I've never had a solid template for outlining my novels. I don't even know if I'm doing it right, if there's a right way to do it.

For my characters, I have a list of questions that I fill out. For my world building, I jot down details, such as where, when, who governs, what rules there are, appearance, etc. Maybe that's not enough, but that's what I've always done.

My actual plot is where I doubt myself. I write a short description of each scene in chronological order, organized by bullet points. Sometimes, I write short sentences and sometimes I write a paragraph. It gets stressful, it's not very productive, and it's very slow. I've been outlining since October 2020 and am still outlining now. I'm dying to start writing, but I feel like I should complete the outline. I've written with an unfinished outline before and it was disastrous.

I'm a plotser, which you may have figured out already. I used to be more of a pantser but I didn't get anywhere; by the time I'd get to the middle of my story, I didn't know where I was going, like I mentioned earlier. So after that, I began to write detailed outlines before starting my novel.

I've also heard of different apps you could use, video tutorials that claim you can outline your novel on a single sheet of paper, scene cards, but none have really worked for me. I've also looked for downloadable or printable templates, but end up returning to my old way of bullet pointing every scene from beginning to end.

In short, is there a "right" way to outline a novel? Are there certain methods I can use? Should I just continue the way I'm outlining?

  • 1
    Plotster vs. Panster? I have no idea what the later term means...
    – hszmv
    Apr 29, 2021 at 16:50
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    @hszmv Pantser is a term for a person who "writes by the seat of their pants." Basically, they can just sit down at a blank sheet of paper and write without necessarily knowing where they're going. For example, paraphrasing Stephen King, they may put characters in difficult situations and see what happens. Apr 29, 2021 at 20:20

2 Answers 2


Generally I tend to focus on "What is the point" when I get to the plot outline, with the overall plot of the book being the fist big point I need to find out. At the end of Climax, where are we and why? What needs to be seen in the final fight is important because it will build up all your other scenes. From there, it's a matter of tying in the space to build to this point. The character growth, the actions that lead here, the things the hero needs to accomplish that take them to this point. I've found it helps to know where your characters are going, but to leave minor details out until you get to writing (I've had whole plots for book sequels develop from a single line of otherwise casual dialog getting thrown out by a character... it's fun when this happens, but the book right now isn't concerned with it, so it was out of my notes.).

Unlike the audience, the writer needs to know how the story ends more than setting it up. Once you have that, leaving clues is easy and fun, because they can be fit in better and it's so much fun to use the pay off later down the line.


K. M. Weiland offers a nice short (and inexpensive) book on outlining your novel: Outlining Your Novel: Map Your way To Success available as kindle book at amazon.

I to have provided a few steps that help you create a loose outline (based upon breaking your novel or story into scenes. I wrote it up here on writing SE : Basics in the world building of a novel

I also wrote this one up which provides some details on outlining: Short Story Outline Issues Even though it says short story, it should help.

Here are the basics I offer that you may find helpful.

Focus on Specifics to Distract the Mind

  1. Think In Scenes
  2. Write Extremely fast draft

Let's go over each of those and see how they might help you:

Think In Scenes

Understand that readers want to see your story played out on the "movie-screen" of their minds. This is when the words transform from words into images that the readers "see".
Now, instead of thinking about all of your research, go ahead and imagine a scene that would show your character in some type of trouble that s/he needs to work out of.

Character's Self-Concept Can Create Tension

Additionally, if you understand your character's self-concept, you may even provide tension as the character has to do something that goes against what she believes of herself. You can read more about the power of self-concept in my article : Easiest Way To Get Fiction Ideas: Self-concept Against the World

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