If you want to write a great book, then you need to brainstorm and plan a good story. Good stories sell as well as good writing. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, proper planning is a must and only helps make your writing better. Behind every great story is a great outline.
This post is linking back to How to Write a Book’s steps three, four, and five: Build Your Idea, Create a Plan, and Know the Elements of a Story. We’ll cover:
- How to build your idea
- Plotting styles and which is the best
- Creating an outline that works
- The importance of planning and plotting
Build Your Novel Idea
Once you’ve got the germ of an idea, it’s time to reflect on it and ask yourself a few questions.
- Can this make a full-length book?
- Do I have enough of a story or enough information or a big enough point to make?
- Who are my characters and what do I want to happen to them?
- What do I want to achieve by the end of my book?
- Is there even an audience for my book?
Reflect, take notes, and spend time fleshing out your idea before you even begin planning and plotting. You need to know if your idea has a good enough base to build from. If you’re not sure at this stage, your plotting stage will definitely make it clear whether your idea is a good one or not.
Plotting: Plotting, Plantsing, or Pantsing, Which One Are You?
I love the feeling of getting caught up in the exciting feeling of having a new idea. I can’t wait to start writing because the energy and motivation are there. I have the idea in my mind, and it’s so ready to come out. I sometimes start without planning anything, and then soon enough, as it always does, my writing falls flat.
Here’s why: You need a plan. Writing without one is like building a house with no foundation. One strong rainstorm and that house is outta there. There are different styles of plotting, and most writers fall under one of these categories:
Plotting is creating a set and detailed outline. You’ve covered everything from the story to the characters to the chapters. You know your story inside and out. You’ve also done any research you need before the book has begun and placed it in the appropriate starts. It’s like a detailed roadmap that you prepare before you go on a long trip. This provides clear direction for you, but it can be a lot of work up front.
Pantsing is the plotting style I mentioned earlier. It’s when you just run into writing with only a general idea of where you’re going because you think you’ll figure it all out along the way. It can be really exciting because there is a lot of freedom, but oftentimes you run into deadends or plot holes.
Plantsing is what people often fall into because it’s the middle ground. They make their preparations and create a general outline, but they also have a little of the pantsing, so not everything is planned. There’s still wiggle room for sudden changes.
At HGW, we love a good outline and plotting is the way to go for us. It gives us the map we need to build not just an okay story, but a great one. One that has a solid foundation, so if ever there is confusion or a change, we can always return to that clear road map. The more details we have up front, the better direction we have for our book.
Plotting makes the most sense when making a definite plan for your novel. Taking your time to plan the characters, plot, subplots, and settings ensures you know your story inside and out. It not only guides you through the writing process, but strengthens your voice as the author within the manuscript. Here's how you get started...
Creating an outline
You might be quite eager to start plotting, but you’re not sure exactly how to get started. Let’s begin with the elements of a great outline.
A great outline has the elements of the story:
- Point of View
- Plot description
Write a paragraph or a few sentences for each of the elements so it’s clear exactly what you’re going for in your book. Give yourself a clear description of the settings and characters, and be sure to write your plot points in order from beginning to end—much the same way a GPS gives you directions!
A good outline also contains the three-act story arc and a description of each:
- Act One (Opening Image/ Hook, Inciting Incident, End of the Beginning)
- Act Two (Midpoint, Crisis)
- Act Three (Climax, Final Image/Resolution)
- Remember to describe emotions and events.
This is an excellent way to see if your story actually works. As you describe the path of your story, you can spot any awkward sections, plot holes, or things that just plain don’t work. Be thorough in your descriptions. Spend time thinking about your story so when you go to write, you have everything you need to get started.
Things like links to research can really strengthen your outline. In a writing software like Scrivener, there is actually a research section where you can hide your links or other pertinent information to your book. You can quickly access it whenever you need it, and it will be easy to create a reference list at the end of your book.
How we do it
Here at HotGhostWriter, we have our own style of outlining. We build our outlines with the end of the story in mind. We can create a polished outline by including all of these elements along with a detailed chapter-by-chapter layout.
Our writers know exactly where they’re going when they get started. Once the hard work of outlining is finished, all the writer needs to do is the fun part of the writing process!
The Benefits of Outlining
We’ve seen the benefits of outlining first hand because we’ve produced story after successful story with a thorough outline in our toolbox. But besides giving you a clear direction, what else does a good outline give you?
- Good pacing: You’ve already figured out where everything goes. You know approximately when the inciting incident occurs. You know what draws your protagonist into the story. You know when to introduce your villain, to show the turning point in the character’s mind or feelings. You know when the climax comes to have the greatest effect. If you just start writing without any idea of pacing, you might include exciting elements, but they won’t be in the right place to make the story the best it could be.
- Consistent character voice: If you’ve already sat and outlined your characters and who they are, then you know how you want to portray them on the page. Without a plan, you might find that a few of your characters have the same voice, the same mannerisms, which shows poor understanding of characterization, lazy writing, and boring, flat characters. With a plan, your characters are interesting, complex, and they each have their own unique personalities that play out in the story.
- Prevents plot holes and bad ideas: If you already have everything planned out, and you know where your story is going to go, then you can prevent a majority of bad things from happening in your writing. Before you even start writing, you can work out plot holes and difficult scenarios. You don’t need to be halfway through your book before you realize something just isn’t working, and then you have to do a major rewrite. You can even test out a few ideas in the planning process to see which can be fleshed out and which should be scrapped.
While pantsing can be exhilarating, it’s really not the way to go for a professional writer who’s creating a business. You want to consistently create good, solid books that sell, and outlining is the way to do that. It smooths the way for your story, cleans up any awkwardness, removes bad ideas, builds complex characters, and provides consistency.
For other tips on plotting, planning, and outlining, check out these resources:
- Finding Your Planning Process
- The Pros and Cons of Plotting and Pantsing
- 6 Legitimate Reasons to Create a Book Outline
- Benefits of Outlining Your Novel
Outlining and plotting effectively is a big undertaking. Don’t want to do it on your own? Hire HotGhostWriter to handle your outline for you! You’ll end up with a lovely, polished, detailed outline, and that part of the work is already done and you can focus on writing!Kerilee Nickles