This is my opinion. This is not a provable science. This is how I do it now, and I find it effective.
If you don’t like artistic things being too mechanical, this will not work for you.
But, that said, do you want to outline and organize a new novel fast?
Then read on.
Have An Idea!
I don’t know why you’re reading this if you don’t already know what the book is about. Figure that out first!
Work Out Your Desired Word Count!
Oh, yeah, most people don’t tell you to do this. But like I said, this method is a tad mechanical. A short novel is 50,000-60,000 words. A normal novel is around 70,000-80,000. Anything higher than that is a little risky when it comes to a publisher. If you’re self-publishing: do whatever amount you want. But work out what that amount is!
Figure Out Your Minimum Chapter Size!
This one might take experimentation. You need an accurate gage of how many words you feel you can use in a chapter without sounding long-winded. I’m a firm believer that a chapter is the equivalent of one movie scene. If you switch locations or the perspective moves: it’s a new chapter. So figure out how many words those are for you.
I know writers typically aren’t fans of math. Or at least I’m not. But you should have access to a calculator, so work this out.
How many chapters do you need? If you feel you can only write 500 words for each given portion, then at 50,000 words you’re looking at 100 chapters. Which is fine. But you need to know the number.
As a side note, this is not as precise as I’m making it sound. You can shrink and expand and change at any point. The purpose is to make a helpful blueprint for a book, so you can focus more on the actual building.
Work out, right now, how many perspective characters you will have. These are characters that the narrator will follow. If you’re doing first person and switching who’s talking each chapter, this is especially important. If your villain gets his/her/its own chapter, this is also important. Any flashbacks, any perspective jumps, any prologs, epilogs, artistic whatever’s. Figure that shit out early.
Break out a spreadsheet, or a lined piece of paper. Here is where your book meets the light of day.
Here’s where you get to be creative.
Put a line for each chapter. If there’s more than one perspective, then label which perspective in the first column of the line. If the date or time or location is important, that goes in the next column of the line.
Now, describe in a single sentence what happens in each chapter and write it down in the correct line. Keep in mind how many chapters you have to fill, and how many words you feel you can get into one chapter.
If you have to rework or come up with new things for your outline, that’s fine.
If you have to remove stuff because it doesn’t fit with everything, that’s also fine.
And don’t worry, you can revise this anytime, and I think you will end up diverging from the original plan at least once.
This is all okay.
And by the end of it, it should look like the plot of a novel. It should feel like it’s yours. It should be an exhilarating feeling.
Bonus: Writing Tips!
You already have your outline. So this part is just a bit of advice. I recommend writing one of your chapters a day. That way momentum picks up, and you don’t lose the spark of what you intended.
And if you find yourself lost at any point, you always have that outline to look back at for help. It’s a roadmap from your past self.
That is the beauty of an outline.
Special thanks to: Bob Gerkin, Collin Pearman, Dylan Alexander, Jerry Banfield, Michael The Comic Nerd, Pulsatilla Pratensis, and Thomas J. West.
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