Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 12, 2009

Ten Tips – Outline Your Way to a Better Novel

Office or school supplysAnton Chekhov is famous for writing in 1889, “One must not put a rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.”  This can be applied to every character and event in your story, no matter what genre you are writing.

1.   Starting out by making an outline of your plot can help you keep out irrelevant characters and incidents.  It can also help you to notice when things are in wrong places or not needed at all.  This time spent up front could save you a lot of time in the future.

2.   Kick off your novel with a bang.  You want to hook your readers right away.  Making an outline will help you with this, by keeping you focused on moving your story forward.

3.   Be Careful of Flashbacks. An outline will help you see if there is a better way to tell your story.

4.   Quickly accelerate your story to a level of action.  (remember story arc.)

5.   Don’t explain everything.  Let your story tell itself.  Many writers will dump all their background information in one place.  Better to work it into your story.  You’ve heard it time and time again – Show, Don’t tell. 

6.   Let your characters speak through dialogue.  Include sounds, smells, visual details, and things only your main character could see.

7.   A writer needs to create characters that we (the reader) cares about.  If we don’t, then our reader will not want to make the journey with them.  The reader needs to identify with your main character or somehow care about their quest.  Your characters need to change and develop over the course of the book.  Even your villains need to be interesting.

8.   As you create those wonderful characters, remember to have them interact with moments of drama and suspense.  You need to keep the intensity rising, then sustain a high pitch, before leveling off and gradually come down to earth.  (Story arc, again.)

9.   Remember to give your ending an emotionally satisfying closure.

10. When you finish writing, read your manuscript aloud to help you decide how to revise.

NaNoWriMo writers – How’s it going?  Maybe you can use this at the end of the month.



  1. Thanks for some great tips. I especially like number 5. So many great fantasy novels begin with the massive info dump at the beginning. Pages and pages of history about a world that doesn’t exist and you have to wade through it all before the story even starts. Thanks for a great post.


    • Cassandra,

      How is your fantasy writing going? Are you submitting? I have never tried my hand at fantasy, though I do have an idea for an urban fantasy that I may someday get around to writing. I really like fantasy and loved Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials. Any reading recommendation?


  2. Great list! Thanks for posting this, Kathy.


    • Debbie,

      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. You look so happy in your Avatar. Hope you’ll stop back.



  3. Wonderful reminders. I love your site. I’m on my mobile right now but when I get to my laptop I’m going to bookmark. I love photography and writing and you’ve mixed em both here. Awesome!


    • Trina,

      Thanks for lett me know you enjoy my site. It is a lot of work and some days I wonder whether it is helping anyone, so hearing, “I love your site,” is inspiration for me. Hope you’ll be a regular visitor.



  4. How is it going? Weeeell . . . let’s put it this way – I have the right number of words. (-;
    The tips are great Kathy – keep them coming, along with squads of cheerleaders, trays of snacky foods and caffeinated beverages. Although we may be able to skip the drinks, (at least the caffeinated ones.) I have just discovered there is a caffeinated soap. Yup – Shower Shock. And during this special time of trying to FIND time, it may prove to be a reeeeally good thing! I mean that is 2 birds with one stone, right? Just because I am skipping flossing my teeth during NaNoWriMo does not mean I want to skip my all important showers. So. I have spent the last half hour looking at plot diagrams and listening to Phish and Nick Drake while trying to create a timeline so I can figure out what is going on with these people on my pages and well, I just hope I don’t end up like some of the characters in my book. That is to say – dead. And some people may very well think that I am, because I have practically vanished off the face of the earth since November 1st as far as my friends and family are concerned. I’m nearly ready to confess on facebook.
    Keep posting Kathy – we need you!


    • Mimi,

      I am so glad you are keeping on track – Good for you! Can’t wait to hear more about the whole expereince. Maybe you should write and article about it for Sprouts Magazine.



  5. Excellent tips, love the whole process and its great to have some reminders. It is so easy to get carried away with an idea, tips such as these are grerat for assiting you with finishing your work rather than just writing for the sake of writing. Thanks.


  6. Ashley,

    Thanks for stopping by and letting me know that you enjoyed this post. There are so many things to keep in mind while trying to get your story and characters down on paper. Please stop by again.



  7. […] Of course, if you’re like me and found the seat of the pants writing style to be insufficient for your needs, Debbie Ridpath Ohi (@inkyelbows) tweeted this link for Ten Tips – Outline Your Way to a Better Novel. […]


    • Thanks for mentioning my article on your blog. I enjoyed checking out all the other links you talked about.



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