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General/Literary Fiction Outline

Writing a novel can be a daunting task because it requires that you create many characters and develop a story where these characters all play a role in progressing the story. While, yes, this can be an overwhelming process, we have found that good outlining from the outset helps make the writing process more enjoyable.

Here are some tips we’ve picked up over the years that we hope you’ll find helpful.

1. Audience

A crucial step in writing your novel is knowing who you’d like the novel to appeal to. Knowing your audience will be instrumental for every other step in writing this novel. Thinking about your audience in the beginning also helps with how you'll market the book if you plan on selling your work.

2. Setting

Determining the setting of your novel is another important step in the writing process. Accordingly, when you’re outlining, you should have a clear idea of the setting of your novel—is it a modern day setting or a period piece? Further, in what location is the novel taking place? A small town? A city?

The setting should be so clear in your mind that you're able to visualize it. We recommend that you search the internet for images if you're unable to imagine this setting. We believe having a clear idea of your setting will dictate how you write the rest of the novel.

3. Protagonist

Every novel requires at least one protagonist. You can very well have two protagonists if you're merging more than one story in a single novel. My advice to you is that you develop an image of your protagonist from the onset.

Questions you’ll need to think about:

  1. What are the protagonist’s physical attributes?

  2. What type of personality does he/she have?

  3. What is his/her favorite style of dress?

Having a clear understanding of your protagonist will be extremely helpful in adding slight but nuanced details that make your story more realistic and engaging.

4. Plot

Every compelling story requires that there be an issue that the protagonist strives to overcome. The process of your protagonist overcoming that issue creates the plot of the story.

Accordingly, before you start outlining, you should already be clear on the issues that you plan on tackling. These issues may change as you proceed, nonetheless, it’s a good idea to have an idea of those issues from the outset.

5. Protagonist & the Issue

Another major aspect in writing any novel is to know how your protagonist will react to the issue that he/she encounters. Knowing this will guide the direction of the novel. When determining how this part of the novel will go, I urge you to be realistic and keep your audience in mind.

6. Climax

A climax is a necessary part of any novel. This is the part of the novel where the protagonist comes head-to-head with his/her issue. While you don’t have to add a fixed climax to your outline, you should still include a space for it, and as you write, keep in mind that the plot is going to have to drive the climax/the high-point of the story.

7. Main Characters

The main characters of your story, outside of the protagonist, should have direct involvement with the issue the protagonist faces, his/her reaction to the issue, and/or the protagonist overcoming or not overcoming the issue.

While it is true that you cannot anticipate every character when you first start writing, mapping out some initial characters and their roles in the novel is a great starting point when completing your outline.

8. Conclusion

Having a conclusion is not an important step when writing a literary/general fiction novel since things may change as the story develops. However, if you’re set on a certain outcome, this can also help you develop parts of the story in advance, like how the protagonist reacts to the issue that he/she encounters.

Ultimately, when creating your outline, whether you want to have a specific conclusion is a matter of preference. You can alternatively allow the conclusion of the story to form organically as you write.

Our next blog post will cover outlining for thrillers, mystery, and suspense novels. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to us should you have any questions!

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