Outlining a novel in just one day is a large task, however it is possible with the right plan. So I’ve formulated a 25 step plan, which has been broken down into 7 parts.
Each step has a recommended duration for it, and each part has an approximate duration too. I also have recommended breaks in between steps, so remember to go easy on yourself and stay hydrated.
Based on my timings, it’ll take about 11 hours and 30 minutes of work to complete this process, not including breaks in between work. This is a lot of time to spend working in just 1 day, so don’t beat yourself up if you need more time to complete this.
Now that I’ve explained that, here’s how to outline a novel in 1 day:
Part I – The Idea
Part I is for your exploration of your novel’s idea and concept.
This is the shortest part of the process, only lasting 15 minutes. Feel free to be loose and go with your intuition for this part of the outlining process.
1. 10 Mins – Come up with an idea
If you don’t have any novel ideas yet, here’s a blog post on how to come up with ideas.
If you do have an idea you need to get it out of your head and onto some paper (or into a text file).
Set a timer for 10 minutes and write down any information relating to your idea.
Don’t focus on making your writing perfectly readable, this part of the outlining process can be pretty rough. Just focus on getting all of the concepts and ideas out of your head.
2. 5 Mins – Idea synopsis
Now take your rough idea from step 1 and turn it into a clean synopsis. I would recommend a 1 paragraph long synopsis.
You don’t have to set a timer for this one, but I wouldn’t spend more than 5 minutes on this step.
Take a break after you’ve finished making your synopsis. Go make yourself a tea/coffee, or get yourself a glass of water, then prepare for the next part.
Part II – The Story Beats
Part II is where you’ll be writing the story beats, which are the main events that carry the pacing of your story.
Be quick when deciding this, as it’s more important to get your ideas out now, no matter how rough they may be. If you can’t think of anything, put down something generic. You’ll have plenty of time to revise your story beats later.
This part takes a total of 45 minutes.
3. 5 Mins – Opening
The first story beat is the opening, which is how your story starts.
Take 5 minutes and write down how you want your story to start. Don’t worry about making a killer opening, you’ll be revising this part of the outline later.
4. 5 Mins – Hook
The next story beat is the hook, which is something that grabs your reader’s attention at the beginning of the story. The hook is usually found within the first 10 pages.
Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down the hook of your story.
5. 5 Mins – Inciting incident
The inciting incident comes after the hook, at the 12.5% mark of your story. If you’re writing a 50,000 word story, then it’s around 6,250 words in.
The inciting incident is the first large problem your protagonist will face, and trying to solve it will create the first plot point problem.
Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down the inciting incident of your story.
6. 5 Mins – First plot point
The first plot point is at the 25% mark of your story. For a 50,000 word novel, that’s about 12,500 words in.
The first plot point is the point of no return for your protagonist, at this point it should be impossible for them to go to how their life was when the story started.
The first plot point problem will also be the overarching problem of the story that your protagonist needs to solve.
Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down the first plot point of your story.
7. 5 Mins – First pinch point
The first pinch point comes after the first plot point, at around the 37.5% mark of your story, or at 18,750 words into 50,000 word novel.
Pinch points are a moment in which your reader glimpses the true antagonistic force, which increases the tension and stakes of your story.
Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down the first pinch point of your story.
8. 5 Mins – Midpoint
The midpoint is a plot point that happens in the middle of your story. If your novel is 50,000 words long, the midpoint happens at 25,000 words in.
The midpoint should reveal some new information to your protagonist, information that changes the context of the plot. This is a good place to have a small plot twist.
Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down the midpoint of your story.
9. 5 Mins – Second pinch point
The second pinch point happens at the 62.5% mark of your story. If you’re writing a 50,000 word novel, then it should occur at around 31,250 words in.
The second pinch point is like the first one, it gives the reader a glimpse of the true antagonistic force and increases the tension and the stakes.
Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down the second pinch point of your story.
10. 5 Mins – Second plot point
The second plot point is the point at which your protagonist gets all the information/knowledge/skills/tools needed to defeat the antagonist.
No new characters or information should be introduced after the second plot point. If you do need to introduce something, or someone, it should be foreshadowed at an earlier point of the story.
After the second plot point has concluded the protagonist should start preparing to defeat the antagonist of the story. Plot threads and subplots should begin to get wrapped up.
The second plot point happens at the 75% mark of the story. If you’re writing a 50,000 word novel, then it should be at 37,500 words in.
Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down the second plot point of your story.
11. 5 Mins – Conclusion
The conclusion is how your story ends, and how everything gets wrapped up.
Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down the conclusion of your story.
Take a break after you’ve finished writing the conclusion. The next part is a long one.
Part III – The Characters
Part III is when you’ll make some character briefs.
Character briefs usually contain information about your characters’:
- Physical Descriptions
Part III is 2 hours long, so remember to stay hydrated and take stretch breaks.
12. 120 Mins – Character briefs
Take the characters you’ve mentioned in your ideas page and your story beats and create briefs for them.
I like to do this after I outline the story beats, as that helps me understand the motivations and actions of my characters. It also helps prevent me from shoehorning them into a plot that doesn’t align with their personalities.
I suggest spending about 2 hours on the character briefs. Don’t forget to write down the physical descriptions and the backstories of your characters!
Take a break after you’ve finished creating your character briefs, and then prepare for part IV.
Part IV – Revision and Acts
Part IV is when you’ll revise the outline you have so far, and then write down ideas for each act.
This method of outlining is for a story that follows the 4 act structure, instead of the 3 act structure. The only difference between these 2 structures is the length of the act II.
Three act structure:
- Act I – 25% of novel
- Act II – 50 % of novel
- Act III – 25% of novel
Four act structure:
- Act I – 25% of novel
- Act II – 25% of novel
- Act III – 25% of novel
- Act IV – 25% of novel
If you prefer to use a 3 act structure, feel free to modify this outlining plan to suit your choice.
Part IV will take around 3 hours to complete.
13. 60 Mins – Revision of story beats
After you’ve created the character briefs, it’s time to revise your story beats.
Maybe some of your characters’ decisions don’t match their personalities. Maybe by exploring their backstories, you can change some plot information.
Take about 60 minutes to revise the story beats and make them more cohesive with the characters, and improve the overall flow of the story.
Take another break after you’ve finished revising. You still have about 7 hours of planning left, so take some time to stretch, drink some water, and eat some food.
14. 30 Mins – Ideas for act I
I like to write down my ideas for all the subplots, character interactions, plot information, and scenes that can go in each part.
Set a timer for 30 minutes and write down any ideas you have for act I.
15. 30 Mins – Ideas for act II
I do the same thing as I do for act II as I do for act I: I write down my ideas for scenes, character interactions, subplots, etc.
Set a timer for 30 minutes and write down any ideas you have for act II.
16. 30 Mins – Ideas for act III
Same thing goes for act III. Set a timer for 30 minutes and write down any ideas you have for act III.
17. 30 Mins – Ideas for act IV
You know the drill. Set a timer for 30 minutes and write down any ideas you have for act IV.
Take a break after you’ve finished writing down your ideas. Stretch, re-hydrate, eat some food, and prepare for part V.
Part V – Details and Subplots
You’ll be planning out the details (such as themes and motifs) and the subplots of your novel during part V.
Part V will take a total of 2 hours and 30 minutes, so remember to take frequent breaks.
18. 60 Mins – Recurring themes and motifs
The next step is to think about the recurring themes and motifs you want in your novel.
The theme is the subject or message of your story, such as ‘friendship is important’ or ‘anxiety is difficult to overcome’.
Knowing the theme of your story will help you make sure the different elements of your story support or demonstrate your theme.
Motifs are symbols and objects that show up throughout your story. For example, water and fire are both motifs that show up in the movie Shutter Island, and for good reason. They help highlight the theme and conflict of the story.
Plants are a recurring motif in one of my novels, as the theme of the story is currently life and death, as well as how we perceive such concepts and how they influence our actions and relationships.
Spend around 60 minutes coming up with some recurring themes and motifs. Creating a mood board may help you with this step.
Take another break after you’ve finished this step and let your chosen themes and motifs rest in the back of your mind.
19. 30 Mins – Revision of outline
After you’ve taken a break and let the themes and motifs of your story rest in your mind a bit, you can work on revising your outline again and updating it with your chosen theme and motifs.
I suggest only taking 30 minutes for this, as you still have another outline revision coming up.
20. 60 Mins – Subplot planning
It’s time to do some subplot planning after your revision. You should already have some ideas from part IV.
Now is the time when you plan out the subplots, such as their pacing, the conflicts within them, the actions that the characters take, dialogue exchanges, etc.
Do you want a tip for your subplots? Write them as interconnecting loops, always opening one before you close another. This keeps your reader’s interest and helps keep the story flowing.
I suggest doing your subplot planning over an hour, then take another break.
Part VI – Scene Planning
Part VI contains the scene planning for each of your acts. Again, I use a 4 act structure, but you can change things if you prefer a 3 act structure.
Part VI will take 2 hours to complete.
21. 30 Mins – Act I scene planning
Next write down all the scenes that should happen in act I, and include character motivations, goals, and obstacles. If you have ideas for dialogue, you can write those down too.
Set a timer for 30 minutes and get the necessary information down. Don’t worry about making it perfect, you’ll be revising later.
22. 30 Mins – Act II scene planning
Set a timer for 30 minutes and do the same thing for act II as you did for act I.
23. 30 Mins – Act III scene planning
Again, set a timer for 30 minutes. Then plan out the scenes that take place during act III.
24. 30 Mins – Act IV scene planning
Set a timer for 30 minutes and plan out the scenes for act IV.
Now take a break. You’re almost finished so go stretch, drink some water, eat some food, and rest a bit before the last part.
Part VII – Polishing and Revising
This is the last part in the outlining process, so congratulations on making it this far!
Part VII is only 1 hour long, and is just some final revision and polishing of your outline.
25. 60 Mins – Outline Revision
The last step of this process is a final outline revision. You can take as little or as much time as you want for this, but I suggest taking around an hour.
Go over your entire outline and make sure everything is cohesive and that the story flows and makes sense. If you need to, you can change or update things in your character briefs, add extra information in your scene plans, etc.
Once you’re finish polishing your outline you’re ready to start writing! Congratulations!
If you found this blog post helpful, please leave a like or share it with someone else who’d find it helpful. Good luck with your writing journey, and check back here for more writing advice, tips, and tricks.
While this post was published on a Tuesday, I normally publish every Wednesday, so I’ll have another blog post published tomorrow.