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How To Write a Book Outline for Fiction

Ask a group of writers about creating an outline for a fictional book and you’ll inspire an intense debate. Some writers love writing book outlines, while others hate them with a passion. Outlines can be very beneficial to writers because they help to structure your thoughts in a way that helps to create the actual structure of the book about to be written.

When done the right way and with an open mind, most writers can benefit from creating an outline. Here’s how to write a book outline for fiction in X easy steps.

#1. Create a premise.

What is your book going to be about? There needs to be an ongoing thesis to your book. Without a thesis woven into each chapter that comes back to one main point, the narrative will seem scattered or even incoherent to the reader. Try to answer these questions as you craft the premise for your story as it will help to create your initial outline.

  • What is the situation that I want my characters to be facing?
  • Who will be the protagonist [the leading character] in my story?
  • Is there going to be a bad guy that my leading character needs to face?
  • Should my characters face some sort of conflict or disaster?
  • Are there going to be moral or ethical choices that I want my characters to make?

When you can answer these questions, put the information into a 1-2 sentence summary for your outline. As an extra bonus, this summary can also become the foundation of a query letter to an agent or publisher later on after you’ve written your fictional book.

#2. Start adding scene ideas.

Now that you have some ideas about the direction you’ll want to take your fictional book, you’re ready to start adding some scenes to your outline. Many writers already have a few key scenes pictured in their minds when they come up with an idea for a book. Put them down here. Add any other ideas you’ve ever had for your book to them.

No idea is a bad one. That’s because you can later review your book outline and eliminate some of your ideas that don’t fit in with your overall thesis. Highlight the good ones you’d like to include. Look for plot holes that might be bothersome to some readers and eliminate them now. Then start adding the approved scenes to the structure of your book.

#3. What would your characters say?

One fun way to increase the depth of your fictional book is to create a Q&A with each character. Ask them specific questions as if it were an interview. Then write what their answers would be. This really helps you develop relationships with the characters so that you can create a more authentic experience for the reader.

#4. Research each and every setting.

If your book is going to be set in Boston, then you’d better know everything there is to know about Boston. The same is true for any other setting, including sci-fi settings on different planets. Sometimes your research takes place in a library as a writer. At other times, it takes place in your imagination. The point is that you pick a setting which makes sense for your characters and then include the details of those settings in your book outline.

Many writers pick settings that they already know to save time during the creative process. The only problem is that not every familiar setting is a good place for some characters to be. You’ll be able to compare and contrast different settings with an outline, giving you a useful tool to put scenes in the right place at the right time.

#5. Now begin the writing process.

At this point, you’ve got the basics of a book outline down. You can do this on a chapter-by-chapter basis or you can overview an entire book if you prefer. The amount of depth that you add to an outline is really up to you. Some writers just use a sentence or two to describe a scene or character. Others might develop pages of in-depth materials.

The secret to success in composing a book outline for fiction is to keep it as flexible as possible. As you write the story, there might be some things you’d like to change about your book. You might want to change the narrative, change a character’s name, or take your thesis in an entirely different direction. If your outline can adapt to the changes you make, then there’s a good chance you won’t hate creating one like some writers do.


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Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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