How to Write A Story Outline for a Novel – The Secret to Writing Full-Proof Plots!

The biggest mistake writer’s make when writing their first novel, is forgetting to create a plot that is unbreakable. Naturally, writers will take a different road than they originally planned once the story gets going. This is natural and a completely logical course of action! However, when events within the main plot start changing authors often feel the need to change the story altogether. This is stressful and can easily be avoided. Today, I am going to show you how to write a story outline for a novel that is completely full-proof! Once you have this down, starting from scratch will be a thing of the past!

Create Your Premise

You have an idea in your head, now it’s time to transform thoughts into sentences. Crafting a great premise is simple. You just need to ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is the protagonist?
  • What is the situation?
  • What is the protagonist’s main objective?
  • Who/what is the antagonist?
  • What is the catastrophe that launches the story?
  • What is the struggle/conflict between the protagonist and his opponent(s)?

Write out the answers to these questions as you form your paragraph. Simon Brown’s story, the Key’s of Power, is an excellent example. The premise is as follows:

Prince Lynan (the protagonist) is ignored by his mother and is excluded from minor court duties (situation) because his father was a commoner. Lynan wants nothing more than to find anyone who has knowledge of his long-lost father (objective). After the death of his mother, Lynan is betrayed by those in power (catastrophe) and must flee for his life. Members of the court (antagonist(s)) seek him out in order to prevent Lynan from discovering his inheritance.


Lay Out Your Setting

Creating settings are the greatest! It allows your mind to wander and discover hidden knowledge about yourself and your creativity. But setting creation can also be a rabbit whole. It is easy to get lost with so many thoughts running through your mind. If you try to explore them all your story will never get written! So examine your premise. What setting BEST fits your character’s objective? Once that is decided, STICK WITH IT and keep going.


Shape Important Scenes

When you lay down at night, do you experience “out of phase moments when all you see are your characters interacting in different situations? I know I do! More often than not, the situations that haunt you are the ones that are most important to your plot. Listen to them. Sort out all your visions and start putting them down in order. Which ones are the most important? Which ones drive the plot forward the most?


Interview Your Leading Characters

It’s time for your characters to earn their keep! You work hard to create a life for them, and now it’s time for them to work for YOU! Set up a private area and write down a list of questions you would ask your protagonist, antagonist and “middle” characters. Imagine them in front of you and write down the first answer they give you. (The first answer that pops into your mind.) These answers will determine how your characters will react in each scene. 


Write A thorough/Comprehensive Outline

This may sound difficult, but it’s easier than you think! You have your premise, your setting, your scenes and your characters’ personalities. You just need to flesh- out this information in more detail. Think about your scenes. How will each character get from part A to part B? Keep asking yourself this as you go along and you will see your book take shape!


Eliminate Any “Weak Spots” You Find In The Outline

When your creative mind really gets going, thoughts just start pouring out! Guaranteed, you will find points in your outline that aren’t relevant once you read it over a few times. These “events” can complicate your outline and get in the way of forming your unbreakable plot. Leave the small stuff for the first draft!


Begin Writing Your First Draft

You’re all set. Your plot is in place. Now you have free-reign to write anything you like. If you take a different path — so what? The essence of your story will remain the same, no matter how many different ways you tell it.

12 thoughts on “How to Write A Story Outline for a Novel – The Secret to Writing Full-Proof Plots!”

  1. Darcy,

    Thank you for jotting down this template for outlining a novel! It’s clearly meant for a beginner novelist to get start (and, hopefully, get finished). I love the idea of the interview process for the primary characters in order to develop their depth. How detailed should the outline be? For example, if you were writing a 300 page novel, how many pages would the outline be? 



    1. Hello, Rachael! That is an excellent question. The outline does not have to be long. It all depends on how long you think each chapter will be or how many important scenes there are. When I jot-out plot outlines, they usually come to about three pages or so. Outline should never be complicated.

  2. Great points to start writing an outline for a novel…I prefer to have a visual approach to outlining that shows the spatial relationships between your plot points, characters, themes, conflicts, chapters — you name it. Also, recently I came across this software called Plottr that can help building your outline, not sure how good it is but getting the outline out of your head is what matters at the end of the day. Enjoyed reading your tips.

    1. It is wonderful to hear about your different techniques, Satz! Every person/writer is different and it is always important to use what works best for you. Thank you also for informing me about Plottr! i will certainly look into it.

  3. Hi Darcy!
    I recently started my blog and trying to develop my writer skills, so I would say it is not easy, especially if you are a beginner. Sometimes I would like to try to write something more serios like a story or novell. Your outline is wonderful and will help to organise the structure. I know how difficult it is to organise thoughts!
    Do you think it is possible to develop writinig skills to a certain level or it is more a question of talent?
    Thank you for this post!

    1. Hello, Alex! Thank you so much for your kind words and questions. I can certainly relate to the difficulty with blogging. It takes a while to get into the swing of things. As for writing novels and such — it is NOT just a question of talent. There are certainly some writers out there who find it easier to create materials than others, but that does not mean that they will have greater chances of success. Everyone is different and learns at different paces. If your write on a regular basis and share your work with family, friends and other writers on the web, you will improve your writing skills more and more each day. Yes. It is certainly possible for writers to reach a certain level. Never let the thought of not being a good writer stop you. Just put your thoughts down and sort them out later!

  4. Thank you for sharing your article about the secrets to writing. Those are very good tips to consider while writing. Having something planned and follow as planned might be much more helpful and fast than to change as we write.

    As we write we should always remember to write with passion and for our readers. Not just for the sake of writing. As you mentioned, there should be a scene and an interviewer to help better craft our writing through the effective scene.    

    All the best!

    1. Very well said! Passion is what drives us forward. Our audience may be important, but writing about what you love is even more so.

  5. Cool article and web site. Thank you for sharing. I have thought about writing a book in the past! haha 😉 Whether I do or not, that is another story…


    1. Hi, Tyler!
      I hear you. Writing a novel can be a daunting journey but one that is rewarding all the same. I hope that one day you will take a stab at it! I am always here if you have questions.
      Warm regards,

  6. I have always wanted to write a novel. I know that my writing skill is not bad but it is always better to write it with a strategy, the outline will make me stick to the plot instead of spinning it off. Thanks for sharing these tips. Simon Brown’s story, the Key’s of Power‘S sample is a perfect example. Will try my first f=draft now. 

    1. That thrills me to hear! Simon Brown certainly is a great author for inspiration. PLEASE, let me know how your draft goes! I can’t wait to hear all about your writing journey.

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