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The Novel Outline

Pub Date: Jan 30, 2015

 Alexandra Monir, Columnist

The Novel Outline

by Alexandra Monir 

February, 2015

Authorlink proudly welcomes this Randomhouse author as one of our regular columnists!

“I had a 50-page outline for my first novel, Timeless, before I began Draft #1 . . .”
—MONIR

One of the first things we authors determine when starting a novel is if we’re a “plotter,” a “pantser,” or somewhere in between. Plotters are exactly what they sound like: authors who map out every element of a story, from character arcs to the scenes that will make up each chapter, before sitting down to write a single line of exposition or dialogue. Pantsers are the opposite: these are authors who think and create best when there’s no outline and they’re starting from the blank page. They simply dive in headfirst! I’ve worked both ways, which is why I’d call myself an In-Betweener. I had a 50-page outline for my first novel, Timeless, before I began Draft #1, and while it was certainly helpful, I deviated so far from the outline that the final book is pretty unrecognizable from it! Ultimately my best breakthroughs on the story came through drafting, not outlining, which is why I went the Panster route on the sequel, Timekeeper. While it made sense to go in that direction after my experience writing Book #1, I found working without any sort of outline or parameters to be really tough and stressful. So that leads me to the middle ground I found on Suspicion, which will continue to be my method going forward.

STEP #1. Write up a synopsis of the story.

This can be as thorough as a 22-page book proposal (as I did for Suspicion) or as brief as a one-page summary, but either way, make sure you have the meat and bones of your story written down and that you know where you’re going.

STEP #2. This is what I call the non-restrictive outline. I’ll make a very loose outline of each chapter, covering the fundamentals:

  • Who should appear in this chapter?
  • Where do my characters go in this chapter?
  • What is the big event/action/revelation/emotion in this chapter?

This way I have the freedom to go wherever my imagination takes me, but I still have a solid framework to support me.

STEP #3. Write the first draft! More on this in my next column.

“What is the opening sentence of this chapter? This way I can make sure that I start strong every time. . .”
—MONIR

STEP #4. Revision Outlining.

After I have a completed draft to work with, I’ll go back to my chapter-by-chapter outline, and add the following questions for myself:

  • What is the opening sentence of this chapter? This way I can make sure that I start strong every time, and that the first sentence sets the tone for the rest of the chapter to come.
  • What does my protagonist want in this chapter? This is the most crucial point, as everything in the story is furthered by the protagonist’s evolving wants and needs.
  • How does this chapter move the romance plot forward? Writing a love story is one of the hardest things, and even after three books I’m still learning how to solidly lay the foundation for a couple to get together, how to build tension and chemistry between them, and when in the story they should finally get together. It’s tricky! With Suspicion, I tried to really analyze the dynamic between Imogen and Sebastian in every chapter they were in together, to make sure that it made sense for these two to fall in love.
  • How does this chapter move the mystery forward? Clues, red herrings, etc? This is crucial when writing a mystery novel. Each chapter should bring the reader a step forward in uncovering the truth, OR a step backward by throwing a red herring curveball their way.
“Since I realized I tend to rely a little too much on adverbs, I’ve begun counting them and eliminating them wherever I can.”
—MONIR
  • How many adverbs are in this chapter? Okay, this one might be unique to me! Since I realized I tend to rely a little too much on adverbs, I’ve begun counting them and eliminating them wherever I can. I’m still not Anti-Adverb, but I like to push myself to see how I can express the same sentiment without adding a “suddenly” or a “shakily” or anything “-ly.” If the adverb really is needed, it stays. Otherwise I come up with something new.

And those are my outlining tips and tricks! I’d love to hear yours, so please share in the comments. Happy Writing!

About
Alelxandra Monir

Alexandra Monir is an author and recording artist in her twenties. Suspicion is her third novel published by Random House. Her debut was the popular time-travel romance, Timeless, followed by the 2013 sequel, Timekeeper. Alexandra currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is at work on her 2016 novel, while also composing and recording original music. Her music can be found on iTunes, and you can visit her website at www.alexandramonir.com. Follow Alexandra @TimelessAlex.