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How to Outline a Novel

starting to write May 19, 2019

Wherever you are with your novel, here's something which could help you see the big picture of plot fast. 

On my fourth draft of a novel, and so mired in the material, I needed a very simple oversight of the drama in play. It came to me that when I am working on a novel I envision several key scenes and work from one to the other hopping on one foot of my purple prose.

Using the Visual Method to Outline a Novel

I begin a novel with a key 'visual' or vision, a scene that intrigues me, and work out how on earth it all came about, then I add other scenes. But of course, I forget about the simplicity of that and get bogged down in detail.

At any stage of your novel try seeing it like a moving picture. Think of it as a movie, and press fast forward x 30. You won't be paying attention to the talking heads but the space around them. The locations. The sets. The camera angles and then the key shot for each. Whose face? Whose feet? What object?

See it as series of locations.

I use a method that frames my plot simply using the locations.

A lot of my chapters I realized were filler and deadwood, nothing to see, nothing to see. By structuring the work around the memorable sights I could suddenly see how it needed to be re-set.

I know this will sound terrifically simple, and possibly you all do it and you haven't let this old writer into the secret, but seeing the locations without the hot air of dialogue really helps. Some are too minor (can't get a film crew into that!) to count. Sure you will need them as stepping stones in your work, but if you want to see the lie of the land of your plot, you can forget about them as an organizing entity.

In our novel writing course, I show this technique in a little more detail (it's lesson 39 of 110 lessons). Essentially you're creating a storyboard. In the course you'll create a more detailed one than this one, but you can't beat the pared-back simplicity of this, it really concentrates the mind.

So go on, create a visual storyboard using stock photography.

Create a visual storyboard

You can create a free account at Canva and set up your storyboard. Find the storyboard designs there. You can use their free stock photos or find your own via Google.

Put in six key scenes. Here's a mock-up version.

 Making one of these and pinning it up will help keep you focused. Sure, it will seem like the Idiot's Guide to Your Novel but it will keep you safe.

Configure the steps to and from them in Scrivener or your folder or a chaptered outline. You will shift these around as you write and can be flexible with them, but having the six big scenes in mind will keep you honest.

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