book outline

Question: How do you lay out things to start a book off? Other than just chapters & a title?

Answer: If you are writing nonfiction, you need to spend a lot of time conducting research and/or developing your ideas. The contents of the book should emerge from that process.

If you are writing a novel, there are two basic approaches.

Pantsers (who write "from the seat of their pants") take a basic idea (and maybe some sense of their genre, audience, and theme) and just start writing, allowing the plot, characters, and setting to evolve during the writing process.

Plotters, on the other hand, will spend some time writing character sketches, researching or designing settings, and deciding the events of their plot before they start writing. They will create an outline, which can be anywhere from one to 100 pages that will guide them through the writing process.

Most writers fall somewhere in between a pure plotter or pantser.

For instance, you might start by writing sketches for your major characters, making some decisions regarding your setting, and deciding on the major events of your story.

You might want to check out this article ...

... which shows you how to create a brief but dramatically sound plot outline.

Another thing that does help, if you take a plotter approach, is to use scene cards. Write a brief description of each major event in your story on a separate 3x5" index card. Do the same for each subplot or throughline. Then take some time to arrange these cards in order. Make sure there is a cause and effect link between all the events in each throughline. While you are doing this, you can add, remove, or rewrite events until you have the most satisfying and emotionally moving plot you can devise.

This process can help you avoid plot problems that might arise while you're writing your first draft.

I would also suggest you look at the W-plot model...

... which shows you how to build your story on a 4-part dramatic act structure.

Best of luck.

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