NaNoWriMo – Creating an Outline

A story skeleton - Just in time for Halloween

When I get an idea for a novel I do a basic outline. It basically forms the bones of my novel (I like to call it the story skeleton). I find an outline is particularly helpful during NaNoWriMo because it gives me a basic road map for my story, that way if I get stuck half way through all I have to do is refer back to my road map and get back on track. Since the aim of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in a month, I don’t want to get stuck halfway through because I don’t know where the plot is going. A basic outline can be a great preparation tool, and a great way to fend off writer’s block.

This is how I set up an outline; it’s a fairly basic set up, yet it includes everything you need for your story arc. (I’m going to use The Wizard of Oz as an example)

PLOT (Here I write one or two sentences to give the basic idea of the main plot – think of it as a practice run for the tagline/pitch of your story)

When Dorothy finds herself in a strange land called Oz, she must find the wizard to get back home again.

ORIENTATION/BEGINNING (This is where the story starts. It contains the inciting incident that gets the story moving towards the conflict)

A tornado picks up Dorothy’s house and whisks it away to the land of Oz. There she meets the Good Witch who tells her she must follow the yellow brick road to find the wizard.

CONFLICT/PROBLEM (What is the problem/obstacle the main character will need to overcome?)

Dorothy needs to find the wizard who can send her home. To make things more difficult, a wicked witch is trying to do her harm because Dorothy accidentally killed the witch’s sister when her house landed in Oz.

EVENTS/PLOT POINTS (Here I list the important events I want to happen in the story, it doesn’t have to list every single event in the story, just the ones that will be particularly relevent to the plot. And don’t worry if you think of more things later on as you are writing. This is just a basic outline to help keep you on track. This is the part I find most helpful when I get stuck, because I can look at my points and think, I still need that to happen.)

– Dorothy meets a scarecrow with no brain who joins her in seeking the wizard.

– They meet a tinman with no heart who also joins them.

– Finally they meet a lion with no courage who joins them as well.

– The Wicked Witch kidnaps Dorothy.

– Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion come to save her.

RESOLUTION/CONCLUSION (This is how the problem is solved and how the story will end.)

Dorothy defeats the Wicked Witch and finds the wizard. Her friends receive the gifts of a brain, a heart and courage and Dorothy is able to return home.

You’ll note I don’t mention the ruby slippers in this outline, it could be that when I start writing the story I get the idea for the ruby slippers, I can then either amend my original outline with the new idea, or just write it in as it comes to me. If the idea comes early in my writing of the story I’ll write it into the outline, but if it comes later, perhaps when I’m editing, I often don’t worry about amending the original outline.

From your basic outline you can create a more detailed outline or you might feel as though a basic outline is enough for you to go on. Once you have your story skeleton all you’ll need to do when NaNoWriMo starts is to begin fleshing it out.

13 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo – Creating an Outline”

  1. That’s a great way to get things sorted out and firmly in your mind before writing. It’s like having a map to get where you’re going. Without one, you have a vague idea of where you’re going but you have a pretty good chance of getting lost along the way. This provides the guideposts to keep you heading the right direction. Lovely.


  2. Thank you very much for this. It was definitely helpful.

    This year will be my first NaNoWriMo so I’m open to all the advice I can get!



  3. Shanon – That’s what I love about outlines, they keep you on the right track when you’re writing so you don’t get lost along the way.

    Vikki – Good luck with NaNoWriMo this year! I’m glad you found this helpful.

    Catherine – It makes it clearer to explain with the examples. Good luck converting Kangaroobee into an MG!


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