Seven Strategies to Outline Your Novel (or Novella)!

7 Tips and Strategies for Plotting Your Book

Are you a pantser? Or a plotter?

It is easily the number one question I get asked as an author. It’s also one of the hardest to answer. You see, I’m sort of both. I do outline. I try to whip up a quick outline for every book I begin. And when I don’t do this, things fall to hellish, fiery pit preeeeeetty quickly while I’m writing. Then, I inevitably have to stop, do the plotting ANYWAY, go back and rewrite, and start again.

Whereas, if I have at least sat down and organized my thoughts for the book, I have a reference when I hit the inevitable snag.

But, even with outlining, I always, ALWAYS have flexibility. If a book takes off running in a new direction? I follow that little betch to see if the characters are onto something. Sometimes those ideas lead to gold. Other times, it’s a rabbit hole with nothing but dirt and worms.

Anyway, I’ve developed seven tactics I use every time to get my plotting started before I write!

  1. What is the theme?
    Every book has a theme. You may not know what it is yet… but it’s there. I guarantee it. I’ve found that by pinpointing what I think I want my theme to be from the beginning helps streamline the entire novel. For example, in Ex-Con, the theme was Self-Acceptance. Super simple, right? Two words. And as I was writing, I would occasionally check in with my book and various scenes and ask myself: Does this still fit my theme?
  2. Write Chapter One.
    This might seem like a weird one. Like, “Whoa, Katana! Slow your roll. You JUST told us to outline first to save yourself time.” Yes, absolutely. But for me, and this may just be me, I usually have to start writing to get a real sense for who my characters are. And so before I dive deep into the plotting world, I’ll sit down and with that theme in mind, write the first scene with my hero and heroine together.  It helps me find their voices. Then, after that’s done, I go back to outlining.
  3. Craft the Premise (in 3-5 Sentences)
    This is easily the hardest part for me. Basically, I try to boil down what people in the industry call our “elevator pitch.” Try to summarize what you think the essentials of your book will be about. Using Ex-Con as another example, I wrote: “Shane is released from prison with no choice but to enter the car club/gang he spent his life avoiding. When he crosses paths with a beautiful mechanic and falls in love, he doesn’t realize immediately that she’s the daughter of Boston’s head detective. As tensions in the club rise, his relationship with a detective’s daughter isn’t looked kindly upon. And the brother of the man he killed is out for blood—his blood; and now Charlie is Shane’s biggest Achilles’ Heel.
  4. Create Rough Scene Ideas
    I find this easiest as literal notecards that I hang up around me as I write. That way, I can move them around as I see fit. If I realize that they shouldn’t go on their first date that early in the book, I can grab that card and move it later in the sequence. But having a list of scenes ready to go is invaluable. They are very, very rough. Like this:
    Scene 1 – Shane is being let out of prison. Collecting his personal effects. Cousin picks him up and mentions the new girl mechanic in town.
    Scene 2 – Charlie is working at her mechanic’s garage trying to scrounge money together to buy a car. Shane arrives at her garage with his broken down car. He has no money to fix it. Offers to work in exchange for her help.
    Scene 3 – Shane is at car club. Suckered into drag racing that night. Charlie shows up.
    See? You get the picture. These scene breakdowns are SO helpful in the face of writer’s block. Because I can always go back and jump ahead to a scene that I know I need to use later and at least I’m not wasting valuable time.
  5. Create a “What if” document
    This is similar to above, but even looser. And it’s an ongoing document that I continually add to. I create a ‘what if’ full of WHACKY ideas. Mostly, it’s just to get my juices flowing. Most of the ideas, I may never use. Some are genius and change the trajectory of the book. Again, because I love examples, it usually looks something like this:
    What if….
    Shane crashes his car
    Charlie starts a bar fight
    Shane’s best friend dies
    No one actually has a hit on Shane’s life? It was orchestrated to get him to rely on the club
    And so on and so forth. The idea here is just to have a reference sheet if I’m hitting a snag in writing. I can refer back to this and say, “Oh! I could totally have Charlie start a bar fight here and infuse more action into this scene.” BAM! 2k more words done for the day.
  6. Spend 10 minutes every morning before writing hashing out the scene
    I read this somewhere. It’s not my idea and I wish I could remember who had suggested this! Because IT. IS. GENIUS. If you do nothing else from this list,  I would recommend THIS. Sit down each day before you write and spend ten minutes (I literally set a timer) just getting your thoughts together about the scene you’re about to write. (This is easier if you’ve completed step 4 😉 I have trimmed down my writer’s block to where I almost NEVER get it anymore since I started implementing this practice. It’s easy to set aside and NOT do. But my God, does it help. And when I skip it for the day? I almost always regret it.
  7. Interview Your Hero/Heroine
    The nice thing about this step is A) It doesn’t have to be long. And B) You can reuse these interviews for guest blogs and blog tours when the book comes out. It’s one of the few parts of outlining that you can literally use later as content. Which is pretty awesome. Plus, by interviewing your hero and heroine, you’ll get to know them better. You’ll feel their voice better. You’ll just GET them.So that’s it! That’s what I do to plan for my books before I write them. Hope it helps! =)

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