Outlining a Novel by Samantha Seidel

I’m very excited to introduce a writer new to JPC Allen Writes. I wanted different opinions on how to tackle writing a novel during NaNoWriMo, and Samantha has provided her insights on outlining a novel. Take it away, Samantha!

I can hear the groans just from reading the title. If you’re like me, you write off the top of your head, starting wherever you please and leaving organization for later. While it’s my favorite way to write, it opens the door for breaks in character, mysterious setting mishaps, and random plot holes. That’s why an outline, even a basic one, can help organize your thoughts and make editing a breeze. Here’s three things you need to know and have outlined before you write.

Characters

Characters are the guides in every story. Readers connect and invest in characters. If you don’t have solid characters, you’ll lose the intensity and reader connection to the book that keeps them craving the next chapter.

How do you create a solid character? I won’t go into depth since JPC Allen has a month for characters, but I’ll cover a few points. They have a distinct personality, physical appearance, and back story. Think of a family member or best friend. What key points make them unique? When designing a character, you’re designing a person. Look at people around you for inspiration on what to add or consider.

Setting

The setting is the backdrop for your entire book. Especially for a journey with multiple places, the setting needs to be solid so readers don’t get confused or lost while accompanying the characters. Even with one setting, there’s constantly changing components like time of day and weather. These elements can work in your favor, but they need to be solidified before writing.

How do you create a solid setting? Heavy description is the only answer I’ve got for you. I’ve been refining my description abilities for years just so my settings drags readers into the room or roadside. Some of it will get cut in edits, but if you start with lots of description and sensory information (think five senses), you won’t have to add onto it later. Develop the overall setting in a paragraph or two before shifting into writing.

Plot

The plot is the major dilemma of the book. You may have subplots that help move along the story, but there must be one main plot that exists from word 1 to word 50,000. Depending on the genre, this plot will vary. Every book has a plot, and those without one or with a poor plot don’t go anywhere.

How do you create a solid plot? Problems don’t simply arise; something changes that results in a problem. Take the characters and setting you developed and brainstorm on what changes. Does the character lose their job? Does the world become too polluted? Now think about the problem that arises from that change. The bigger and more impactful the problem, the more readers will want to know what happens. That problem is your plot.

Final Thoughts: Road Map

Now the three points above are easy enough, but you’re probably looking for the outline. Remember when I said the most basic outline will do the trick? A basic outline doesn’t need to be a list, but a few paragraphs on the characters, setting, and plot. In other words, we just made a basic writer’s outline.

However, I’ve found that while writing, I get a new idea and create a road map. In this scenario, grab a sheet of paper, write some key scenes down, and connect them with lines. That’s a basic road map that literally shows you how each scene moves into the next. This outline doesn’t restrain freethought writing but gives it direction and purpose.

Thank you so much for stopping by today, Samantha! Click here for more inspiration on character, plot, and setting.

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Samantha Seidel is a speculative fiction writer and graphic designer. Her goal is to inspire others to find their inner creativity through imaginative stories and meaningful design. Writing since she was thirteen, Samantha continues to improve her skills as an author and editor. She has a contract for her first book and is ready to publish more. If you ever want a different perspective on a project or some free writing help, contact her at srsinkfeather@gmail.com. Follow her in Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

5 thoughts on “Outlining a Novel by Samantha Seidel

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  1. I’m not writing a novel for NaNoWriMo, but I appreciate Samantha’s tips. Her reasons for outlining make a lot of sense, no matter how much I like to start writing anywhere.

  2. Interesting! Samantha, thank you for the simplified outline road map idea! Samantha and JPC, I’m curious what your thoughts are on the more detailed three-act story structure with hook and plot points and pinch points, etc. When I first started writing, I had a very basic outline (even simpler than what you explained here). Then I learned about the three-act story structure and thought maybe that was required to make a story compelling. What do you think?

    1. Some people swear by the three-act structure. I find I can’t think in that much detail before I start writing. I also have trouble identifying all the elements in the acts. I’m also afraid if I try to fabricate plot points to suit the structure ithey won’t feel natural to the story. But if I find a problem, like not much is happening in the middle, then I will consult writing books to solve it. My best advice is write your story and if you sense something is missing, try the three-act structure.

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