What Is the Foundation of Your Book? The Importance of a Book Outline

By: Mary Anna Rodabaugh in Book Writing and Editing

When it comes to writing a book, it can be tempting to want to just dive in and wing it. You know when that brilliant book idea hits, and you just have to get it on the page? You sit down in front of your computer or notebook and just start writing everything that pops into your head. Next thing you know, you have forty pages of narrative. Not quite enough for a book but certainly a grand start. Now what?

Or you may be on the opposite side of the spectrum. Perhaps you’re stuck and don’t know what angle you want your book to take. You have a few ideas, but you are not sure which one is the one. Your head and heart are a robust collection of stories, but the order seems muddy, and organization feels overwhelming.

Stop. Drop your pen. Lower your fingers from the keyboard. Take a deep breath. Let’s get back to the basics.

Introducing Your Book Writing Outline

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Type A personality that plans out every detail or a Myers-Briggs ENFP who loves to complete tasks on the fly. You need a book outline. It is the foundation of your book. Now, there are a few different types of book outlines that you can create, so if the idea of strategically planning your book makes you cringe, don’t worry. There is a flexible and loose outline structure out there for you.

Writing a book is so much easier (and more fun) when you have a rough blueprint from which to work. You get a sense of the book’s narrative flow and overall structure. You have the chance to map out tentative chapters and move things around if a new chapter comes to mind or a previously planned chapter doesn’t quite fit anymore.

What is the Foundation of Your Book The Importance of a Book Outline list

Beginning, Middle, End

The first book writing outline you can try is the big picture beginning, middle, and end outline. In this planning stage, you have three big buckets. Examine the story (or series of stories) you wish to share with your readers. What makes for a logical progression? Remember you don’t have to default to chronological order. Yes, it is satisfying, and there is nothing wrong with keeping the order of events intact; however, you may want to do some flash-forwards or flashbacks to keep your narrative fresh.

Does your book have a compelling beginning story that hooks readers from the first few pages? Are they invested in what you have to say? Are they rooting for you or learning to trust you? If the answer is yes, you’re well on your way to crafting a perfect beginning.

The middle usually has some conflict to allow the peaks and valleys of climax and resolution to take hold. Often, books present a problem that needs to be solved. It could be a character’s secret affair or a prescriptive non-fiction work on how to live your best life.

The end should conclude your book in a way that makes readers feel like they just ate the best literary meal of their life. They should feel moved, satisfied, and maybe eager to learn more. Really lean into the emotion that occurs in your beginning, middle, and end to help you structure your stories in these big buckets.

“A book outline will help you keep your book organized, see where there may be holes to fill or fluff to cut, and expedite the overall writing process. ”

Chapter by Chapter Book Writing Outline

For the writers who need more structure, the chapter outline is for you. In this outline, you’ll create a whole list of “buckets” to fill. Each bucket is a chapter. You don’t have to know your chapter names just yet, but to keep yourself organized, name your chapter after something that is happening in the story. For example, your Chapter 5 is about John’s candied apples and a childhood memory about visiting his farmer’s market stand in the brisk autumn weather. For now, title it “John’s Apples” or “Candy Apples.” You can always go back and change the chapter title to something more appropriate later.

Be aware that you may end up adding chapters between your predetermined list. As you write, you may stumble upon a natural ending for a chapter and the need to add an extra chapter before you jump into the next one. This is a normal part of the writing process.

Don’t forget to also map out your introduction and conclusion. Write a brief summary for both in your outline as well as a short chapter synopsis for each of your chapters. If you’re writing a non-fiction book, you may end up using this part of your outline as part of your non-fiction book proposal for traditional publishing. Work smarter, not harder.

What is the Foundation of Your Book The Importance of a Book Outline visual outline

Reader Motivations

This outline is more for non-fiction writers, but there are some aspects that could apply to fiction writers as well. Just like you have your beginning, middle, and end structure, swap those out for what you want your reader to think, feel, or do. If you want your reader to learn how to attract angel investors, then you can create an outline section for “reader to-dos.” If you want your reader to love themselves and realize their true potential, create a section for “self-love.”

So instead of outlining the beginning, middle, end, or specific chapters, you can outline your book’s story by reader motivation and action points. This will help you see all the puzzle pieces your story is related to and give you a chance to organize them in a manner that makes sense for the reader (and your goals as a writer).

Helpful Tips for Book Writing Outlines

No matter how you do it, just know you need to do it. A book outline will help you keep your book organized, see where there may be holes to fill or fluff to cut, and expedite the overall writing process. If you’re more a visual individual, consider making a spreadsheet for your outline or use a whiteboarding tool. You can also use Post-it Notes and move them around a whiteboard to see your overall book take shape. Have fun with it.