How to OUTLINE YOUR NOVEL

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I've gotten several requests for outlining and revisions, how to come up with conflict, so I'm going to give a concrete example with Guardian Redemption as I work on the second draft. I'll copy/paste some of my notes and explain them a little. There are SO many ways to do this, and this is just the way I like to organize myself, so absolutely don't think this is the best way. Find the best way for YOU, which may be something completely unconventional. Don't be afraid to do things differently. As long as you come out with a damn good story, who cares how you got it written down?

So after finishing the first draft, I'm starting from scratch with outlining. Now that I have a good grasp of the flow of the story, I can redraft the entire thing much more effectively. After finishing your first draft, I highly suggest reoutlining, either my way or however you want. I've already found weak spots in characterization that I hadn't noticed while writing or rereading. Only when I concretely spelled out the characterizations did I realize: "OH I'm missing Joren's internal conflict here" etc. So even if you think your plot is perfect, do re-outline. Or if you're only just starting your novel, this is a great method to get started, too! You can redo it after finishing and see how much your ideas have changed from the start. Cool stuff.

I keep all my notes in OneNote. I have tabs for: revisions, world building, characterization, backstory, and outline. Outline was the outline of the first draft, so ignore that.
Backstory I'd filled in before writing the first draft as well, but if you haven't and you know the backstory, take some time to type it out for each major character. Within the Backstory tab, I have pages for each major character, and I type up exactly what happened to them before the book started--what events shaped them into the person they are at the start of the book? What are their histories?

Now I'll move onto pure characterization. I take a myers briggs personality test (google "myers briggs" and click the first link at humanmetrics.com) for each of the main characters. Once I have their 4-letter personality type, I find the analysis for it in this site (they're split by Exxx and Ixxx types:
Extroverted types: http://www.the16types.info/vbulletin/content.php/253-MBTI-Simulatedworld-s-Profiles-for-Extroverted-Types
Introverted types:  http://www.the16types.info/vbulletin/content.php/252-MBTI-Simulatedworlds-Profiles-for-Introverted-Types
(I've linked to the Extroverted type in the external link)

I copy/paste the entire analysis into that character's page under my Characterization tab. It's a lot of information, not all of it relevent, so I go through and highlight the most important bits that reveal something big about that character. Here's an example of Joren, who's an INTJ (I'm only sharing a couple paragraphs of the analysis, otherwise we'll be here all day). Don't read the whole thing, just the bolded parts, which are what I have highlighted in my doc:

As the INTJ develops Te further, she finds herself increasingly able to delegate tasks and render her prodigious visions into real projects and processes that generate measurable progress on a realistic timetable. She learns to coordinate the various different disciplines and processes required to accomplish her goals, and she finds herself naturally talented at breaking down larger processes into small enough tasks that the entire project becomes a manageable reality. This vital objective factors into Te's continuing love affair with the concepts of personal independence, responsibility, and accountability. TJs want to show that they are capable of managing resources intelligently and efficiently, and that they can stand on their own two feet and say honestly that they depend only on themselves for sustenance and support. Society is, to Te, a large system of interrelated logical relationships, and the system won't function properly unless each member is ultimately responsible for himself. TJs hate being dependent upon or subservient to others, and they pride themselves on their ability to generate more resources than they consume.

It is of paramount importance to Te to consider the limitations upon available resources and ensure that they are distributed in the most efficient manner possible. INTJs often excel in management positions where they are free to envision optimally efficient working conditions and design, improve, or adjust real-world processes and methodologies accordingly. When they commit themselves to a project--which they will not do unless they either truly consider it worthwhile, or need the money--they will push themselves to fulfill their agreements to the greatest extent possible within the restraints of the resources allocated. They hold themselves to high standards in this regard, for if they do not uphold the collective standards by which Te governs the structural relationships between external world entities (i.e., laws, procedures, rules, measurements, quantitative standards), they are all too aware that they will have no recourse when the parties they work with fail to hold up their own ends of the bargain. If nothing else, INTJs can be counted on to reliably complete the tasks they've agreed to. This is a matter of not only personal pride but also of practical utility--if one establishes a reputation for disregarding the accepted Te methodology among the people he seeks to work with, he may very well find others unwilling to work with him in the future.


Now remember how I keep saying find your character's deepest fears and exploit them? The fears and weaknesses are SPELLED OUT in these analyses. It's doing half the work for you. All you have to do now is take notes.

So for example with the above, it says "TJs hate being dependent upon or subservient to others." This is perfect for Joren on several levels. It explains why he's the head healer for the kingdom's ruler. He's got top rank, honorary lordship.

But on another level, his older brother, Reks, is the self-proclaimed king of the slums. Reks has nearly limitless resources, an entire spy network spanning across the globe, and knows just about everything about everything. But Reks is underhanded and works outside the law, so Joren stays away from him. However, there's a big problem Joren's dealing with, and he has to resort to asking Reks for help. That's exploiting the fear/weakness. He hates being dependent on others, and now he has to depend on his criminal brother. That'll mess a guy up a little.

The next paragraph of the analysis states: "INTJs can be counted on to reliably complete the tasks they've agreed to. This is a matter of not only personal pride but also of practical utility..." I hope your "flaw/fear" alarm is going off! That's something I can exploit, so how to go about it?

There's a plague breaking out in the slums, and since Joren's the head healer, everyone expects him to find the cure before the sickness spreads into the main city. Think how frustrated he'd get when he CAN'T cure it? The sickness doesn't respond to his magic.

So now what's he supposed to do? Well, he doesn't really have a personal reason to get too worked up about this--until his best friend contracts the plague. And this sickness kills within a day. Joren's on the clock: he has to find a cure before he loses his best friend.

But we need to given Joren a strong internal conflict to go along with this external conflict. Joren would have to resort to morally questionable human experimentation to speed up the process in finding the cure. Remember, the reason  he hates his brother is because Reks works outside the law. Now Joren's doing the same thing.

Force the character to question their values and morals. Put them in a situation where they have to pick one or the other, and both have consequences. If you can push your character to do something against their moral code, that's going to cause HUGE character development really quickly. You don't need to follow the analyses to a T. I stray from them sometimes. But they're a nice guide.

And then I do this for each of the main characters and get a nice mental map of their strengths, weaknesses, and fears, with some notes of how to manipulate the plot in order to exploit those fears and weaknesses--which will cause them to change. Now I create a new page titled Character Arcs, and I summarize my notes into easily chewable blurbs. I make a bulleted list of Goal, Motivation, Internal Struggle, How to Exploit, and Resolution. Here's the one for Joren:

    • Goal: cure torde while keeping an eye on Reks.
    • Motivation: Cleon contracted torde! Must save him.
    • Internal struggle:
        ○ Choose between loyalty to Reks or Cleon/castle laws.
           Now Kairi's leaning on the morally wrong path, and Joren doesn't know if he should stop her or let her follow her own values.
          When he has to find the cure for torde and time's running out, he resorts to experimenting on the dying--something that he previously thought was wrong. Now, he feels guilty and torn about doing that, but he can't see any other way. He finds himself becoming more reclusive, pushing away the other healers on his team and ignoring his students.
    • How to exploit: He'll be in a situation where he has to immediately choose between rescuing Reks or his friends--when Bryon attacks Reks and Lisel's choking on torde smoke. Redefine his moral code.
    • Resolution: He picks his friends, but he's edited his moral code. He'll work outside the law in order to protect his loved ones.  Ultimately, he takes over for Reks as the King, but now he'll rule the way he thinks is right.

Remember, these are just loose summaries to get you organized and brainstorm some ways to exploit the characters.

Now outlining! I'm working under my Revisions tab on a page called Draft 2 Scene Cards. The original concept of this method comes from writing these out on index cards (I read about this, but I can't remember where), which is where my name comes from.

The idea behind this is each "card" outlines a scene. On mine, I write the pov character, external conflict, resolution to the external conflict (or on what note for that external conflict ends in that scene), internal conflict, and resolution. So here are the first few of Guardians:

S1
POV: Cleon
External Conflict: Kairi's with making out with another guy, freaking out Cleon, who has a telepathic connection with her and is seeing/feeling EVERYTHING.
Resolution: he pukes, she pukes, try to sever their mental connection
Internal Conflict: people are bullying him for being fail Guardian and being a non-mage.
Resolution: He breaks the guy's arm and runs & hides

S2
POV: Kairi
External Conflict: trying to do gravity magic but really hates it--doesn't see any practical application, so she doesn't put much effort. She talks big about how she's above such petty spells.
Resolution: Mistress Naraik tells her to do a spell and prove her competency.
Internal Conflict: people laughing at her and Mistress Naraik's getting frustrated because Kairi keeps messing up and can't do the spell right.
Resolution: Kairi gets fed up and opens locks around reservoir of magic that she shouldn't and causes an earthquake. Naraik stops it before it hurts anyone, but she yells at Kairi, who storms off in tears.

S3
POV: Kairi
External Conflict: locks herself in her room to work on the spell to sever the connection with Cleon when he come in and annoys her.
Resolution: they both stop bickering start working on the spell together
Internal Conflict: She tries to hide from him how humiliated she was at the gravity magic lesson
Resolution: he notices but doesn't say anything and is cold to her, making her feel more alone and hated

S4
POV: Kairi
External Conflict: Spell goes wrong and Cleon starts transforming into a giant monster
Resolution: When it nearly rips off her arm, she caves and calls Joren for help
Internal Conflict: Rude awakening that she's not as powerful as she thinks--her magic is near useless on Bakamut
Resolution: Joren has to come in and give Cleon/Bakamut a heart attack to weaken it enough for Kairi to seal it--huge blow on her ego that she wasn't strong enough to do it herself.

S5
POV: Kairi
External Conflict: figure out what happened; joren's hiding something
Resolution: she won't trust joren to fix this, she has to solve it on her own by doing face changing business
Internal Conflict: joren showed her up. as guardian she MUST be the strongest. If a healer proves stronger than her, she's going to let everyone down and be as much a failure as Cleon. That. Can't. Happen.
Resolution: become the Face Changer--give new identities to criminals in return for spells so she can become stronger

S6
POV: Joren
External Conflict: Ask Reks for help with Cleon and Bakamut, but Reks is just toying with him and not telling him everything.
Resolution: Xaan comes in and tells Joren a little about Bakamut
Internal Conflict: he hates his brother, doesn't agree with his morals/values which usually fall far outside the law, and doesn't want to resort to asking him for help, but he has no choice. Cleon is more important than adhering to his morals, right…?
Resolution: he learns that Reks already knew about Cleon and Bakamut, so he has to remain close with his brother, as much as he doesn't want to


Sometimes the resolution will be the same for external and internal conflicts, so that's totally fine. Here's where I found a lot of places I didn't fully develop the internal struggles. For example with S4, Kairi in the original draft felt no internal struggle. While typing up these scene cards, I stared at the internal conflict and resolution, which were blank, and that made me think hard how to exploit her fears here--Kairi's a god, and everyone's expecting her to be all-powerful. But she's training right now, so she's not the strongest, and that's stressing her out. So force her to call on Joren to help her, which is her admitting someone out there is stronger than her--huge blow to her ego, and an addition of major internal conflict. Now she feels less flat! Huzzah!

So there you have it! Once I finish the scene cards, I'll print them out and cut out each scene and lay them out on the floor. Then I can search for inconsistencies, ways to strengthen the plot, re-order scenes, places the character arcs aren't fully developed, etc. Seeing the entire novel succinctly summarized is a great way to see the flow of the entire novel in one go and find its weaknesses. Make sure there's proper rising/falling action, climax, resolution of all major plot threads and internal conflicts, filler scenes to remove, other scenes to add, etc.

Once I know how I want to structure the novel, I'll start a new outline tab and each page within that will be a chapter. That's where I'll plan out each chapter in detail using the scene cards as the skeleton.

And that's how I get a working outline of a novel! Hope this helps a little with your outlining of the plot arcs and character arcs.

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