How I outlined my novel in an hour

When it comes to outlining a novel so I can get working, I am probably the most impatient person you know. Take my current WIP for example. I’ve got the story in my head. I know who the characters are, what their arcs will be, what the conflicts in the story are, who and what the antagonists are and I have seen the ending in such vivid technicolour it could almost write itself.

To get me started, I diligently sat down with my three act structure worksheets and started to plot. And then I got fidgety. I got as far as plotting the first quarter of the story (beautifully I might add) and then I just had to start writing, so I did. Without even trying to stop myself. Then, predictably, I got lost. I knew exactly how the story threads were going to come together for the climax of the story, I just wasn’t sure how I was going to navigate to that point without producing another 100,000 word disaster (don’t even ask).

I finally relented today and decided I couldn’t produce another chapter without writing the plot down. Only the basics were necessary to get the next quarter from my head and onto paper. It only took an hour but I was surprised at how tricky it was to do, even though the story is alive in my head.

Since I know you love a sneaky peek into how other authors plot their stories,  I thought you might like to see the results of my brainstorming session. Don’t worry, I’ve written a proper outline from this scrawl but since I am a very visual person I need to see the plot laid out like this to keep me on track.

plotting a novel, 3 act story plot, basic outline of a novel

The method I use was devised by Larry Brooks and I constantly refer to his book Story Engineering for inspiration and to pull me back into line. I started my writing life as a confirmed plotter, determined to sketch out every single scene before I write up a single word. That never worked for me. I now find I fall somewhere between plotter and panster, preferring to outline vaguely and flourish within the defined plot points.

I hope you find this either useful or laughable. I’m now going to head off and get started on Q2 with a fully informed map of where I am heading!

How do you outline? Do you bother at all? Do you have any success at sketching every single scene before you start? I’d love to know.

Nicola x

P.S You might also like:

How to write a book in 30 days especially if you’re planning on doing NaNoWriMo this year.



About Nicola Auckland

Busy wife to one & mum to two. I've caught the creative writing bug, now need to practice, get awesome and write something worth reading. Simples.
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12 Responses to How I outlined my novel in an hour

  1. Pingback: How I outlined my novel in an hour — Sometimes Stellar Storyteller | Arrowhead Freelance and Publishing

  2. dailywriter says:

    Looks good for a novel. However, as I am writing a non-fiction it may be a little too granular for my purpose. But it is worth looking at for any writing since structure is often neglected in the focus on content development. The value in applying such structures as that devised by Larry Brooks nay be in getting verbosity cut down as well as redindancies that necessarily pop up due to the sheer enthusiasm of the prosaic Muse.
    Thanks Nicole and I look forward to applying some of this to my own writings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I am not aware of any relevant structures for non-fiction, perhaps you could point me in the direction of one if I ever need it.

      I need a scythe to cut through my innate verbosity. The structure of this method allows me to edit effectively as well which is very helpful.


  3. Allie P. says:

    I am a bit of a hybrid too and love your outline. It appears both logical and color coded while at the same time completely mad.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. EDC Writing says:

    No structure to my writing … essentially my WIP a dialogue … a man a woman … knocked out over 200,000 free flow words … now tightening framing into their story, currently at 80,000 words aiming for 50,000 with intensity. The next book though I’m going to structure much like you … in a way back to my scientific roots I was fool enought o try and escape from!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gayle Marie says:

    Not attempting NaNo this year, but thanks for the references! Will look for a copy of Story Engineering now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. But I just want words to fall out of my head and onto the page! (Thank you for this breakdown, and the relevant NaNoWriMo-assisting link.)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sheryl says:

    I like this, I think I’ll give it a try and see how it works for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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