This week, as an extended Bank Holiday Bonus, we will be looking at how to outline your novel:
Taking the time to outline your novel can save you grief in the long run. An outline helps keep your story on-track and progressing past the initial thrill of beginning your work. Maybe you can’t wait to start writing, or maybe you’ve already started but are running into problems. This guide will explain all the techniques you’ll need to craft an effective outline for your novel.
Essential Components Of Your Story’s Middle
The middle is the longest part of your novel and the most likely to sag. Pacing is the key here, since writers often find it had to keep the middle plot moving. Also take care not to race from one plot point to the next. Splitting the middle into equal sections and outlining each of them will help you control the story’s pace.
Although one of the main purposes of the middle is to build up to the climax, it doesn’t mean nothing can happen before this point. Set your protagonist or other characters obstacles, which ideally also lead directly to the final climax. In this outlining stage it may be useful to work on your ending before the middle. Then you have a clear idea of where the middle needs to go.
Minor characters’ and subplots’ arcs may finish, as well as some major characters’ arcs. This doesn’t mean they disappear from the story, it just allows the questions left hanging to focus on the protagonist and antagonist in the ending.
The midpoint is, as it sounds, in the middle of your novel. It’s a very important stage to shake things up so your story doesn’t get too repetitive. The midpoint involves a Shift in the protagonist’s worldview or goal. Whatever propelled them forward in Plot Point 1 has changed or isn’t enough to keep them going.
“Hamlet is another really good example, because the first half of Hamlet is Hamlet’s journey to prove Claudius’ guilt. Exactly halfway through he proves it, then the second half of the story is ‘What do I do with it?’. And, actually, that’s the shape you find in all archetypal narratives.” – John Yorke
The Shift shouldn’t just come out of nowhere. It should be connected to your overall story premise or core message. At the midpoint, the tension should be raised again. This tension can either be sudden and external, leading to the Shift, or be a result of the Shift by making the situation more personal to the protagonist.
The Black Moment and Plot Point 2
At the end of Act 2, the protagonist should come across the Black Moment. Regardless of all the work they’ve done over this Act, they reach a point where their goal seems impossible. Maybe they discover that their new super skill has a fatal weakness, or perhaps the antagonist unlocks the secret to immortality.
Shortly afterwards is Plot Point 2 where something changes to propel the protagonist onto the final confrontation. Perhaps their skill has reached another level, they’ve realised that even with such a slim chance the stakes are too high, or one of the antagonist’s henchmen switches sides.
This Black Moment and Plot Point 2 are integral to the pace of the plot. With their sense of purpose reignited, the next step is the climax.
Essential Components of Your Story’s End
Writers want to leave a lasting impression on your reader through the ending. It’s good to go back and reflect on your core message while doing the conclusion. Characters are particularly important to draw your reader’s interest and emotions. Keep your characters active until the final moment.
“The hero must be the catalyst. A passerby in the street can do something ‘enlightening’ but that’s all that moment must be. The protagonist will be the one to use that clue to enable meaning in the development of the story.” – Rebecca Berto
The climax is the final confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist where the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been before, and the inner and outer conflicts come to a head. It isn’t a simple stand-alone point in your plot. The climax needs to be supported in its lead-up and its resolution.
Sometimes the climax has its own mini Black Moment. The protagonist’s initial plan is failing and they are forced to come up with a new plan under pressure, usually something more risky than they would typically consider.
Act 3 ends showing the result of the protagonist’s decision at the climax. It’s good to have a scene or two afterwards to give your reader a “breather” from all the tension. Along with this, any loose ends or unanswered questions should be resolved. Novel endings are important, so you want to be sure it’s planned carefully.
Reassess and Reorder Your Scenes
With the details of the chapter breakdown, you novel is really starting to take shape. As a final task, consider checking for scenes which require reordering and tweaking. This may involve moving scenes chronologically so plot point B becomes plot point A, or plot point B stays as it is, but plot point A appears after as a flashback.
Perhaps the timing of a revelation isn’t ideal. When outlining you want to get your ideas down as and when they come to you. But now is the time to go back and check if, for the sake of mystery, a scene is better at that point in the plot or at another point. Make sure that the tension is kept and the big reveal appears at the best possible moment.
“Writing in scenes is great because anyone who’s ever published a book knows how often scenes get moved around in the redrafting and editing phase of a book.” – Natasha Lester
Reordering scenes is often done after you’ve finished writing, but it doesn’t hurt to do a mini-version of that edit now. To help identify the best order of scenes, check your plot’s tension by drawing a graph and consult your core message. If you’re uncertain, leave the scene where it is. You can always move things around later.
Outlining your novel is important to keep your writing on-track. While you should keep it handy as you write, you’re not limited by it. Feel free to change things around as you write. Be sure to keep control of tension and keep focused on your core. Now you’re all-set to get writing!
If you are enjoying this post and finding it useful, then don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the final instalment…
You can find the previous parts here: