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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Whisenhunt

Methods to Outline Your Book

I have always been a pantser when it comes to writing. I typically just “fly by the seat of my pants” and improvise along the way. This method works very well for a lot of writers and there are many benefits that come from writing this way. It’s fun, exciting, mysterious, and you get to discover the story along the way. Although it can be a very successful method, you may reach a road block where either you’re not sure where to take the story or maybe there are some contradictions as you’ve come up with new ideas. This is why plotting or outlining your novel can prove useful.


Remember, outlining is by no means set in stone, but it helps keep you on an organized path to finishing your novel. Here are a couple methods to try:


Corkboard or Storyboard: For this method you will need either Post-Its or flash cards (or just little squares of paper). I like to use different colored Post-Its so I can visually organize the beginning, middle, and end of my story. Starting with the lightest color (or just any piece of paper if you prefer) jot down any scenes that you would like to put in the beginning of the book and post it to the board. It doesn’t have to be detailed, just brief ideas and descriptions.


On the next row down, using a slightly darker shade of paper, jot down scenes that you would like to see in the middle of the book and post them on the board.


Shift down another row and take an even darker shade of paper and begin writing down scenes for the end of the story and post it to your board.

With this method you can physically move scenes around, add or delete scenes, and even place plot twists, pinches, or hooks in between with another color of paper. This method will not only help you to visualize your story but it gives you the ability to physically rearrange scenes or entirely cut a scene from your story.


A couple questions to keep in mind when you analyze your scenes are Does this scene push my story forward? and Does this scene contain conflict?




Three Act Method

The next method is called the Three Act Method, or 3 Acts 9 Blocks 27 Chapters.

3 Acts : This is a very old method of writing that Aristotle originally developed. It is a very helpful way to organize your story based on set up, conflict, and resolution. Here is the breakdown:

Act 1 (Beginning) – Set up > Introduce your main character and the ordinary world they live in. Conflict > A problem disrupt’s main character’s life. Resolution > Main character’s life is changed and they are pushed into a new world.

Act 2 (Middle)- Set up > Main character experiences new world. Conflict > Main character encounters a crisis in the new world. Resolution > Main character is dedicated to solve the crisis.

Act 3 (End) –Set up> Main character faces trials. Conflict> Main character has to find the power within and take action. Resolution> Main character fights and wins.

You can further break each act into blocks with essentially 27 chapters as follows:

Act 1 1. Introduction (Set Up) 2. Inciting Incident (Conflict) 3. Immediate Reaction (Resolution) 4. Reaction (Set Up) 5. Action (Conflict) 6. Consequence (Resolution) 7. Pressure (Set Up) 8. Pinch (Conflict) 9. Push (Resolution) Act 2 10. New World (Set Up) 11. Fun & Games(Conflict) 12. Old Contrast (Resolution) 13. Build Up (Set Up) 14. Midpoint(Conflict) 15. Reversal (Resolution) 16. Reaction (Set Up) 17. Action(Conflict) 18. Dedication (Resolution) Act 3 19. Trials (Set Up) 20. Pinch(Conflict) 21. Darkest Moment (Resolution) 22. Power Within (Set Up) 23. Action(Conflict) 24. Convergence (Resolution) 25. Battle (Set Up) 26. Climax(Conflict) 27. Resolution (Resolution)

Hopefully these methods come in handy. If you have a different method that works really well for you please share.

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