12 Days of Planning Your Novel: Start Your Outline

Start outlining your novel by understanding what your readers want. Create a novel outline by starting with obligatory scenes for your genre.

The next step in planning your novel involves mapping out the major scenes in your novel. In my last post, I talked about the difference between story and plot, and in today’s post we are going to be moving on from your story and starting to work more on your plot.

In the post about conducting research for your novel, I mentioned how genre stories have obligatory scenes. We are going to be working with those obligatory scenes today so if you haven’t finished researching the kinds of scenes you need for your novel, this is a great place to start.

Obligatory scenes and conventions are important for your novel if it is going to have a chance at being successful in the genre you’ve chosen. These are the scenes you must include no matter what. Readers have expectations based on the genre they’re reading, and if you don’t meet their expectations, there’s a good chance they won’t like your book.

I mentioned in a previous post that I am plotting a historical romance. I will need to include some scenes based on the facts I’ve researched about the time period the romance is taking place, World War II. I will also need to include classic love scenes like the ones mentioned in this love story cheat sheet on Steven Pressfield’s blog.

Here are some great posts about the scenes required in a few other genres:

The Monster Mash Up on the Story Grid Blog (obligatory scenes in the thriller genre)

What We Expect in a Murder Mystery by Sophie B. Thomas

Writing the Cozy Mystery by Stephen D. Rogers

5 Essential Elements Every Fantasy Novel Needs by Writer’s Edit

Secrets of the Horror Genre by the Story Grid

It's time to start your novel outline but you have no idea where to start. This post discusses using obligatory genre scenes as a way to get started.

If I haven’t listed your genre here, or you’re stuck coming up with the major scenes you need to include in your novel, this post on the Story Grid blog provides three simple steps to discovering your obligatory scenes:

  1. Choose a genre,

  2. Read several books in that genre, and

  3. List everything these stories have in common.

So, go ahead and make a note of the obligatory scenes you’ve just researched. Now brainstorm what those scenes might look like involving the characters you created on day three. Don’t worry about getting every exact detail worked out. You’ll be filling in the blanks in future steps and even as you write your novel.

There are many ways to start plotting your novel and coming up with a more detailed outline is going to be the focus over the next few posts. The method you choose will depend on what you enjoy. I invite you to explore your options and customize your outline for your writing style.

If you’ve missed part of this series, here’s where you can find the previous posts.

Day 1: What Will You Write?

Day 2: Research, Research, Research

Day 3: Character Development

Day 4: Story vs. Plot


In future posts in this 12 Days of Planning Your Novel series, I will be discussing a few more ways to come up with scenes for your novel as well as various physical methods of pulling your plot together.

Do you have a specific question you’d like to see answered in this series? Let me know in the comments below.