall into one of the following categories: you have heard about a novel outline, or you haven’t.

And if you have heard about a novel outline, chances are you are in one of these subcategories: you believe you need one, or you believe you don’t.

And it’s the problem caused by what you think you know or don’t, that this post will address. 

One wrong belief you have about a novel outline may be that a novel is the repetition of its outline.

So, in your mind, writing one is basically writing the novel twice.

A novel outline come in different formats but it usually contains key points about the plot, structure, characters, themes, settings and other elements in your novel.

Some writers use what is known as a synopsis outline. This is a document containing pretty detailed information about who’s doing what, where, how, why and when in the novel as a whole. 

There are writers who use an in-depth outline, which is a chapter by chapter synopsis

Some writers prefer a character-focused outline, which is an outline that focuses more on the characters in the novel than it does on the plot or any other elements of the novel. 

There are some who swear by the bookend method, which is what you get when you know the end of the story and try to work backwards to a beginning you also know

I use more than one method. Forever There For You was written with the bookend method  – I knew exactly how the novel was going to end, the final sentence in the novel as well as the first and last sentences of the prologue before I wrote one word. And I wrote a general synopsis to work with.

This was also the case with my second book, Because Home Is – a collection of short stories.

As it was for the first trilogy of a Young Adult series I wrote a while ago. 

But I also like character-focused outlines cos the stories I tell are character-driven.

Meaning that while the other elements are present (as they should be in any novel), the story is really happening and only progressing purely cos of what the characters are doing, saying, feeling or not.

So, how and why they’re interacting with each other or reacting to something, and on the strength and complexity of their back story – those are really key.

I do the same thing for scripts; it’s just the way I tell stories and always have.

Having said that, I made a conscious choice when I was working on the first book in a New Adult series, to create a chapter by chapter outline.

And I have to say I finished the first draft quicker than I’ve done any other book so far.

Another wrong belief that’s not serving you well when it comes to writing a novel outline is that the outline has to look a certain way.

While your novel outline should be clear enough for you to be able to read (and make sense of what you wrote), your obsession with aesthetics shouldn’t be why you don’t even get to write the actual novel.

Seriously, who apart from you is going to see your outline? It’s for your own use.

But if you never finish writing the novel, who is going to know to have reason to ask about how you outlined it?

The third problem may be that you think you need to have every i dotted and every t crossed in your outline before you write the novel.

Meaning you can’t change anything when you start on the novel.

Here’s the thing – a novel outline doesn’t come with a gun to your head.

So, you don’t have to use everything on there. While it is a way for you to collate your thoughts about a plot, setting, character or other element – it can also be a way for you to see what works or doesn’t.

Before you waste time writing a novel that will suck cos of poor research. 

I also know from experience that whether it’s a book or nonfiction (whether it’s a blog post or an exam), I write quicker when I have a clear idea of what I’m supposed to be writing.

Want tips to create your own novel outline? Get the cheat sheet below

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