Outlining 101- 10 Tips for Outlining a Book

I want to start by saying that everyone is different. What works for me will not work for everyone. Your writing style is your own, and you should be proud of it. This is just how I outline a book and in no way reflect the ‘correct way’ because there simply is no such a thing. With that being said, I hope this may help writers in the beginning stages of their careers.

So these are my 10 tips for outlining a book:

1. Have an idea for a book

I know this sounds stupid. You’re probably like, “well, duh,” but you’d be surprised how many people want to write a full-length book without having an actual idea for one. Make sure your concept is feasible and within your writing ability. I think you should challenge yourself, but if this is your first book, you don’t want to make it unattainable and out of your current capabilities.

2. Don’t start making the outline right away

I know this one is difficult because you’re so excited you have this brilliant idea. I urge you to not start writing your outline right away, but just start writing lists.

  • Make a list of themes you want to flow throughout (an example of this is in Cool for the Summer, a theme throughout the book’s entirety was Gabriel’s struggle with his sexuality). The themes need to weave throughout the entire book/series. They are something you will keep in mind as your writing, and you need all of your themes to be cohesive to the overall story arch.
  • Start thinking of various scenes you would like to be incorporated and write them down, but don’t put them in order. For example, the first scene in Cool for the Summer that I thought of was when Gabriel saw Xander dancing. The second scene I thought of was the baseball game, which came much later in the story.
  • Music- I usually have a list of songs that have given me inspiration for a chapter or an entire book. I make a Spotify playlist for each of my full-length-books. You can use any music platform like Spotify, Apple Music, or even YouTube.

3. Characterizations

Have a character profile in mind for your main characters. Some people have pages and pages of information about their characters. In contrast, others just have who they are in their head and somehow manage to remember (I’m the ladder, if you’re wondering). I do recommend writing it down, though, because the characterization is critical. You don’t want your protagonist to do something entirely out of character unless they have an excellent reason for it. To make this easier, create a list of characteristics, including physical appearance, personality, mental health, likes/dislikes, sayings, etc. You want them to be a person. I love all of my characters like they are people because they are to me.

4. Put your existing scenes in order

This is where the actual outlining begins. Now that you have some settings (or several) in mind, you can start putting them in order by chapter. The way I like to outline my books is chapter by chapter, then scene by scene.

Example:

Chapter 1- Title
-Scene 1- Description- Whos POV (Point of View) it is in
-Scene 2- Description- Who’s POV it is in
Chapter 2- Title

5. The Order

The order of the scenes and chapters is critical. This will set the whole tone of the book and the story arc. You cannot have the story climax too early, but you also don’t want to draw it out. It can be a very fine line and gets even more complicated with a series.

6. It can be unfinished

Your outline does not have to be finished at first, and it is ever-changing and evolving. You have no idea how many of my outlines say “Idk, something gross and fluffy” instead of an actual idea for a scene. It’s okay, as long as you have a general idea of what should be there.

7. Foreshadowing

The reason why having an outline is so important is because of foreshadowing. To foreshadow appropriately, you have to know where your book is going. You can always go back and add a foreshadowing moment during one of your re-reads or edits.

8. Chronological Order

I, personally, write all of my books in chronological order. I never skip a scene or move to a different one, then come back if I’m stuck. The way you read the book is the order in which I write it in. Again, I want to stress that this is different for everyone. There is no right or wrong way to write a book. This is just how my mind works. Jumping around while writing, for me, is confusing. I find that there are more inconsistencies and plot holes in my rough draft if I do it this way. I know a lot of successful authors that write scenes as they come. They may start off writing the book in the last chapter. This is all personal preference. 

9. Talk to someone

I really like planning my books with my betas or even talk to my husband or girlfriend about the plot or ideas for a scene. I use them as a sounding board. Sometimes they have really unique suggestions that I would have never thought about if we hadn’t been brainstorming together.

10. The Ending

The last chapter is often the scariest and most critical. You, as the writer, have a lot of choices. Do you want it to end happily? Sad? Ambiguous? Do you want it to be bittersweet? Do you want there to be a nice little bow where all the loose ends are intertwined? This is up to you, and you don’t have to know that at the very beginning. This is just something to think about, especially when it comes to foreshadowing.

I hope you found this interesting and maybe helpful. Again, I would like to say that this is how I approach book writing. If you do not approach it this way, that is perfectly fine. The way you do it is amazing for you! Do what works. Feel free to use all of these ideas or pick the ones you think may work best for your personality or writing style.

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