How to Write a Fiction Book Outline

Writing a fiction book can be tackled in a few different ways, but I always like to start with a loose outline. A book outline is a general map of how the story will progress.

Just like with world maps, you can create maps at different scales. You can include the least amount of information possible, or you can plot out every step of the journey. Personally, I like to hit all the major plot points (but not in too much detail) and know what the ultimate resolution is before I start, but other writers just like to wing it. In that case, your outline may just include the set up for the story and a few details about the characters.

The important part is to have the initial idea – what your story will be about. If we take the story of Goldilocks as an example, a basic outline might look like this:

  • Character: Goldilocks, little girl
  • Character: Group of bears who live in a house
  • Plot: Girl wandering in woods, find house, goes inside, discovered by bears who own house, runs away and never comes back

With that as the basis for the story, you can just fill in the blanks as you write it. For a more detailed outline, you can go further into detail about each character, or hit every scene or situation in the story.

  • Character: Goldilocks, little girl with long flowing hair. Rude. Independent. Enjoys stealing food and sleeping in other people’s beds. Scares easily, but always thinks she’s in the right.

And so on. The plot can be expanded to say she goes in, tries the porridge, sleeps in the bed, and it’s always the third choice that is the best.

Unless you have a good memory, writing even the briefest information about a character will help you in the long run. Several times I’ve been part way through writing a piece with a character remembering their time at college, only to discover I mentioned in the opening page that they never attended college. It’s only a small rewrite…

The main aim with an outline is to get you from point A to point B with relative ease, but you’ll sometimes find that your characters won’t cooperate. They take on a life of their own, and the better your understanding of them, the more likely it is to happen. This creates a good story as the characters drive it – but it can mean moving goalposts for when you want to reach the end.

If the bears in Goldilocks were particularly angry about the intruder, they might decide to eat her before she gets chance to leave. The moral of the story is pretty much “don’t break into houses and use things”, which is only amplified if the main protagonist is eaten.

Your character outline may also include details of the hopes and dreams of each individual, and you may want to consider what drives them. Did Goldilocks go in because she was hungry, or because she was nosy? Was she a petty thief or just an inquisitive kid? Did she deserve to be eaten? Yes. Well…yes. You don’t eat another man’s (bear’s) porridge and hope to get away with it, do you?

Writing a fiction book outline can be as complex as you make it. Just remember that the more information you include, the easier it is to fill in the gaps. There’s no problem if you want to start writing and see where it goes, but if you’re trying to guide an unruly mob of characters, you might need to give them a map.