Outlines work for many authors as a source of guidance that keeps them from getting stuck. For authors that use outlines, they are useful tools that are not carved in stone. Instead, they signify a source of guidance they can change at will as they develop their storyline.
However, among authors that use outlines, some have found a way to speed up the writing process by focusing on specific aspects of the novel’s outline. They have found this method keeps the writing coherent and avoids wasting time. This approach may work for you.
Building the Outline by Focusing on the Protagonist
Focus on the character’s motivations, goals, and conflict. Great novels can be created with this focus, such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Most stories have common plot points: the initial situation, the conflict, a complication, the climax, suspense, denouement, and the conclusion. Great writers like Dostoyevsky mix up the ingredients and sprinkle some added spice.
Flesh Out Characters with Some Research
Once you know your characters’ motivations, you can start bringing them to life with some research about their personality, history, etc. Why would this person have these motivations? The clearer the character’s profile, the easier it will be to create the plot points—the major events in the story that move the story forward.
Create the Plot Points for Each Protagonist
Plot points are the key milestones of the storyline. If your novel has more than one protagonist, you will need to create each protagonist’s plot points and other scenes. You need to figure out how many scenes you need to complete your book—the ballpark number of pages you want the story to contain.
You may already have a sense of what you need, if you have researched the normal page count for the genre in which you are writing. Divide the number of total pages by the pages per scene to determine your scene count. How long will those scenes be? Check out other works in the genre, if you do not know how long your scenes should be.
Create the Scenes, Beginning with the Major Turning Points
You may want to create each scene’s outline. After you have pinned down the key scenes, you will just have to fill in the scenes that link the plot points—the major turning points of the story.
This approach will help you think through scenes, plots points, and character development. As you evolve the storyline, you can add to or prune your outline as needed. Less time will be wasted during the writing process when the weaknesses are weeded out before the process begins. By laying the foundation of the storyline this way, you will be less likely to get stuck, or to go off course during the writing process. And, of course, it is easier to change the outline rather than the completed manuscript!