Outlining a novel is tricky. Everyone works in a different way. Some people like mind maps, such as the one displayed here. Others, like me, prefer working with regular paper. Others like working on their computers, but with a different program or layout than the mind map.
As many of you are likely aware, I have a strong love of writing things out by hand. I remember what I write down better. I'm used to reaching for a journal or story bible to get information. I guess it's part of growing up in an era where we were taught to reference books instead of computers. I guess I just haven't quite caught up with the times yet!
It isn't uncommon for me to outline a single novel several times. The first time I will make a brief outline as I write the book. This happens either in my head or on paper, but it's more of a flow chart of the novel's progression. Important details find their way onto note cards or directly into my story bible.
For me, the outline is intended to be a reminder of what happens in a scene, important events, and when things of note are introduced. What you use your outline for is entirely up to you. Truth be told? I wouldn't bother with a finalized outline for a completed novel that is a standalone. That said, if I think a spinoff novel might happen due to the standalone, or I think there is a chance for a sequel, I'll create the finalized outline. It helps me keep facts and events for a specific book straight without cluttering my story bibles, which are dedicated to character sheets and world building information.
Here is a sample of one scene from Storm Without End. I'm only sharing the first scene's notes, as the first scene is available to read as a sample on amazon. If you chose to read the first scene, you can compare it to my notes to see what I picked out. After the image, I'll explain why I chose the plot points I mentioned.
I start out with labeling the page with the Chapter and Scene number. This lets me find the matching scene in the book more easily, as I can navigate the novel files by chapter.
Next, I establish the location the scene and the time of day the scene takes place. If the scene covers an entire day or several hours, I'll mark the start time / end time of the scene to help ensure my timing is actually correct in the story.
Characters are one of the most critical notes to take in an outline like this. I list out groups of characters, unnamed characters, and named ones.
Major Plot Points cover notable events and event-based details that happened in the scene.
Important details can include things like character introductions, laws introduced in a scene, important world building details introduced, as well as anything else I feel is important for remembering later.
How detailed I get with each of these points is dependent on the scene. If the order of an action sequence is important, for example, I'll outline the entire sequence. Otherwise, I'll just note that the action happened, and who was involved. This way, I can look and see what happened in each scene at a glance.
Why do I do this to a completed novel?
Outlines tend to change between drafts as I enhance the storyline and work on the characters. The only way to get a ‘reliable' outline is to do it after the story has been finalized.
In the cast of Storm Without End, I am doing a read through of the novel before I seriously begin work on the rest of the series.
No matter how you approach it, the most important thing to keep in mind when building your own outlines is to include the information you think you need. My way of taking notes will dramatically differ from the way other people do it. Create your outline in a way that works for you.