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Fiction Writing Tips: Writing a Novel Outline

June 4, 2008 0 comments

Last week I told you how to get to know your characters with a character outline and gave you a free character outline template to use for creating your characters. This week I’m going to tell you how to write a novel outline. Writing a novel outline will help you build a story from beginning to end. And like the character outline, you can refer to it as you’re writing your fiction novel. Shall we begin?

Working Title

Each novel outline you create should begin with the working title for your fiction novel. You’ll want to choose a title that not only describes the storyline but attracts attention. Here are a few tips for choosing a title for your fiction novel:

  • After you’ve come up with a few titles, poll your readers and ask them to vote on the title they like best. You can poll your blog readers and those on your mailing list.
  • Ask family and friends what title they like best and what attracted them to that title.
  • Keep it short and simple. You don’t want a long title, and you certainly don’t want a complicated or hard-to-pronounce title. In other words, make it easy to understand and remember.

After you’ve written your fiction novel, you’ll be busy trying to sell it to publishers or agents with a query letter, and all query letters should tell the publisher or agent what genre your book is. So in this section of your novel outline, specify the genre of your fiction novel. In other words, is it a romance, mainstream fiction, mystery, Christian fiction, western romance or etc.?


Describe what your fiction novel is about. What you include here could be the text for the back of your novel. Following is an example, which is what I currently use on my website to describe Help From Above:

Help From Above is a heartwarming Christian novel about an angel sent by God to help George Billington with his drug and alcohol addictions.

After the death of his parents, George sought comfort through drugs and alcohol. He soon became addicted to both, and in the process, abandoned his sister, Kara Billington, the only family member he had left. Kara tried to help her brother overcome his addictions, but George was so stubborn that she gave up and continued with her own life.

Later, George was given a second chance at life when God sent an angel, Ronald, to help him recover from his drug and alcohol addictions. Ronald had to succeed on his mission or he wouldn't earn his wings to get into Heaven.

As Ronald took to the streets of Rockford, Illinois in his search for George, he soon discovered him at a liquor store. Upon meeting George, Ronald learned that his mission wouldn't be an easy one. George was not only drunk when Ronald found him, but he expressed the fact that he didn't believe in angels, and George's stubborn, ill tempered and independent personality came out.

When Ronald finally persuaded George to talk with him, George told Ronald about his sister and confessed that he hadn't seen her in two years. Ronald then decided to go search for George's sister with the hope that he could reunite the two, and Ronald thought that just maybe Kara would help him with his mission.

Upon finding Kara, Ronald convinced her to help him. Along with Kara's help, he also received assistance from Kara's minister, Timothy Gill.

Did the three of them triumph in getting George the help he needed to recover, or did George's stubbornness cause the trio to call it quits?


Where will your story take place? When deciding on the location for your story, pick a place that you’ve visited or know well. If you choose a location you’ve never been to before, then research the climate, population and etc. Although the story is fictional, you’ll still want to make it believable. For example, many people know it doesn’t snow often in Los Angeles, California. Therefore, if Los Angeles is the setting for your fiction novel and you have it snowing often during the winter, then you may risk turning your readers off or losing them entirely. You can make up names of stores and even streets, but keep the scenery and weather realistic.

Time Frame

What year will your story take place? Again, keep your story realistic, so research the year well. For example, don’t have your characters talking on cell phones in the year of 1970.


The conflict is an obstacle or obstacles that the main character (usually the protagonist) must overcome. Therefore, in this section of your novel outline, list the conflict(s) for your main character. If you’re creating more than one conflict for your main character, don’t list too many.

Once you’ve listed the conflict(s) for the main character in your fiction novel, describe how your main character will overcome the obstacle(s), which I refer to as the resolution to the conflict(s). Remember, though, you don’t want the conflict(s) resolved until the end of the novel. Having the conflict(s) remain throughout your fiction novel will keep your readers reading.

As an example, when creating the novel outline for my first Christian fiction book, the conflict in my story came about with Ronald, the angel. Ronald’s assignment from God was to help George recover from his drug and alcohol addictions, but George’s stubbornness didn’t make things easy for Ronald. In addition, George didn’t believe in angels and had lost his faith in God, which also made it hard for Ronald to help him.

In the end, a miracle happened and the resolution to the conflict finally took place, but I won’t reveal the resolution because it would give away the ending, so you just have to read Help From Above to find out what the resolution was. Nevertheless, this should give you an example of what you should include in this section of your novel outline.

Join me next week for Fiction Writing Tips: Writing the First Draft. Until then, feel free to download the novel outline template for free. You can use my novel outline template for each of your fiction novel ideas.

What do you include in your novel outlines? Did you find my tips on writing a novel outline helpful? Please share your advice and feedback in the comments area. In fact, leaving a comment will earn you one entry into my Mentoring Session Contest.

To ensure that you don’t miss any upcoming posts in my Fiction Writing Tips series, subscribe to my RSS feed via e-mail. Your subscription via e-mail will earn another entry into my Mentoring Session Contest.

Additional Reading

Choosing a Perfect Title, by Marti Talbott

Fiction Genres Considered: A Guide for Writers, by Adriann Ranta

The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, by Noah Lukeman

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