Novel Outlines

  • 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 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