Readers who devour new books look forward to heading into unknown territory. The author has provided them with an opportunity to learn something new, whether it is through a vivid story, a memoir, new recipes, or a financial “How To” manual.

Imagine the reader has boarded a tourist bus, and you, the author, are the driver. Now imagine starting the tour through the pages of your book’s journey without a clue as to where you will be taking these trusting passengers.

Your bus is zigzagging all around town, with nary a clear destination in view. The tourists (your readers) are befuddled and confused by the wild ride they have embarked on, with absolutely no idea where you are taking them.

One by one, they stand up and demand their money back before abandoning the tour to nowhere. This simple scenario illustrates the purpose of a book outline and why every aspiring author needs to create one. Without one, the book can devolve into utter chaos.

If, at first, you reject this truth, ask yourself if you know better than J.K. Rowling, Joseph Heller, Henry Miller, or Sylvia Plath, all of whom relied on book outlines for their projects along with throngs of other high-profile authors. There may be plenty of authors who prefer to wing it, but the outline provides a much-needed roadmap for most writers. Think of it as a Google map, something to take the reader from point A to Point B while keeping them from jumping off the bus midway.

Once it’s understood that an outline will boost the reader experience, which will translate to more positive reviews and better book sales, now it’s time to learn how to write an outline for a book.

What is a Novel Outline?

A book outline is, in essence, a blueprint. Just as an architect uses blueprints to aid the builder, a book outline provides the building blocks for guiding the creative writing process. If you can imagine the mess a builder would have on his hands without a set of blueprints to follow, you can easily understand the need for an author to have a book outline. In fact, learning how to outline a book from the get-go will save you much time and trouble down the road.

In school, we were taught how to make an outline for book reports that were assigned. Remember all those Roman numerals and indented letters? If you are wondering how to write a book outline, know that the idea is basically the same as structuring your report outline. You will be creating a document that details, step-by-step, your characters, plot points, chapters, and such. Your outline can even include a schedule for additional structure, if desired.

There is a multitude of benefits for using a book outline for your self-published book project, especially for a first-time author. When you learn how to outline a book, you will enjoy the following benefits:

  • Time savings. Making an outline will ultimately save you time. Instead of straying off the path onto time-wasting tangents or redundancy, you will be guided by a defined roadmap to help you complete your book more efficiently.
  • Motivation. By following a book outline, you will enjoy a sense of accomplishment as you complete each section.
  • Keep you on track. An outline helps you avoid veering off course and possibly losing continuity and focus. The story will be less likely to suffer from a lack of cohesion.
  • A better reader experience. The smoother the reading experience, the higher the likelihood that the reader will stay engaged. A book outline helps create that seamless reader experience.

How Do You Write an Outline for a Book?

Creating a book outline is a starting point for all authors, regardless of your book’s genre. The process for writing a basic book outline is relevant for all genres, albeit with some genre-specific modifications. Think of your book outline as an organizational system, a document that helps you flesh out your book chapter by chapter.

Authors can take liberties with their outline, as there is no hard and set rule for writing a book outline. Some authors enjoy creating their outline with pen and paper, some may use an Excel spreadsheet, and others may type an outline like their teachers taught them in school. Stick with these basics and then make it your own.

Here is a step-by-step guide for how to make an outline to help your book take shape:

Step One

Define your book project in one sentence. Condensing the main idea for the book into a single sentence helps you begin the project with clarity.

Step Two

Answer the 5 “W” questions: who, what, where, when, and why. This process helps you flesh out the purpose of your story or nonfiction book and its various components. If your book is fiction, you can describe the setting, characters, time period, basic plot points, and the point of the story in a general manner. If it is nonfiction, you will describe who the audience is, what knowledge they will gain by reading, why they should care about reading the book, and whether there is a region-specific or timeline-specific focus for the book.

Step Three

In this step, you will be filling out the details for each of those “W” questions. As you dive into and develop each of these elements, you are providing a framework for your book. This becomes the foundation of a workable book outline.
Keep in mind that while a book outline provides structure, it also needs to remain flexible. Allow yourself the freedom to adjust and modify your outline as your manuscript begins to take shape. Think of it as a living, breathing guideline and not a rigid set of rules.

How to Write a Nonfiction Book Outline

Writing a nonfiction book will be a markedly different process from penning a piece of fiction. It is interesting to note that learning how to write a nonfiction book outline will also vary somewhat from a fiction outline. The process will follow the above basic steps, with some modifications specific to the nonfiction genre.

How to outline a nonfiction book:

  • Define your idea for the book in a succinct sentence or two
  • Create a list of chapters you will use to support your thesis and sway the reader
  • Organize the chapters in a particular order by creating a working table of contents
  • Under each chapter heading, list out:
    • The opening hook
    • The essence of the chapter, briefly state your arguments and what you want to teach or convey
    • What you want the reader to take away from the chapter
    • A transition paragraph to lead to the next chapter
  • Ensure that the final chapter sums up the thesis or teaching point being made in the book

While it’s tempting to go into deep detail while defining your chapters, try to resist. State the main ideas and fill in the supportive material during the book writing process.

A memoir is a genre included in the nonfiction category. However, when creating a memoir, outline it is best to follow the fiction book outline process as it applies to storytelling.

How to Write a Fiction Book Outline

Writing a novel or any type of fictional narrative can really be an adventure. You are involved in a fully creative process, which means there is an opportunity to innovate and explore your characters, scenes, emotional plot twists, and settings. You can see how it could be risky to attempt writing your fiction book without a set of guidelines to keep you on point.

Fortunately, there are plenty of fiction book outline templates available at no cost online. These come in various formats and styles, so finding one that fits your personality and writing preferences is helpful. Some authors prefer to set up their fiction outline as if it was a play with Act 1, Act 2, etc., with chapters inside each act.

Here are the basic steps for creating a fiction book outline:

  • Define the premise or central idea of your story
  • Create a list of characters and describe each in some detail
  • Begin the storytelling process by describing the story arc; the beginning, conflict, emotional points, conflict resolution, ending. This will evolve during the writing process
  • Start detailing scenes and organizing chapters
  • Revisit your premise to confirm you have successfully executed it with the resulting outline. Tweak it as needed.

A Book Outline is Only the Starting Point

Now that you are armed with the basic tools for creating your own book outline, you are ready to progress to the actual writing process. Always remember that you are writing a book with the intent to sell a top-notch finished product. Once your manuscript is completed, there will be many publishing decisions to make. Why not partner with the editing experts at Gatekeeper Press for their guidance in creating a polished product? They provide proofreading, editing, and cover design services and will guide you along the entire self-publishing process. Give them a call at (866) 535-0913 or visit them online today!

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