How To Write An Effective Outline

“I’ve always wanted to write a book,” people often say. “I never know where to start!” As a writer, this is something I’ve heard said a lot. I said it before I began. The biggest struggle with writing is figuring out where to begin. There isn’t just one right answer, however, I am going to share the way that best works for me.

My method of writing has always been about planning. Within the writing community, there are pantsers, and there are plotters. Pantsers write as they go, winging their every move. Plotters plot their every move and then write it. Personally, I find myself as a plotter. I need a plan before I write. If you find that you struggle to write without a plan, this is the most effective way to plot out a novel ahead of time.

Early on in my search for beginning a novel, I learned about the 3 Act Story Structure. This story structure revolves around the plot having three ‘acts.’ In this blog post, I will go through what goes into each act.

Act 1

Beginning

Act 1 will always cover the beginning of the book. It sets the stage for the rest of the story to come. In my opinion, this is the most obvious stage of the story, and doesn’t need much of an introduction.

The Inciting Incident/Narrative Hook

The inciting incident, or hook, of your story is often thought of as the beginning of the story. But this is incorrect. The inciting incident is the moment when the reader is hooked. While the beginning sets up the story, the inciting incident draws the reader in.

For example, in the first Harry Potter novel, the narrative hook would be when Hagrid comes to tell Harry he’s a wizard.

Act 2

Act 2 begins at the first plot point. The reader has been hooked, and this is when the story truly begins. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, this is the moment the kids arrive at Hogwarts.

Midpoint

The midpoint is the very middle of the book. This is different from the climax, as the climax happens in Act 3. A lot of times, this is where the reader finds out an important piece of information or a big twist. It doesn’t have to be unexpected, but it is the ‘centerpiece’ of the story.

In Harry Potter, this is the moment when Hermione sets fire to Snape’s cloak during the Quidditch match.

Rising Action

This occurs at the start of Act 2, and goes throughout the entirety of the act. It is everything that builds to the climax of the novel. It involves the reader learning new things, watching the characters grow, and finding clues along the way. It is the time used to develop relationships and explore settings.

Act 3

Climax

Act 3 begins at the climax. The climax is what the rising action has been building up. Everything that has happened thus far in the novel is preparing the reader for this moment. The characters (and the reader) piece together everything they have seen to make it to this moment. It is a moment of action.

In Harry Potter, this is the moment Harry, Hermione, and Ron go after the Philosopher’s Stone. They bypass Fluffy, a giant chess room, and a riddle for Harry to come face to face with Voldemort. The climactic moment is when Harry defeats Voldemort.

Falling Action

This is everything that happens between the climax and the resolution.

In Harry Potter, this is the scene where Harry wakes up in the hospital after defeating Voldemort.

Resolution

This is where the loose ends are tied up. The reader discovers what happens to the characters following the climax, and the story is resolved. A resolution is different than a happy ending. For an ending to be resolved, it doesn’t have to be happy. It leaves the reader knowing what happens next. The story doesn’t stop after the climax. And the resolution can be happy if the writer desires it to be. But it’s important that a good ending should not be sacrificed for a happy ending. If the story is the first in a series, it still needs to have a resolution. The resolution can set the reader up for the next adventure.

In Harry Potter, this is the scene when Gryffindor wins the house cup, and Harry leaves Hogwarts to go home for the summer.

This is one of many ways to write a novel. But, keep in mind, there is no ‘right’ way to write. It’s your book, your story, your decisions. This is one of the tried and true ways to do it, but it’s up to you. Keep writing, get constructive criticism from friends, and you’ll find your way around a novel. It could take you days or months or years, but as long as you keep going, you’ll have a book of your own.

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