#Amwriting October 27: Ways to Outline a Novel

If you have been following our NaNo prep series, now you should be ready map out your novel. Yesterday we went over the pros and cons of outlining. Whether you plan to outline or not, it pays to investigate some of the different ways writers organize large amounts of information. One might be the best way for you.



Tried and True:  Index Cards

The most common way to outline a novel is to write on index cards and arrange them as needed. There are many articles how to do this, including Three ways to plot with index cards.

More modern upgrades include using sticky notes, for example, The wall of sticky notes, How to plot a novel.

You can also use stickies for revising:


Sticky notes don’t need to be limited to neat, straight lines. You can plot a rising conflict by adding lines with painter’s tape, then post the stickies around it. If you are on Pinterest, check out this plot planners for writers board. WOW! I like the ones that add photos of characters as they are introduced. I might add setting photos, too.

If you prefer to type, some software offers virtual index cards, for example Scrivener.

Beyond the Index Card

As I said previously, there are as many ways to outline as there are writers. Yesterday we saw Kat use the 3 Act/9 Block/27 Chapter method on a dry erase board. She writes more about it on Be Your Own Mentor.

Gabriela Pereira outlines her novels like a subway map. Rather than indicating locations, the diagrams show the flow of the plot and subplots. If you are used to reading subway maps, this could be incredibly useful.

Another popular method for non-linear thinkers is the Snowflake method. For this one, you start with a single idea and build outward. The author now has books discussing his method. Evernote has a checklist that runs through the steps.

I’ve been attending a number of webinars lately and have noticed a buzz about Plottr. I haven’t tried it yet, but the colors and neat look of the examples definitely attract my attention. Check out the Primer on Medium. Available to try as a free 30 day trial (and no, I’m not affiliated).

The Flashlight Method isn’t about the physical aspects of the outline, but instead consists of planning the first few chapters prior to writing. The idea is once you start writing, you won’t be able to see the entire path, but you will see ahead as much as a flashlight (or headlights) will allow. You basically outline as you go.

If this isn’t enough, Chuck Wendig has a quick list of 25 ways to plot and plan. He mentions a “crazy person’s notebook” where he prints out sections and tapes it into a notebook.

I really like that idea. Maybe into a planner, so it’s a timeline, too. With pictures of the setting and the characters when they are introduced.

Wait, maybe I should write the novel instead.

How do you plan your novel?



Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.


  1. Karen M Gibson

    I better slow down and read more thoroughly. I just read the last line on your Chapter 1 index card as “establish hero is dead and parents are poor.” LOL

    So many ways to outline! Who knew?!

  2. Roberta

    It would be a very short novel if the hero died in the first chapter. Although, as you know, Alice Sebold managed pretty well with Lovely Bones.

    Looking back, that was an amazing project reading all those books.

  3. Karen M Gibson

    Short novel, for sure. Best make it a series of short stories at that rate!

    And yes, it was an amazing project, reading all those books. I wish I had the time to devote to finishing the list!


    • Roberta

      I pulled out The Circle because I thought I should at least finish number 1. Maybe tonight…

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