how to outline a book

How To Outline A Book: A Comprehensive Guide

Whether you are a first-time author or a seasoned veteran, there is one thing everyone needs to know about writing their book. Knowing how to outline a book is essential! While just about any author will tell you that writing the first draft is the most challenging part, it is also the most important. After all, how can you write if you don’t know what you are writing about?

A book outline is the blueprint of your writing. Whether you write nonfiction or books with fictional content, an outline will help you organize your thoughts, research, and content. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you outline your book in the best possible way.

Ten steps to outlining a book

The following ten steps will help you how to outline a book with confidence so you can start writing.

Step 1: Brainstorm

The first step to deciding how to outline a book is to brainstorm your ideas. This means coming up with all the possible topics you could write about and then choosing the ones that interest you most.

If you’re trying to come up with ideas for your book, there are several ways you can do this:

  • Ask yourself what you’re passionate about.

What topics matter most to you? What books or articles have inspired or moved you? How much impact would it make if you wrote a new book on this topic?

  • Look at related books.

If other books on the same subject have been published recently, read them carefully to see what they cover and what they leave out. In particular, look at how recent books differ from earlier ones — what changed since those previous books were written? What new insights have emerged recently? That may give you clues as to where the field is headed next.

  • Ask family and friends for suggestions.

Who knows what interests them most? Who has read similar books in the past and enjoyed them? Maybe they’ll have some good ideas for topics that haven’t been covered before by anyone else yet!

Step 2: Research

Research is essential for learning how to outline a book. The more you know about your topic, the better your chances of success. You’ll want to do some research on the current state of your topic, so you can determine what information is missing and what needs to be added.

If you’re writing a book on how to improve your golf game, for example, you’ll want to do some research on the best golf courses in your area and which ones offer instruction programs that might help you improve your game. If there are no golf courses near you, then maybe it’s time to relocate!

This is also an essential step because it helps you build credibility with readers who will likely know more about the topic than you do at this point. You don’t want them thinking that everything in your book was pulled out of thin air or copied from another source without proper citations or references.

Step 3: Create a chapter list

Write down the chapters in the order that you think they will go. This is an easy way to write down the chapters you want in your book and get them all out on paper. For example, if you have seven chapters, write those down in order. Once you have them written in order, consider how many words or pages each chapter will be and what the beginning and end should look like. You can then add more detail to each chapter as needed.

Start with a topic sentence for each chapter. When outlining books, use this method to create a chapter list. Start by writing down one sentence (or two) describing what your reader will learn from reading that chapter. Then go back through all of your chapters and write down one sentence that describes what each chapter will teach your reader.

Now connect those sentences with transitions so your reader understands how each chapter fits into the book’s bigger picture — no matter how different they may be individual! This method is beneficial for nonfiction, where it can be challenging to find common threads between various topics being covered in multiple chapters of your book.

Step 4: Write chapter summaries

The chapter summaries are one of the essential parts of deciding how to outline a book because this is what will make your book stand out from all the other books on the market. Chapter summaries should be between one and two paragraphs long, and they should include a brief description of what happens in each chapter.

They should also include an overview of how each chapter relates to your book’s overarching theme or idea. For example, if you’re writing a business book that begins with an introduction and then moves into chapters on marketing, sales, and customer service, each chapter summary should include information about these topics.

You can even use subheadings within these summaries to break them down further. This will help you see how much content you need to write for each chapter — which means you’ll know how long your book will end up being overall.

Step 5: Give chapters working titles

If you have an idea for the title of your book, this is the time to start using it. A title can be a great way to attract attention, but it’s also important because it gives you a sense of the chapter. It helps you stay focused on what the reader will take away from each section.

Give each chapter its title and make sure that it captures the essence of what will be covered in that chapter. If your book is nonfiction, try to ensure that the title includes keywords or phrases that people might search for when looking for information on this topic.

Step 6: Write scene ideas for each chapter

This is the step of how to outline a book where you start to get into the actual writing of the book. You need to write a few sentences about what would happen in each chapter. This isn’t a detailed outline; it’s just enough information to help you figure out what your story needs from one point to the next.

You could write down each scene on a separate page or write them all on a single page and then copy them into your manuscript later. It doesn’t matter which method you use, but make sure that wverything will be easy to find and keep track of.

when it comes time to write your novel

Step 7: Flesh out scenes with details and snippets

Once you have a general idea of what your scenes will look like, it’s time to go back through each set and add details. This is where the fun part of how to outline a book comes in! It’s easy to write in the abstract, but when you get down to specifics, things get interesting. For each scene, ask yourself: What does this room look like? What are the characters wearing? How do the characters feel about what’s going on?

There are no correct answers. Just make sure you know what they are. Finally, look at your outline again and see if there aren’t any gaps that need filling in. Try writing some dialogue between two or more characters that helps bridge that gap or fill it in entirely if you find one.

Step 8: Outline characters, locations, and objects

One of the biggest challenges of learning how to outline a book is creating compelling characters and settings. Many writers find it hard to flesh out their main characters and their surroundings to the point where they feel real. This is where you should have a good idea of what your characters are like and what they want.

To create strong characters, you need to create a detailed outline of who your characters are. You can do this by filling out a character profile sheet for each character in your story. This allows you to get inside each character’s head and understand how they see the world differently than other people do.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to start fleshing out your setting. The setting is where all the action takes place in your story, so it’s crucial that it feels natural to readers. One way to do this is by using sensory details about what things look, sound, smell, and feel like for each scene you’re writing about in your book.

Step 9: Do a read through

After you’ve finished your outline, take some time to read through it. You may find that there are sections that need to be rearranged or added. You may also find that you’ve left out important details. If you’re writing non-fiction, review the list of topics in your outline and see if they make sense when combined in one chapter. If not, try to group them so that each chapter focuses on a single topic (or subtopic).

Make sure that each chapter has an introduction and conclusion that clearly establishes the point of the chapter and then summarizes how you answered the questions posed at the beginning of each chapter. Your readers don’t want to feel like they have to read every chapter from start to finish; they want each chapter to stand on its own as a complete unit.

Step 10: Start writing

The final step of how to outline a book is to start writing your book. Even if you’ve already written the entire book, you should reread each chapter to ensure that it makes sense and reads well. Then, do a spell check, as well as a grammar check. If there are any errors you find, fix them now before moving on to the next step.

You’ll also want to add subheadings and bullets where needed. Your outline is the foundation of your book, but it doesn’t necessarily tell the reader what they need to know within each chapter. This step separates those who write a book from those who don’t. It’s time to put your outline into action and start writing. So now that you have an outline in place, it’s time to write!

Five common mistakes when outlining

how to outline a book

Everyone makes mistakes when outlining, but that’s okay. No one is perfect and learning from your mistakes is a great way to improve and develop. Here are some common mistakes when learning how to outline a book.

1. Getting too detailed

One of the biggest problems with creating an outline is getting too detailed too early. You might know where all the major plot points are supposed to go but don’t worry about all the more minor details. If you do that, it’s going to be hard to revise later on because there will be so much information there that needs to be removed or changed around.

Instead, start with just the big picture and then fill in all those details later on as you write each chapter – that way, you’ll have a solid foundation for your story and won’t have any problems rewriting chapters later on if needed.

2. Not getting the main idea down

One of the most common mistakes when outlining is not getting the main idea down. Sometimes you can get so caught up in the details that you don’t even realize that you forgot to put down, “A man goes on an adventure and meets all these people!”

This is a big mistake because it forces you to read over everything repeatedly. It also makes it harder for other people to read your outline because they have to dig through everything you forgot about.

3. Losing the element of surprise

Outlining is all about preparation, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be surprised. There’s a difference between being prepared and being enslaved to your outline. When you’re writing by the seat of your pants, you don’t have time to worry about if the story will work or not because you have no choice but to write it. You can’t get stuck on something that hasn’t happened yet because there’s no way to know how it will end.

The problem comes when you try to compress this process into an outline and follow it too closely. If every plot point has been foreshadowed, there’s no place for the reader to be surprised. They’ll know precisely what will happen from start to finish, and nothing will be left for them to discover on their own.

4. Not being flexible

Once you’ve outlined your story, there’s no reason why you can’t change it as you go along. Maybe there’s a better way to structure the story than you thought when you started writing, or perhaps a character turned out to be more interesting than expected and deserves more screen time.

Perhaps one of your main characters doesn’t work at all and needs replacing with someone else. If something isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to change it. But remember to do it only after due consideration and after making sure that any changes won’t affect other aspects of your story negatively in some way.

5. Forgetting about your character

This is one of the most common mistakes and can lead to writers forcing their characters into situations rather than letting them dictate what happens in the story. So what do you need to remember? When creating a character, think about what they want out of life.

You should also consider how they plan on achieving those goals and what type of person they want to be. Once you know these things, it’s easier for you to create situations where they can achieve those goals or become better people over time through the experiences they face during your story.

Frequently asked questions

Here are answers to some of your questions about how to outline a book.

What are the common types of book outlines?

Here are the common types of outlines you should know when deciding how to outline a book.

The Sequential OutlineThis is just what it sounds like. It’s a list of the events in your book, from beginning to end. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, you’ll probably use this type of outline.
The Chapter-by-Chapter OutlineThis is an expanded version of the sequential outline. In this case, each chapter has its subheadings, which are summarized in one or two sentences. This type of outline works best for fiction and memoir writers who aren’t planning on writing short stories or novellas but want to flesh out their ideas before writing them down.
The Conceptual OutlineThe conceptual outline is used by authors who have a central theme or idea they want to communicate through their book. They often begin with an introduction that sets up their theme and then branches off into chapters that explore different aspects of it in more detail.
The Dramatic OutlineThis book outline is geared toward nonfiction writers who want to craft a story around their information rather than organize their facts into chronological order.

What are the benefits of writing an outline?

There are many benefits to learning how to outline a book:

  • You’ll know where to start.

It may sound counterintuitive, but the first step in outlining a book is not outlining it. Instead, you need to decide which idea you’re going to write about and why it’s worth writing about.

  • It helps you stay focused.

Once you know what your book will be about, it becomes easier for you to focus on writing every day. That’s because you know what needs to be done next and can avoid getting distracted by any side projects or tangents that may arise during your writing journey.

  • It saves time.

Outlining your book ahead of time also saves time because it allows you to spend less time going back and forth between chapters while editing them later on. That means fewer revisions and more time spent on marketing and promoting!

  • It makes writing faster.

When you have an outline ready before starting writing, it makes it much easier for you to keep up with deadlines without worrying too much about missing any dates or deadlines along the way. This frees up more time for other important things like marketing or promoting your book once it’s published.

  • It makes research more effective.

If you’re writing a nonfiction book or an instructional guide, outlining will make your research more efficient because you already have a rough draft in place. If you’re writing fiction or poetry, outlining gives you a clear vision of what’s going on. When it comes time for revisions, they’ll be easier and more focused on improving the quality of your work rather than on fixing plot holes or other issues with structure and plot development.

How long does it take to outline a book?

The answer to this depends on several factors. The first is whether or not you are writing a nonfiction book or a fiction book. Nonfiction books tend to be more structured, with an outline that may be broken down into chapters and sections, so it will take less time to create an outline for such a book than it would for a work of fiction.

The second factor is how much research you need to do before you begin writing. Research can take up a lot of time, especially if you will use real-life examples or statistics in your work.

The third thing that affects how long it takes to write an outline is how detailed the outline needs to be. In most cases, writing a detailed outline will take longer than simply jotting down some notes about what you want your book to cover.

Finally, if you plan to hire someone else (such as an editor) to help edit and revise your book once it’s complete, this will also add time to how long it takes to write an outline because they will need time with it well.

What are book outline templates?

Book outline templates are a great way to create a basic outline for your book. An outline is a map of your book, showing how the chapters fit together and how they support each other. If you don’t know where to start writing your book, an outline template can help by breaking down the various chapters into their core elements. You can then use these as building blocks for creating new content and expanding on existing ideas.

These templates are so effective because they force you to think about what will happen in each chapter and how those chapters connect. You’ll probably be surprised at how quickly this process will take shape once you start using one of these templates!

Final thoughts

Outlining a book can be a difficult task that appears to produce mixed results for self-publishing authors. But with a bit of practice, organizing your thoughts into a comprehensive, easy-to-follow plan can become second nature. And once you can bring your vision from concept to publication, it will be worth all of the effort in the outline process. With this guide, you now know how to outline a book and write your dream book! 

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