Do you need a book outline before you start writing your book? Writing a book takes more than just a good idea. Inspiration for a book can come from just about anywhere, but many authors use a proven outlining structure to help them transform their concept into a concrete plan to help them write the book.
One of the most common organizational tools authors use is a book outline, but you might be surprised at how many different ways there are to outline a book.
Why Should I Use a Book Outline?
Coming up with a fantastic idea for your next book might just be the easiest part of writing. Conceptualizing and putting pen to paper to create content are two different things altogether. So even the most seasoned authors like a book outline because it can help writers accomplish goals, keep an author’s mind focused on writing, and even assist in completing a book faster.
1 A book outline can help you meet your goals. You may have always wanted to become a published author, so creating a book outline takes you one step closer to meeting that goal, because your book’s concept has become a concrete, workable idea.
2 A book outline keeps you thinking about your book even when you are not actively working on it. When you think and plan while creating a book outline, your brain will continue to work out the little details of the outline long after you have moved on to another task. This organizational activity will keep your book in your conscious and subconscious thoughts all day long as you consider the finer details of the book outline. This extra thinking time will give you plenty of time to not only craft a workable book outline but also to inject extra creativity into your book along the way.
3 Using a book outline can help you finish your book more quickly than if you didn’t use one. A well-planned book outline can motivate authors since it helps them see the whole book from the first page to the last. Authors can jump right into the writing process, potentially speeding up the writing process by providing a roadmap to follow.
Outlining Strategies for Your Nonfiction Book
Authors preparing to write a nonfiction book can choose from a few different types of outlining strategies to help them plan out their book’s contents. Picking two or more book outline types to try can help writers hone in on the strategy that best aligns with their own planning, thinking, and writing style.
This type of book outline focuses first on the topics that your book will cover. Create a complete list of topics with the purpose of creating a chapter for each one and develop a meaningful chapter title. Then, devise an order for each chapter that creates interest and relevancy for your readers, like chronological, topic clusters, or even a reverse timeline.
Once the order is complete, create subheadings within each chapter to present the related materials. Consider using the same structure in every chapter so the reader will feel a similar rhythm throughout the book. Last, link key information and sources to each section or chapter where they will be presented.
Draw the Book Outline
Sometimes creating a graphic outline can help authors focus their words while writing the manuscript. Consider using a pen and paper to physically draft the outline of a book’s contents. Using words as well as physical representations in this type of outline can be especially helpful for complex topics.
Begin by sketching your book’s topic in sequential order, using words or pictures. The act of distilling a complicated idea into a picture or simple sketch helps authors to uncomplicate difficult concepts, making it easier to begin writing.
Also called spiderwebbing or webbing, a mind map is a visual representation of connections within a larger idea. Authors that use this technique to plan their book will first create a mind map of the topics within their book and then complete another map for each chapter. To begin, draw a circle in the center of the page labeled with the topic of the book inside.
Then, using circles linked to the center circle or other circles, create bubbles of topics with lines that indicate their connections. The primary and possibly secondary links off the center bubble will become the chapters. For each chapter, create a new mind map with the chapter topic at the center of the page so you can include the related information, data or sources in subsequent bubbles.
When your nonfiction book is chock-full of information, consider using a tactile outline method using sticky notes. Begin by writing topics, ideas, complete sentences, or words on individual Post-it notes and stick them on a blank wall. For each subtopic or related concept you will be writing about, create new Post-it notes and place them near, under or next to related notes.
Continue creating notes and adjusting locations until all topics or concepts are represented as well as sources or links you want to include in your book. Various colors and sizes of Post-it notes can be used to differentiate between ideas or even the importance of a topic, but creating notes when inspiration strikes is an appealing way for some authors to implement this outlining strategy.
Book outlining software is also an excellent tool for some authors to try when they are planning out their book. Scrivner offers nonfiction writers a place to upload research and ideas and a platform that allows writers to group and organize their writing into a workable manuscript structure.
Different Ways to Outline a Novel
Writing a novel outline is different than creating one for nonfiction because the plot arcs and characters within a novel unfold uniquely to each story. However, authors can use a handful of organizational tools to create an outline that matches the flow and type of novel they want to write.
Basic File Format
One of the easiest ways to outline a book is to use a table in Microsoft Word or Excel to organize plot points. Characters, settings, and conflicts can all be developed on new tables, using successive lines and columns to organize content details.
3 Act Format
Some novels follow this time-honored structure that finds its roots in ancient Greek literature. Act 1 includes the set up of the story and introduction of the characters, while Act 2 introduces the conflict and Act 3 presents the resolution. Organizing the outline according to this basic structure can help authors group necessary details and fill in plot holes easily based on the confines of each act.
A classic novel format is the multi-stage Hero’s Journey, and authors often use this character development structure to organize their outlines. The basic Hero’s Journey describes the path every hero follows as they face adversity and develop as a character. Authors can follow the Hero’s Journey structure without using every stage, making this outline strategy easy to customize to many types of novels.
This 10-step organizational process created by author Randy Ingermanson includes building a novel by adding individual details one at a time. Starting with a three-pronged snowflake base, authors add details to create a fleshed-out idea that resembles a snowflake.
The skeleton strategy is a basic outline structure that authors can use to plot out the action in their story. The seven skeleton steps include the hook, the first plot step, the twist or problem, another plot step, the midpoint, another pinch or problem, and the final resolution.
Write it in Reverse
A great way for authors to work out the details of their novel is to begin with the ending. By planning out the final plot and character resolution first, authors can work backward to organize how the story came to be. This reverse outline is perfect for writers still developing the plot twists and characterizations that lead to their story’s resolution.
Using a Template
A template can simplify the outlining process by providing a set structure for an author to fill in. Tools like NovelPad are useful for novels with a traditional structure but templates often include a variety of ways for authors to customize the template to match just about any structure. And a template’s flexibility and convenience make this book outline tool highly desirable for writers who are ready to get down to the business of writing quickly.
Transforming Your Book Outline into a Printed Book
No matter what type of outlining strategy you use, once your book is laid out, the writing can begin. And turning your manuscript into a gorgeous, printed book when you partner with an experienced printer like Dazzle Printing will make all of the time spent organizing your work worth the effort because you will be able to put a beautiful, well-planned book into your reader’s hands.