Choose your working title. This title can be changed at any time and does not have to make very much sense to you at first: Insert here.

What is the “type” of novel best suited to this idea:

___Mainstream (Describe):

___Category (Genre): check one (or more, if the idea might cross genre lines).
___Romance ___Western ___Fantasy ___Action/Adventure
___Mystery ___Horror ___Science Fiction
___Other Feel free to type in a different genre if you feel yours is missing. Know what readers want to see in a genre before holding yourself down to it.

(Describe this genre if it falls into the Other category):

Main Characters (list only up to three major characters)

Character #1—the protagonist (the hero or heroine of this story)


Primary Goal:

Most notable personality trait(s):

Character #2—the antagonist (the main “opposition” character)


Primary Goal:

Most notable personality trait(s):

Relationship to protagonist:

Character #3—a major supporting character


Primary Goal:

Most notable personality trait(s):

Relationship to protagonist:

Setting(s) (If your novel has multiple settings, list only the two main ones):

Setting #1:

Time frame:

Reason for using this setting:

Setting #2:

Time frame:

Reason for using this setting:

What is the main complication of the story (the central problem that must be solved by the main character)?

What are the primary obstacles preventing the main character from achieving his or her goal?

How is the story resolved for the main characters (how does it end)?

If you copy this into a Word file, answer these to the best of your abilities and then take as many pages as you need to summarize in present-tense narrative, your story idea, you will be well on your way to having a solid idea.


01. Reasoning Plot

Never plot without a purpose in mind, even when just writing something for a blog. If you first introduce character(s) (i.e. John and Marcia, who will be novel crash test dummies) you should tell everyone up front that John, the figurative hero, is an ex-Navy Seal. Considering how honest you’ll be from the very beginning, the fact that John will turn out to be the hero who saves the day shouldn’t be a surprise.

Nothing happens in a story without a reason, even if that reason is known only by the writer. This is why purpose plays such a huge part in plotting a novel.

02. The Purpose Driven Plot

You want to tell a love story, but you’re not sure why. Maybe because romance pays so well, or you don’t feel like writing a mystery. You pick an ex-Navy Seal as your protagonist because, well, it worked for Linda Howard and Suzanne Brockman, didn’t it? Ex-Navy dude shall rescue a virginal librarian from a fate worse than an IRS audit — not sure what that is, exactly, or why, but those are bridges you’ll cross when you get to them. So these two will wander around the story and a lot of stuff you’ll think up later will happen, until they fall in love, get married and live happily ever after, because . . . well, that’s what happens.

This is typical plotting without purpose. You have a plot, sort of, and an idea of what to write, kinda. Essentially you’re going to make it up as you go along. And while a few pansters out there are fabulous spontaneous plotters, and don’t have to worry about planning anything in advance, most of you are likely going to stall at some point and/or have to rewrite significant portions of this story.

Try it again.

You choose to tell a love story because you have something to say about men, women, love and relationships. We’ll say that how love redeems us is the theme you choose to bring to the story. You select an ex-Navy Seal not only because he’s single, physically fit, trained to take out terrorists and a hunk, but because he’s emotionally damaged by his experiences and finds life after the military empty and lonely. His quest, whether he realizes it or not, is to redeem himself.

Redemption comes in the form of a timid librarian who has buried her life in her books. (!!!! This basically comes off as a synopsis) She is in her own way as damaged by her solitary life experiences as the ex-Seal is by his. They bump into each other repeatedly as the ex-Seal hides out in the library to avoid his well-meaning aunt who wants to marry him off to any cute single woman she can get him to blind date.

Meanwhile, a rare book collector who has become obsessed with obtaining a book he needs to complete a set he’s been slowly acquiring all his life discovers that the librarian owns the only known copy of it in the world. At first he approaches her about purchasing the book. As the book is the only thing the librarian has left that belonged to her anti-war protester father–who wrote odd numeric codes in the margins–she refuses to sell it. This refusal imbalances the collector who proceeds to stalk, harass, burglarize and finally attempts to murder the librarian.

You could outline the rest of the novel but by now you should get the idea. This is a plot with purpose! It is one that clearly maps out the story so you know not only what you’re writing, but why.

03. Purpose Points

Every choice you made in outlining the example novel should have some point of purpose:

A) A main conflict: Whatever you choose to make your main conflict has to have a purpose and a catalyst. It must have something to set events into motion that will eventually resolve the conflict.

In the case of the example story, the main conflict centers on the romantic relationship between the ex-Seal and the librarian. Both are going to have to work together and face their past in order to move on with their lives and have a chance at a happier future (which may or may not involve marriage). This conflict is symbolized by the rare book the librarian owns — the book in some way symbolically embodies all of the characters’ pasts. The conflict catalyst is the attempt by the book collector to purchase it and because the book is the only thing the librarian has left that belonged to her father, she refuses to sell it.

B) The characters: Character choices shouldn’t be accidental. Most romance authors prefer main characters who oppose each other in a definitive way while still sharing some common underlying principle; your mileage may vary.

In this example, the obvious choice of heroine for an ex-Seal was the daughter of an anti-war protester. If the main conflict revolves around a book, the story needs someone who wants that book, hence the rare book collector. The ex-Seal’s aunt can provide a little comic relief as she tries to fix up her nephew with the ladies in town, and she is also the reason the ex-Seal and the librarian initially come together.

C) Subplots: The ex-Seal’s past comes into play as he becomes the librarian’s unpaid voluntary bodyguard; author’s more than likely will work in a subplot where at some time during his military career he failed to save an innocent. This subplot can tie in with the main conflict, or merely provide a little extra motivation for the ex-Seal.

The same goes for the librarian’s relationship with her anti-war protester father — secretly, she may have resented the time her father spent protesting the war rather than being a better parent to her. Her father’s beliefs resulted in her being made into the town outcast, too.

The aunt could have once been in love with the librarian’s father, and only ended the relationship because he began protesting the war — justifying her resentment of the librarian.

As for the rare book collector who snaps when the librarian refuses to sell him her book, one could go for a backstory subplot of what sets him on this greedy, self-destructive path. Obsessional collectors are usually loners who try to make up for childhood deprivations and enforce a sense of superiority to others by collecting rarities. Perhaps our collector grew up poor in wretched circumstances, and had to do terrible things to fight his way out. Despite his wealth, the collector has never felt adequate as a person. His rare book collection makes him important in the way nothing else can. To fail to complete that collection makes it worthless in his eyes, therefore he must have that book.

D) Setting: Most authors choose to go with a closely observes setting. Small town U.S.A. would be the setting one would pick for this novel, as you have more shared history in that sort of setting versus a big anonymous city, but an old ethnic neighborhood in a city would work as well. The setting you choose should be purposeful and logical, not only to your characters, but to the other elements of the plot. Small towns have smaller police forces, which would not have the manpower to guard the librarian (compelling the ex-Seal to watch over her himself). The rare book collector might be a long-time resident, or an outsider who has come to town not to become a resident, but to pretend to while he stalks the librarian.

04. A Readable Feast

When one puts together a meal, they most likely consider the partaker(s) likes and dislikes with food. They read recipes to find one they believe the partaker(s) enjoy most, prepare and measure their ingredients, set out what tools they need and take the time to figure out when to start cooking every component of the meal, so that it will all be ready at the same time to serve. They also look at their food choices to see if they complement each other. They may taste what they cook as they’re preparing it, to see if it needs a little more spice or seasoning but they know that if they follow the recipe, use the ingredients it calls for, and time it correctly, they’ll end up serving an enjoyable meal.

One could go into the kitchen and just throw whatever appeals to them in a pot and see what happens. The family may or may not like it, but this is all about being a creative cook, not what they like or will eat. Though say the chef is not a naturally gifted spontaneous cook and they’ll probably end up throwing out two or three batches of glop before they find the right combination of stuff to make an edible dish. Certainly it’s more creative and fun to mess around in the kitchen like that, but one would rather not waste their time or supplies nor risk making something that will make the partaker(s) puke or belch out eww.

Plotting is a lot of work, and for some people it sucks all the fun out of writing. The main difference between a plotter and a pantser, however, is that expectation of fun.

The pantser is all about the joy of spontaneity and puttering around the novel kitchen. Writing is art, and you can’t plan great art — you have to be free to create and explore and toss out five or six different batches of novel glop before you hit on the right story.

Some pantsers are marvelous spontaneous plotters too so don’t consider this workshop a criticism of your methods or reasoning. You can and do get the job done; us plotters just can’t figure out how.

You should have fun when you write, but you shouldn’t write to have fun.The main reason to cook is to feed people, and one should apply the same philosophy to writing. You write books for people to read them. This means turning out a quality product on schedule, without wasting time or resources.


Create a concept: Create a weblog post that presents a simple method of outlining a novel.

Devise a plan: Demonstrate the method by using it to outline the post, then use the outline to write the post itself.

Prologue: Outlining Demo
Part One: Introduction to Novel Outlining, Definitions, Purpose
Part Two: Examples of Outlined Scenes, Chapters and Parts
Part Three: Common problems, Suggested Resolutions, Finale
Epilogue: Links to other posts and articles on novel outlining at PBW and elsewhere

01. Novel Outlining

A novel outline is a story plan, written in the abbreviated form of a traditional outline with headings and subheadings. We’re often taught how to outline a novel in school when we learn how to write book reports. To borrow a theme from Jennifer Crusie’s novel, the easiest way to think of it is as a story to-do list.

An outline is valuable in a couple of ways: it creates a map of your novel, so you know where you’re going when you write. Depending on how detailed the outline is, it can also be the foundation or first draft of your synopsis.

An outline doesn’t need to be lengthy or contain all the details of your story. It can be as simple as Peter De Vries suggested: a beginning, a muddle, and an end.

02. Outline Examples

The beginning of this post is an outline borrowed from Lynn Viehl. It’s the sort of outline you should learn to personally prefer: simple, concise, orderly, and just the facts. Let’s haul out John and Marcia in a paranormal setting and put some of their story into outline form:

Angel’s Darkness by Temperance Rising — Section Outline

01. Novel Part One

A. Chapter One: Introduce John, Marcia, demon thief and mystic diamond at Halloween party.

B. Chapter Two: John and Marcia prevent thief from retrieving diamond.

C. Chapter Three: John’s investigation of theft, diamond and Marcia reveal unholy demonic plan.

D. Chapter Four: John and Marcia discover the truth about each other’s half-blood, which should make them immortal enemies.

E. Chapter Five: The thief forces John and Marcia to go on the run with the diamond.

Now the above is just main chapter points or the gist of what happens in each chapter. There are no details of how we meet John, Marcia and the thief, or how John and Marcia keep the diamond from the thief, or in what way they discover they were born to be immortal enemies. For that, we do a chapter outline:

Angel’s Darkness by Temperance Rising — Chapter Outline

01. Chapter One

A. Scene One: John and Marcia meet and have a quickie at the half-blood Halloween party.

B. Scene Two: A demon thief plants a soul-stealing diamond on Marcia to smuggle it out of the house.

C. Scene Three: John pursues Marcia and the diamond, and catches up with her at her house, where the demon is waiting.

D. Scene Four: John senses evil, convinces Marcia to have coffee with him, and Marcia’s house explodes.

Each of the above points outlines a scene in Chapter One. We have more details now of what happens while we’re being introduced to John, Marcia, the demon thief and mystic diamond at the Halloween party. This may be as detailed as you want to get with your outline, or you can take it to the next level, which is the scene outline:

Angel’s Darkness by Temperance Rising — Scene Outline

01. Scene One

A. John arrives at his friend Bruce’s home for the annual half-blood Halloween party. There in the foyer he bumps into a beautiful human librarian named Marcia.

B. Marcia doesn’t know anyone at the party but Bruce, who is busy, so John takes her to get some refreshments and chats with her over the punchbowl.

C. Marcia drinks a cup of punch which she and John don’t know is spiked with half-blood aphrodisiac, and loses all of her inhibitions.

D. John takes advantage of an adult version of Seven Minutes in Heaven to protect Marcia from the punch-spiker, and ends up having sex with her in Bruce’s coat closet.

Now, you can put them all together, and you have a comprehensive outline:

Angel’s Darkness by Temperance Rising

01. Novel Part One

A. Chapter One: Introduce John, Marcia, demon thief and mystic diamond at Halloween party.

01. Scene One: John and Marcia meet and have a quickie at the half-blood Halloween party.

a. John arrives at his friend Bruce’s home for the annual half-blood Halloween party. There in the foyer he bumps into a beautiful human librarian named Marcia.

03. Keeping It Simple and Useful

When you go to the grocery store and you look at your shopping list you see things like eggs, milk, bread, butter, and so forth. You don’t see buy eggs because my honey likes them on Sunday or buy bread for sandwiches for the kids’ lunches, my toast in the morning and grilled cheese on Thursday. You don’t need that information to effectively shop, and you already know it. Plus you might change your mind and decide to use all the eggs to make potato salad, or take the bread down to the lake and feed it to the ducks.

It’s the same thing with an outline. You just need a list of things that need to happen in the story. How much detail you get into is up to you, but you should keep it as simple as possible therefore if you do decide to change something later on, you can without a major hassle.

If you’re still not sure how you want to outline your novel, try outlining a novel you love by another writer. As with writing a synopsis, it’s usually easier to practice on someone else’s work, because the emotional attachment is different and probably not as intense.

Outlining a novel is becoming your story’s architect, and drawing up plans for what will be built. Before you break ground on your project, make sure you’ve got the blueprints you need to make it a solid construct. This is your project, you should build the plans to see it through.