Planning your novel (outlines & other processes)

The newer you are to novel-writing, the more likely you’re going to need some kind of plan or road map. The more experienced you become as a writer, the more likely pantsing (which means writing without plotting and having no idea where you’re going) will work for you.

Don’t allow yourself to be put off by terms which have unpleasant school associations, such as “outline.” Most novelists who outline are not using the form of outlining they were taught in school. If you’re put off by the word outline, come up with your own term.

Through the course of your journey to develop as a writer, it’s good to experiment to find the processes that work for you. Most writers create their own system by adapting and combining elements from other writers’ processes. Plotting (outlining) and pantsing aren’t mutually exclusive and most writers use both at various stages of writing. Most writers continually search for their own personal balance between pantsing and plotting. There’s an infinite variety of combinations and you can find sometimes pretty idiosyncratic methods described on author websites and blogs.

Below are some of the most common approaches to planning:


Storyboarding/Index Cards/Post-it Notes

Story/Series Bible

Long Summary/Extended Outline

Fast Draft/Zero Draft/Discovery Draft

Search the web with the terms above and you’ll find lots more on these techniques and processes, and you may discover sites that particularly resonate.

Updated January 10, 2022

Header Photo: Ithaca, NY, courtesy of Paul Joran

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