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How to Write An Outline for a Book

Book outlines. Writers tend to hate them. Some love them.

There is no denying the benefits of knowing how to write an outline for a book, even if you prefer to write by the seat of your pants. You’ll have fewer stops and starts. You’ll know what plot points need to be inserted within the book. Your scenes, locations, and dialogue will be ready to go.

It takes a lot of work to outline a book. It’s often work that will help you stay productive during the actual writing process.

If you follow these steps, you’ll be able to outline a book quickly so that it becomes much easier to write it – whether you love outlines or hate them passionately.

#1. Make a list of everything you wish to cover.

Before trying to come up with an actual structured outline for your book, it is easier to create a “to-do” list of the items you wish to cover in the book. Make it a numbered or bulleted list of the ideas you have for your book. The goal here is to engage your creative process more than trying to be organized with it. Take your time with this process. If you feel stuck, go take a walk. Don’t stop until you feel satisfied with your full list of ideas.

#2. Mark your subplots in a bold text.

Once your list has been completed, it’s time to start the organization process. Find the different ideas that could be a great subplot for your story and then give it a bold text heading. These will become the primary points of your book outline. If you made a bulleted list, then copy/paste each heading into a separate outline file so you don’t lose your ideas.

#3. Move each item on your list to the appropriate subplot.

As you move each item from your list to its appropriate heading, there’s a good chance that you’ll think up some more great ideas to add depth to your book. Keep adding ideas to your book outline when they come your way. Fill out portions of dialogue, details of scenes, or other items you’d like to include for the story even if it takes extra time.

#4. Organize your subplots into a logical order.

Now you’re ready to begin the actual structuring process. Move each heading into the place where it will need to go for the book. It doesn’t necessarily need to be in chronological order, but it must be done in a way that will make sense to the reader once the book has been finished.

#5. Assign colors, images, or other visual cues to your subplots.

If numbers aren’t enough to help you keep your subplots separated from each other, then consider using visual cues instead. Colored fonts, offline notecards, or assigning photographs that represent the scenes in the book are other useful methods of keeping each portion of the outline separate from other components.

#6. Write the portions of the outline which you are most comfortable.

Writer’s block tends to happen when there isn’t a desire to actually write a portion of the book. This is where the outline can be really helpful. You can decide to write Chapter 7 today instead of Chapter 2 because that’s what you feel like doing. If you’re just writing by the seat of your pants, you won’t have this luxury.

#7. Create a writing schedule and then stick to it.

Once your outline has been finished and you have a rough idea of how many words it will take to finish the story, then you’re ready to create a writing schedule. Determine the amount of time you want to take to finish the story and then divide the days by the number of words that need to be written. This will give you your daily writing goal to hit.

#8. Fill in any gaps that you find as you start writing.

An outline will help you find the plot holes and gaps that are always present in a story. Always fill-in the gaps when you find them so your story can be thorough and complete before you finish your first draft.

Knowing how to write an outline for a book means gathering ideas, putting them into a coherent order, and then sitting down to write it out in an order that works best for you. As long as your ideas stay ordered, you can write an entertaining and thoughtful manuscript that readers are going to enjoy.

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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