Outline for Writing a Novel

Whether an epic classic, a swooning romance, or a thrilling mystery, all novels share a common structure. A novel should follow an outline that includes a developed main character, a conflict, a pivotal event and some sort of resolution that either will conclude the story or lead to a following novel. When developing an outline for your novel, start with a vague summary and fill in details as you revisit the overall main idea and main goal of the hero.


First, summarize your novel in one sentence, including the main character and the focus of the novel. Then, create a summary paragraph that includes the main character, the conflict and the climax and resolution. After you have a summary paragraph, map out your novel into chapters and briefly summarize each chapter with an idea of the plot progression as well as the development of the main character. Some novelists suggest beginning at the end and working backward. If you know how your novel will end, you can work your way back to the beginning and fill in the events that will lead to the final outcome.

Main character

A novel is essentially the story of a main character. As a writer, you must know who he is and what he wants. Describe the main character like you would describe a close friend, beginning with the most important aspects of physicality and personality. Then, identify how the main character would act and respond. Consider who the main character is and what the main character wants. Knowing what the main character wants will help you guide the pursuit of it. You must decide if the main character will get what he or she wants -- and if so, how.


The main character can develop only when faced with a complication, and a novel would be boring and meaningless if it just chronicled random events in which all goes well. After you identify what the main character wants, identify what will stand in the way and include the obstacle in your summary statement. There may be many challenges, and these can be addressed in your chapter summaries, but these minor challenges will occur as the main character attacks the main obstacle. Knowing your character's personality will allow you to build the story around how she responds to each challenge.

Climax and Resolution

The plot progresses as the main character faces the conflict until the action reaches its climax, the pivotal moment when the main character faces the greatest, most challenging event and overcomes it. The climax also may be where any secrets are revealed and any related story lines are brought together. If you decide to begin with the end of the story and work backward, you may choose to tie in several story lines that lead to the same final event. When sketching the first outline, decide what the climax of the story will look like, where it will be and how the main character will respond. The main character's response will guide the resolution.

About the Author

Hannah Richardson has a Master's degree in Special Education from Vanderbilt University and a Bacheor of Arts in English. She has been a writer since 2004 and wrote regularly for the sports and features sections of "The Technician" newspaper, as well as "Coastwach" magazine. Richardson also served as the co-editor-in-chief of "Windhover," an award-winning literary and arts magazine. She is currently teaching at a middle school.

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