Writing Advice

  • How many characters can you have in your novel?

    How many characters can you have in your novel?

    Characters are the heart of every novel. Usually the characters are human, sometimes they’re animals or aliens or some other fantasy creature.

    Even a location can be a character in its own right. Think Manderley in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

    Characters and character hierarchy

    Some novels focus on a small number of characters and others have huge casts.

    While this can work either way, the more characters you have, the more time you need to flesh them out.

    Fantasy or historical novels with large casts can work if there is plenty of time (and word count) to build the characters during the course of the story.

    Large casts in shorter novels can leave the reader confused and trying to remember who is who.

    It’s even worse for novellas and short stories.

    This is because you simply don’t have the time or the word count to flesh these people out for your reader. Even if these characters are sharply drawn in your head, there won’t be enough space to transfer this to the page.

    Your plot as a boat or ship

    Imagine your story is a boat of some kind. If it’s a short story, it’s a dingy. There won’t be enough room for many passengers at all. Otherwise the story will sink under the weight of all the characters.

    If your story is a novella, your boat might be a larger yacht. Here, you can spare a bit more room to house them all.

    If your novel is at the other end of the spectrum – perhaps a fantasy or historical epic – then your boat is a cruise liner or old fashioned galleon. Now you have even more space. Though you definitely don’t want to sink your plot with enough characters to fill a modern cruise liner!

    However, it’s important to remember that a higher word count doesn’t necessitate a higher character count. It simply makes room for more characters should you need them.

    You also have to bear your genre in mind. Locked room mysteries, haunted house stories (even including SF horror like the first Alien film), don’t need or benefit from a high cast count. There might be exceptions, but too many characters might distract from suspense.

    In a romantic novel it’s also important not to sideline your two main characters with unnecessary side characters. The reader is most interested in the main characters and their emotional and psychological journey. Other characters who take up too much space will just get in the way of this.

    Character hierarchy – first class or steerage!

    To determine how to prioritise your characters and control the number you have, it’s worth thinking about your characters in terms of a hierarchy or social class system. Who are the first class passengers? Who are the VIPs?

    Who is the most important character in your book? Maybe there are two (particularly in romance). Maybe there are more.

    But you need to establish a hierarchy where the most important characters get the most time. These will be your first class passengers.

    The secondary characters don’t get as much time, and neither do their subplots. Their subplots should ideally tie into the main characters’ story or reinforce the theme of your book.

    If they do neither, you could consider tossing these characters overboard and dropping them altogether!

    Minor characters should be unnamed where possible – some will be named, but there’s no point naming walk-on parts like waiters, etc, who will never appear again, or who are not important enough for the reader to remember. These people could be crew or steerage.

    Naming a character can be an indication that the reader needs to remember this person.

    Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the major and secondary characters so much. But when you don’t need to name someone, don’t bother unless you have a small cast of characters. With a large cast, you can’t afford to throw in any unnecessary names.

    Returning to the hierarchy – think of it as a social class pyramid. Few people at the top, who represent the main character or characters. More in the middle who will be the secondary characters – except for novels with small casts. Potentially a larger group of background characters at the bottom, but in reality you might not have many of those. Especially if you have a shorter cast list.

    On to this hierarchy you should superimpose a reverse pyramid or hierarchy. The people at the top get the most time. The people at the bottom get the least.

    Character names that are too similar

    Avoid character names that are too alike

    This is another issue to watch out for! I know it’s tempting to have character names that are similar – perhaps your fictional family has a tradition of naming their children with the same first letter. Or maybe you haven’t thought about the similarity of some of your names.

    A big problem is when your novel is very long with a big cast. You will now find it more difficult to use names that start with a different letter of the alphabet.

    Why does it matter?

    Well, the human eye doesn’t read every letter in a text. It reads for shapes.

    This is why it’s easy to make spelling errors and not notice when you read it back. Your brain fills in the missing letters without you realising.

    For that reason, if two words look too similar, it can be confusing. Too similar will mean:

    • Starting with the same letter
    • Being around the same length

    Examples would include Anna versus Anya.

    But you could have Anna and Alexandra because they have a different length and shape to the human eye.

    I’d advise making a list of your characters and check for names that are too similar. Compounding factors include:

    • The two characters appearing in the same scene which will be more confusing to the reader
    • The two characters being the same sex

    Generally this can just add to the confusion. The main problem is that it’s all very clear to you the author because you see the bigger picture of the story and you know who everyone is.

    But your reader can only see what’s on the page. They can only know what they learn from what is written there. The last thing you want is to have them go back and reread things for clarification. If this happens too often, it will interrupt reading flow and potentially lead to the reader giving up and putting your novel down.

    And you absolutely don’t want that.

    I know it’s difficult if you’re attached to particular names and want to use them. But the bigger priority is to ensure you don’t lose readers. And you can equally fall in love with a new name. It’s quite possible to find one that’s even better. You just have to be willing to let go when necessary.

    How many characters can you have?

    There is no set rule. You could have a longer novel with few characters. Especially where you want to create a claustrophobic atmosphere with the main character or characters cut off from the outside world.

    However, if you do have only a small number of characters in a long novel, they must be strong enough – along with the plot – to carry the weight of the word count. Filler scenes that do not advance the plot, character arc, or theme, will not cut it.

    Readers know when story pace is flagging and ‘nothing is happening’.

    The shorter your novel or story, the more strict you need to be with character count. Anything else short changes both your story and your readers.

    If you have great side characters but there isn’t the space for them – save them for another story!

    One piece of research you could do on this topic is to choose similar novels in your genre and do a character count for each. They won’t all be the same, but it will give you an idea of the parameters available. It’s obviously best if you have read these novels already and didn’t find the cast list confusing to follow.

    Looking for feedback on your novel or memoir characters?

    I offer opening chapters developmental edits, full developmental edits, and manuscript critiques. Ask me about tiered manuscript critiques – I can do lighter and cheaper critiques for those on a budget or who want me to look at specific issues. I can also just focus on the main issues and ignore smaller things.

    And if you want to try polishing your own manuscript a bit more, I have a developmental self-editing checklist. Here is a post that covers a lot of the basics:

    Developmental self-editing checklist for indie authors and self-publishing authors.

  • How narrative devices support a novel’s theme

    How narrative devices support a novel's theme using the example of Sebastien Japrisot's novel, A Very Long Engagement.

    How narrative devices support a novel’s theme

    Writers are often more concerned with plot, character, and world building when they’re outlining or writing their novels. Consequently, theme is often something that gets lost.

    Theme and subject are not the same thing. Theme relates more to the message of a story – be it a film, play, or novel. In Sebastien Japrisot’s novel, A Very Long Engagement, the subject matter is World War One and its aftermath. The theme is the horrors of that war and of war in general.

    The subject matter supports the theme. But there are other narrative devices in this novel that contribute further to Japrisot’s message. In this post I’ll examine some of these devices.

    A Very Long Engagement

    Once upon a time, there were five French soldiers who had gone off to war, because that’s the way of the world.”

    So begins Sebastien Japrisot’s 1991 novel, A Very Long Engagement, winner of the Prix Interallié.

    Japrisot was a crime writer, screenwriter and film director. But his real name was actually Jean-Baptiste Rossi – his pseudonym is an anagram of his birth name.

    By 1991 he had already written a number of extremely successful crime novels. His career started off in literature and A Very Long Engagement is both a crime/mystery novel and a literary meditation on the horrors of war.

    From the first page, A Very Long Engagement immerses us in the horrors of World War One, and we are introduced to five condemned soldiers. We learn something of their backgrounds, their personalities, and the reasons for their terrible predicament.

    This is also the first time their families back home are referenced, and most of their wives and partners will later appear in the narrative.

    Then, before these soldiers reach their destination, the novel cuts away, leaving us to wonder about their fates.

    The rest of the novel is an investigation into what happened.

    The central character of A Very Long Engagement is Mathilde. Still a teenager at the beginning of the book, she makes it her life’s goal to find out what happened to her fiancé who was one of the condemned men. She does not know at the outset that he was sentenced to death, believing instead that he died in the course of the war.

    She’s a memorable heroine – determined, loyal, not above lying and plotting to get what she wants, and immensely stubborn in the face of opposition.

    The theme

    As previously mentioned, A Very Long Engagement is a novel highly critical of war. More specifically the First World War which saw an enormous loss of life without the moral purpose of defeating something like the Nazi regime. It was a senseless war, a crime against humanity which contained many smaller crimes, to be hidden by the relevant authorities if necessary.

    Indeed, the novel begins with a crime – the sentencing of five men to be shot by enemy soldiers. This is the novel’s opening hook. The deliberate withholding of the letter of reprieve is also a crime of a different sort, and we find out about that much later.

    There are many comments throughout the book about the futility of war. The novel criticises both the military and political hierarchy.

    The characters, from different classes and walks of life, also show through their experience how the war impacted different parts of society.

    One of the condemned men, Six-Sous, a trade unionist with family connections to the Paris Commune, dreams of a time when countries no longer go to war.

    The men who mutilated themselves to be invalided out and sent home are portrayed with compassion and sympathy. They are not seen as either cowards or traitors. Their actions come from desperation, from fear, from a longing to see their loved ones, wives and girlfriends, or because they’ve simply had enough of the whole nightmare.

    Furthermore, the author never condemns the German soldiers in the opposite trenches. They are portrayed with sympathy and at times show more compassion for the condemned men than some of those responsible for sending them over the top.

    While there are many comments condemning the war, what’s more important is the way Japrisot illustrates his theme by showing the impact on those left behind, and on those who made it out alive. He accomplishes this through a layering of narratives from different people from different backgrounds.

    Characterisation merges with viewpoint to illustrate theme.

    Point of View

    The central narrative belongs to Mathilde and is reported in what appears to be omniscient present tense.

    However, the author leaves clues throughout that the narrator who sometimes comments on things from their god-like perspective is really Mathilde – old Mathilde, looking back on the quest of her youth, to find her lost love.

    She has a mahogany box in which she stores all the paperwork collected over the years, including her own notes where she represents herself in the third person.

    The rest of the book is mostly first-person past tense, including the letters that make up so much of the book, as well as the accounts told directly to Mathilde.

    So, the novel uses different point of views: present tense third-person, omniscient at times for the present story (which is actually being told decades later), and first-person past tense for the witness accounts.

    I never found the switch in point of view styles to be inconsistent or abrupt.

    The advantage of the first-person viewpoint in accounts of the past is that it makes those events more vivid for the reader.

    The advantage of the third-person and omniscient point of view is that they provide a commentary, emphasising the war theme by showing humans used as pawns, their lives disposable from an almost god-like perspective.

    First-person accounts told directly to Mathilde are not presented within quotation marks. This embeds them more firmly into the main narrative.

    The use of first-person voice also distinguishes these narratives from Mathilde’s sections.

    Japrisot is so deft with his use of viewpoint and tense that the reader should easily follow the past and present narratives without confusion.

    Looking at the point of view alternatives – a constant omniscient or distant third would have led to a less engaging and poignant novel, characters forever kept at a distance. A close third following Mathilde would have made the first chapter, the men marching through the trenches, impossible. The opening scenes of the novel could then only have come through a witness statement.

    As it is, the opening chapter is the hook for the novel, with the events of that January night up front and centred.

    The use of a commenting omniscient voice, with a close third, and then an intimate recollection of events through first is probably what makes this novel so successful.

    Each of the points of view has a function that ties in with the book’s themes, the structure, and the method of delivering information, emotional impact, and rueful commentary.

    To mix these different points of view creates a highly complex and layered narrative. This occurs partly through additional devices such as the use of letters.

    A large proportion of the book is made up of letters. They enhance the narrative rather than disrupt it. They present layers of evidence and witness statements.

    This is an excellent device when it comes to a mystery or crime novel. Indeed, it also worked very well in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where the body of phonographic recordings, letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings and a ship’s log built a body of evidence for the existence of the vampire. In the case of that novel such devices added credibility to the story and aided suspension of disbelief.

    In this novel, the letters also offer clues which Mathilde and the reader can piece together. Because they are date stamped, they also contribute to a clearer chronology in the main narrative.

    Timeline and chronology

    Chronology and time are incredibly important to the structure of this book and the subject matter and themes. Many novels are told in a simple chronological or linear manner. Japrisot opted for a different way of telling his story, since there is a mystery that needs to be solved.

    Mathilde must return again and again to the events of that January night and the days that followed, listening to different accounts, piecing it all together.

    These accounts become a multi-layered testimony.

    It helps that chapters begin with date headings, or with dated letters. The puzzle within the narrative and the complex chronology demand clarity on time and place. This keeps the reader straight on the timeframe of each scene. Letters within the narrative are also dated, and there is much reference to particular dates, and also the use of transitional phrases like ‘some days later’ or ‘the next day’ and so forth.

    Japrisot uses another technique too – as mentioned before, Mathilde’s third-person viewpoint is almost always in present tense, whereas the accounts are in past tense (and usually first person).

    This helps separate the different narratives further in terms of time.

    Yet, Japrisot is in some ways playing games with the reader when it comes to time and the omniscient narrator. As we discover, Mathilde is the omniscient narrator.

    Towards the end of the book, the narrative jumps decades ahead, more than once, ending in 1965. Periodically Mathilde has still, in those future years, added more pieces of evidence to her box. Since the narrative’s latest time period is 1965 (though merely in a passing reference), this leads to the assumption that Mathilde is remembering her search and investigation as an elderly woman. But she is reliving it, through the detailed notes she made and the letters and other paperwork she received.

    If the real ‘now’ of the novel is the 1960s, even though it’s barely touched on, then this explains the reflective voice of the omniscient narrator who knows so much about Mathilde and some of the other characters (who in the future have become friends).

    This presents two ‘nows’ for Mathilde – the future and the present time of the book. The Mathilde of the present doesn’t know what the Mathilde of the future knows. But the Mathilde of the future understands the young Mathilde perfectly.

    Japrisot’s narrative has a very complex approach to time and moving around in time, yet there is an underlying pattern. Letters and first-person accounts are presented in order. And Mathilde’s thread is also presented chronologically. So there is a definite structure in place when it comes to dealing with time.

    Given the many viewpoint threads, the different accounts of the past, and the present meanwhile moving forward, structure and chronology are intimately fused, and they fuse again with point of view.


    In this example, the author has utilised a number of devices to illustrate and strengthen the book’s theme. This is perhaps a more complex example with the layering of different narratives, points of view, etc, and the complex use of time.

    Of course the central mystery of what happened to the men sent to their deaths at the beginning drives the plot, allowing the truth about the war to spill out over the rest of the novel.

    There are other devices like characterisation – even when it comes to the more minor characters – where the impact of the war resonates on them years down the line.

    No one who survives fully escapes the fallout of World War One.

    A Very Long Engagement was made into a film starring Audrey Tatou and directed by Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. It is very much worth a watch.

    Other blog posts

    Narrative devices in Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life

    How editorial feedback changed Interview With the Vampire

    How editorial feedback improved The Great Gatsby

    When publishers drop the ball

  • The Story Spine: The Simple 8-Point Storytelling Structure

    The Story Spine: The simple 8-point storytelling structure.
    The Story Spine

    The Story Spine

    The story spine is a storytelling structure attributed to Pixar or to writer/director Brian McDonald. McDonald himself has been using it a long time but can’t recall where he got it from.

    The eight-step structure can be used on screenplays, novels or short stories. You could even apply it to a narrative poem. It’s a great road map for storytelling and one worth keeping in your back pocket. Here is how it breaks down:

    1. Once Upon a Time…

    2. Every day…

    3. Until one day…

    4. Because of that…

    5. Because of that…

    6. Because of that…

    7. Until finally…

    8. And ever since then…

    You can see from this list that it’s actually a pretty simple structure. Let’s break it down further:

    1. Once upon a time…

    Of course you don’t have to actually open a story with those words. But this type of opening sets up the main character(s) and their world right up front. Who is the story about? Where is it set? Who is the reader meant to be rooting for?

    2. Every day…

    With this step you quickly establish the normal life of the character(s) at the start of the story. This norm will be overturned by coming events.

    3. Until one day…

    Now we have an event which disrupts the normal life of the main character(s). It’s an inciting event which will throw the character into a new situation.

    4. And because of that…

    Now we’re entering act two of the story. The character is now dealing with the consequences of the inciting event. They are reacting. They may know their ultimate aim, but winning will not come easily. Their early attempts to fight back might fail or lead to more problems. They can also achieve a goal only to find that they now need to do something else.

    5. And because of that…

    More consequences. Characters need to work hard, facing challenges, suffering defeats, but pushing on anyway. They can have low moments and times when they feel like quitting, but they carry on. A good story needs conflict. With no conflict, there is no story. If the character always wins out at the start, there’s nothing else to tell about them. This phase of the story spine shows the escalating situation as one thing after another impacts the character. Think of a set of dominoes going over in a chain. The chain of events should be related and show actions and consequences. The midpoint of your story could also be in this part.

    6. And because of that…

    It’s not an absolute rule that you should have three stages like this, but it’s worth remembering that too few means less conflict and less drama for the main character. This applies to novels and longer stories. Shorter stories won’t have the same amount of time for a long chain of events. You might only have one or two ‘because of that’ in them, depending on their length. But here you are in the latter part of act two.

    7. Until finally…

    You are now in act three. Your main character has reached the point where their ultimate goal is in sight and achievable. You should be hitting the climax of your story. What all previous events have been building up to. Not all characters win out in the end – some stories end on failure. But win or lose, this is the point where the character’s fate is established.

    8. And ever since then…

    There could be a moral to your story, or you can show how events have changed the main character(s) (which can also relate to the theme of your story). Or you simply want to return the story to a point where the main character is in a new normal. Their life might have changed, but their new situation comes from their efforts fighting against the obstacles before. The resolution stage cannot drag out too long because once the conflict is over, there is no dramatic tension left to drive the story forward. Long resolutions after the action is over leave readers struggling to finish. Make sure your story doesn’t drag on at the end.

    Story Spine 1: The Lady of Shalott

    Earlier I suggested you could apply this structure even to narrative poems. Think of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott.

    1. Once upon a time there is a mysterious lady in a tower who can be heard singing by locals working in the fields.
    2. Every day she works at her loom in the tower, weaving the sights that pass before her mirror. There is a curse that says she must not look out the window and can only see reflections instead. She sees passers-by, including young people and lovers, which makes her wistful.
    3. Until one day Lancelot appears in her mirror. He is such an awesome sight that she forgets about the curse and turns to look at him as he rides by outside.
    4. And because of that her mirror cracks from side to side and she realises the curse has come upon her.
    5. And because of that she goes out and takes a boat, painting her name on the prow. Then she unmoors the boat and lies down. She sings as the boat carries her towards Camelot. She slowly freezes to death.
    6. And because of that people in Camelot see the boat passing and even the high and mighty come down to see the dead woman in the boat, crossing themselves in fear.
    7. Until finally Lancelot sees her and says: “She has a lovely face; God in his mercy lend her grace,
      ⁠The Lady of Shalott.”

    The final step of ‘and ever since then‘ doesn’t appear in this narrative poem. We don’t know how the story later impacted Lancelot or the other witnesses.

    Story Spine 2: Rebecca

    You can have a number of ‘And because’ sections in a longer story. Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is an example. WARNING: SPOILERS.

    1. Once upon a time the young unnamed narrator works as a companion to a rich American woman called Van Hopper.
    2. Every day the narrator has to run errands and suffer her employer’s embarrassing manners. Mrs Van Hopper constantly puts her down and the MC is nervous and lacking any confidence.
    3. Until one day they stumble across Maxim de Winter at their hotel. Mrs Van Hopper is very keen to chat to him and mentions his dead wife, Rebecca, who was very beautiful. Rebecca died in a sailing accident a year before. Though Mrs Van Hopper’s manners embarrass the narrator, Maxim is kind. When Mrs Van Hopper falls ill, Max invites the narrator to breakfast with him.
    4. And because of that, they spend more time together, while the narrator lies to Mrs Van Hopper.
    5. And because of that, when Mrs Van Hopper suddenly announces they must travel to America, Max proposes to the narrator and she returns to England with him, to his estate, Manderley. The house he lived in with the mysterious Rebecca.
    6. And because of that she meets the unfriendly housekeeper Mrs Danvers who is still loyal to Rebecca, and constantly feels out of place in the house and with Max’s social set. She is living in Rebecca’s shadow and believes Max still loves Rebecca.
    7. And because of that, she takes Mrs Danvers suggestion to wear a particular gown to a ball, which turns out to be a copy of something Rebecca wore. Max is furious and it’s clear Mrs Danvers wants rid of the narrator, even trying to tempt her into jumping from a window.
    8. Until finally Rebecca’s boat is found after a storm and it’s clear it was sabotaged. Max confesses to the narrator that he never loved Rebecca, he hated her, and he tells her what really happened. The narrator is relieved that he never loved Rebecca. But with a body found inside the boat, it becomes clear Max deliberately identified the wrong body the previous year. An inquest ensues. Rebecca was terminally ill with cancer. She had no intention of suffering and deliberately goaded Max into hitting her. He is now cleared of any suspicion. Mrs Danvers, who didn’t know of Rebecca’s illness, sets fire to Manderley, dying herself in the fire.
    9. And ever since then the narrator and Max have lived abroad. Manderley is destroyed and they can never go back.

    It could be said that this second example could include some ‘because of that’ plot points during the inquest with the revelations about Rebecca and Mrs Danvers’ ultimate reaction to destroy the house. But the discovery of the ship wreck and Rebecca’s body, together with Max’s confession to the narrator, is the key turning point into the climax. It’s inevitable that there will be more revelations to come.

    The Story Spine

    While there are other ways to plot out your story, and there is no suggestion here that either du Maurier or Tennyson used this model, the story spine is a useful tool. This is partly due to its simplicity – it forces you to think about the most important plot points in your story. It reminds you to introduce your characters, set the scene, and then introduce an inciting event, following that up with a series of consequences and challenges, until finally the story reaches its climax before settling into a new normal for the characters.

    Other useful blog posts:

    Novel Outlines: 3 Case Studies

    Developmental editing self-check list

    Character credibility and the domino effect

    10 ways to improve your novel’s pacing

  • Novel Outlines: 3 Case Studies

    Novel Outlines: 3 Case Studies
    Novel Outlines: 3 Case Studies

    Novel Outlines: 3 Case Studies

    Some authors have a rough idea in their head of where their plot is going, while others like to fly by the seat of their pants. In the latter case, part of the pleasure of writing their story is not knowing themselves what happens. This can work well for some, but many writers like a road map that will guide them through their novel.

    In this blog post I will look at three authors I worked with who used some sort of outline before they wrote their novel in full. At the end of the post, I have some book recommendations for anyone who wants to dig further into outlining and structuring their plot.

    Case One

    The first client I worked with who used an outline started with a summary of her plot, chapter by chapter, of only a few thousand words at most. She included character profiles as well. Although it wasn’t the novel itself, I still applied developmental editing to the manuscript. I read the outline a few times, leaving margin comments and also wrote up a report.

    From this she was able to get her feedback without the cost of a full developmental edit, and her novel was written more speedily.

    She did not return to me for an edit of the whole finished manuscript (though I did developmentally edit the opening chapters), but her novel (a comedy thriller) garnered good reviews on Amazon. I also went over the outline of her second novel the same way.

    Case Two

    The second client used the Save the Cat model of structuring a novel. He used it over a number of books and would send me the first draft as a rough outline with some scenes sketched out fully. These outlines could run to 15,000 words or so.

    Again, I went over the manuscript several times, left margin comments, wrote a report, and also did a chapter-by-chapter breakdown in at least one edit.

    Once he had expanded on his rough outlined draft, he sent me the full draft. I would then developmentally edit them with margin comments and a full report.

    He also left his own comments in the margins for me to respond to – in relation to queries he had. I would respond back in the margins.

    This method of working allowed the author to write and publish a number of books in a fairly short period of time. They all received high ratings on Amazon.

    Not all writers would necessarily find this approach useful, but with a definite (in this case Save the Cat) structure that he used for each book, he had a roadmap for where important events should take place, and he never had unnecessary scenes. His novels were lean and the pacing was on point.

    Case Three

    The third client sent me a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline (close to 20K words) where she was summarising the plot, without sketching out scenes in more depth. She was focused on ensuring that every chapter served a purpose in advancing plot, character conflict, obstacles, etc. Her outline included her reasons for her choices.

    As with the previous clients, I read the outline several times, wrote many margin comments, plus a full report.

    As a consequence of her detailed road map, she was able to write out the whole novel of over 130,000 words or so in a relatively short period of time. Her scenes were written well and the quality of the writing was excellent. I later developmentally edited her full manuscript twice as per her request. She could have chosen one full edit, but a final check is always a good idea where possible.


    So there you have it – 3 case studies on novel outlines. Not all writers want to plot out their novels in advance. They like to surprise themselves and they often like their characters to surprise them.

    Of course, you can use an outline as a rough roadmap that you deviate from when appropriate. Having it acts like a safety net for some writers. They know it’s there if they get stuck.

    Outlines can lead to faster writing, but this is partly because a lot of the work has been done up front in the planning and writing of the outline.

    How long figuring out a plot will take is something that varies from author to author. Some will do a lot of the planning in their heads before they write anything down. Others will be jotting down ideas from the start and trying to organise them.

    Want feedback on your novel outline?

    If you’re interested in having your novel outline critiqued, you can contact me at karen@indiecateditorial.com and discuss your project with me. You can also check out my services pages here:

    Editing Services

    Some writers on a budget might opt only for a look at their outline, while those with a bit more money to spend will go for at least one developmental edit (or a manuscript critique which is lower in price).

    Recommended Reading

    There are other books on outlining which you can obviously check out. But here are some to get started with:

    Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by KM Weiland

    Outlining Your Novel Workbook by KM Weiland

    Structuring Your Novel by KM Weiland

    Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody