How to Write a Novel Outline that Tells the Whole Story Literary agents and publishers may ask you for an outline, so it’s important to know how to write a novel outline that tells your story and shows how it moves along from beginning to middle to end. You may also use outlining techniques to structure your story as you write it and as a way of expanding and keeping track of scenes, characters, subplot and plot. How to Write a Novel Outline for Literary Agents and Publishers An outline requested by a literary agent or publisher is typically a numbered, formatted summary of each chapter or significant event. The outline should “tell” the reader exactly what happens in each chapter and does not dramatize it or leave a mystery for the reader to figure out. As with writing a synopsis for your novel – if you have written a mystery, for example – you disclose the resolution to the mystery, i.e., “who done it”. Literary agents and publishers often have different guidelines for the length and details of the outline they want to see, and you should check their websites for submission guidelines to ensure that you are giving them what they want. You may find requests for a two-page outline, which may be more like a synopsis of only the most significant of story events written in outline format, or you may see requests for up to 20 pages of outline. They may prefer a single-spaced or a double-spaced outline. If they make no mention about spacing, I would double-space the outline, making it consistent with manuscripts, which you should always double-space. Knowing how to write a novel outline also means knowing how to write the one literary agents and publishers want, no more or no less. How to Write a Novel Outline from Story Chapters To outline your novel, write a summary – a few lines – of what happens in the beginning, middle, and end of each chapter in your novel, starting with chapter one and ending with the last chapter. If the chapter is composed of one scene, what issue/problem is presented in the scene, what obstacles were present, and how did your character resolve it? For example, in an outline for my novel Intimate Murder, the summary of Chapter 1 looks like this: 1. Lead character Detective Jennifer Strand is enjoying time off at home when a young boy’s break-your-heart wail coming from the cul de sac interrupts it. 4-year-old Joshua has found his mother lying on their kitchen floor, her face and body horrifyingly distorted. Jennifer hurries to investigate and finds that the boy’s mother has been murdered, ending Jennifer’s day off. Notice that the summary is written in present tense. Again written in present tense, Chapter 2 should be a summary of what happen next, and should show how the story moves along, like this: 2. Jennifer is upset not only for the young mother’s death but also that the neighborhood she’d just moved into no longer offers the peace and separation from her job she’d intended it to have. Worse than that, is the realization that she will have to interrogate her new neighbors. With that at the back of her mind, she settles the young boy into her home while she locates his father. She also calls in help to investigate the crime scene, feeling a rising urgency to solve this case before anything else happens. You can finish reading this article on our website about how to write a novel outline.
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