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How to outline a novel – 3 things you need

By Laurence MacNaughton

Dear Laurence: What do I need to know beforehand in order to write a novel? I’ve been told by several different people that an author has to have a character outline (with a biography, as if he or she was a real living person), then a story outline, and I don’t know what all else… I feel like I want to just sit down and start writing, but I’ve never written a book in my life, and I don’t know if I can pull it off. How much do I need to figure out before I start writing my first novel? –Perplexed

Dear Perplexed: Some writers plan out every detail of their books beforehand, while others just sit down with a blank page and wing it. You can go either way. Personally, I’m in the middle: I plan some, and then I make up some as I go along.

To be honest, planning isn’t as important as perseverance. Writing a novel is more of a marathon than a sprint, and it takes a ton of effort over an extended length of time. You might consider writing a short story first. Not only will it give you some practice, it will also help build your confidence. Plus, you’ll get the satisfaction of finishing a story. And that’s no small thing.

But I don’t blame you if you’re worried about getting stuck in the middle of your first novel. My new ebook, Instant Plot, might help (and it’s free to subscribers — just email me to request a copy). It walks you through the process of answering the key questions you need to finish your novel, and you can complete it in less than an hour.

Now, here’s my #1 tip for planning out a novel. Write this out on a sticky note and stick it over your writing space:

Every good story is about a sympathetic character who overcomes seemingly impossible conflicts in pursuit of a meaningful goal.

In other words, you need three things:

1) a character that a reader can really care about;
2) a truly important goal for that character to pursue; and
3) a series of overwhelmingly difficult obstacles in between.

That’s it. It really is that simple. And if you can make all three of those clear in every chapter, then you’re well on your way. Have fun writing!

Are you writing a novel? Click here for endless free tips on how to get published.

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