Your book’s outline is its foundation. It determines how good your book will be.
It’s a lot of pressure, right?
It can be extremely overwhelming to take a great idea you have and try to turn it into something tangible. That’s why it’s so stressful to put your outline together.
But the secret to success? Planning. (And lots of it.)
With the right tools and resources, you can break down what might seem like an overwhelming task into achievable steps.
In this guide, I’ll show you how to lose the stress and outline your book with confidence. We’ll talk about the basics of story structure and plan out ways to give each chapter a clear purpose.
Let’s get started.
How to Outline a Book: 9 Steps to Writing Your Book Faster
1. Define your goals
Next, what main outcomes do you want your reader to achieve?
What do you want this book to do – not only for your reader but for your career?
You want to make sure you’ve thought through these things so that you can write a book that accomplishes your goals. There’s an old saying you might have seen on the walls of your public middle school, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”
So define your goals for your book beforehand.
Your goals will help you create your outline – and your outline will help guide you along the way as you write your book.
2. Gather your ideas (brainstorming and research)
When starting a new book outline, most people with creative minds don’t know how to organize themselves. We’re idea people, right?
Well, that’s not so bad in this part. Step 1 is all about brainstorming, researching, and organizing your thoughts.
Your only goal for this first step is to get all your ideas out on the page first. Don’t start cutting things yet. You don’t know what’s good and what’s bad until you put them all down on the page and sit with them for a bit.
You have to give your baby ideas a chance to take root, or none of them will have a chance to grow into great ideas.
The left part of your brain will thank you for preparing an organized path for all of your creative thoughts!
3. Develop your Table of Contents
Once you have your basic ideas and your goals, do the “Table of Contents” exercise.
If you had to make a Table of Contents right now, where would you put everything? Take your biggest ideas, and make up some placeholder “chapters” for them. Think of each big idea like a bunch of puzzle pieces, and see if you can assemble the puzzle.
This will give you some solid structure to go by. You’ll be able to see the full puzzle picture from a bird’s eye view, and then you can start expanding each chapter from there.
Also, if inspiration strikes as you’re organizing, it can be incredibly helpful to add notes to these “puzzle pieces” as you go along. This helps you get work done that you would have had to do later.
Your goal for this organizing process is simply to remember each main point you are wanting your reader to take away in each chapter, to figure out the flow.
4. Create Chapter Takeaways
Once you’ve got the flow, your next step is to assign “takeaways” that you want the reader to walk away with from each chapter.
This is where you really start to break down the point of each chapter. What do you want the reader to take away after reading this chapter? How will this person’s life be transformed?
Identify what each chapter is trying to accomplish and how it impacts the overall narrative. Actively start thinking through moments of tension and resolution while making sure that each chapter is building upon the last. Readers crave unpredictability, so give it to them.
5. Expand Your Chapters
Now it’s time to put the meat onto the bones.
Think about what it’s going to take to make sure your reader “gets” the takeaway for each chapter. What stories are you going to tell? What smaller points do you need to make?
When you get to this step, there are several different outlining methods to consider:
First of all, take time to break down the scenes and organize them again. As you write all this out, you might realize you need to reorganize some of your ideas. For instance, is there a section of your book that should actually be stretched out over multiple chapters in order to keep the interest of your reader?
Don’t be discouraged if you need to reorganize. It’s normal.
Once you know how you’ll order your smaller ideas, and how each chapter will start and close, you can go back through and make each chapter properly connect to the next. The goal is a solid plot progression flow.
Add whatever is needed for the reader to be able to digest each chapter.
If you’ve done all this, you’ve created a pretty amazing outline so far!
6. Look for ways to create curiosity or excitement in your story, and layer those into your outline
Think through the plan to give your reader what they need to keep them hooked through the entirety of each chapter.
While outlining, you also want to consider what I call the “open loop”.
An open loop is simply making your reader curious about something, and then leaving it for later. This makes your reader want to stick around to find out what happens.
In a book, you can create an open loop in nonfiction by telling a story and leaving it on a cliffhanger. Then, use that cliffhanger as a metaphor for a teaching point.
As you conclude your thoughts, complete the story.
Finally, you’ll want to think through how your readers will react. Will they be surprised, moved, or confused? Consider these emotions when constructing your story arcs.
If possible, read through your outline out loud – this will help you identify any potential problems with flow and pacing that may need fixing before starting the actual writing process.
7. Review and refine your outline until it feels complete
This is where you simplify!
Ensure each section flows smoothly and logically into the next. Eliminate any redundant or unneeded information that pulls away from the main points of each chapter. Consider what’s most impactful, and what will instill the right emotion in your reader.
If it’s not impactful, delete it. If it’s boring, remove it.
Pull out any unneeded information that takes away from your vision of each chapter. You want a book without “fluff.”
8. Get feedback
The final step to creating a good book outline template is to have your peers look over your work.
As you probably already know, writing a book is no small feat.
Gathering your thoughts into a well-organized book outline can be a difficult task. And many times, when we are so deep in the weeds with our ideas and plans for how the book will progress, we miss the repetition or potentially unnecessary information.
That’s where peer review comes in handy.
Consider their opinions carefully, because they are your current readers and they are giving you advice that could engage future readers.
Book Outline FAQs
1. What does a book outline include?
A book outline typically includes details like the main points you want to cover for nonfiction — or in the case of fiction, characters, setting, plot points, story arcs, and scene-by-scene descriptions.
These details are organized into a short framework that acts as a “north star” for writers as they write.
A book outline can also include research notes and/or character profiles.
2. How long should a book outline be?
The length of a book outline will vary depending on the project.
Generally, it should provide enough detail to serve as a guide without becoming overly restrictive and complicated.
Try for your outline to be less than 10% of the size of your book.
3. How often should I review my outlines during the editing phase?
Regularly. Reviewing the book outline at least once every two weeks will keep you on track.
As you write, watch to make sure you’re either following your outline or that you’re able to shift your outline to account for new ideas if you change your direction.
4. Do I need to write out my entire book before creating an outline?
Using a book outline can actually help prevent writer’s block and make it easier for you to finish writing your manuscript faster than if you were just jumping right into drafting without any preparation beforehand.
5. How detailed should my book outline be?
Your book outline should be detailed enough to give you a map, but flexible enough to allow you to change directions later on.
You will want the freedom to make changes and additions as needed during the creative process without feeling constrained by what you previously outlined.
6. Should I use a template or create one from scratch?
If you are comfortable with the structure of the template and find it helpful for organizing your ideas, then there is no harm in using one.
However, if you want to customize your story and craft your own unique narrative, then creating an outline from scratch may be the better option.
So, what’s your plan for creating a great book outline?
All of the tips above will help you when writing an effective book outline.
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If you follow my detailed plan for the launch of your book, you will be able to fast-track yourself to becoming a best-selling author as well.
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