Plotting & Outlining

by Emily

Question: I am severely confused on the whole procedure required to outline a novel's plot. First of all, what is a plot, really? And can it be used as an outline for the novel? Also, I'm not really sure how to go about outlining. What method of outlining would you suggest for a novel that is a fictional autobiography?


Answer: Simply put, a plot is a series of events linked by cause and effect that make up a story. An event is an irreversible change, action, or decision that affects what happens next.

In addition to a main plot, longer stories and novels may also have subplots, so that there are several chains of events running through them, all somewhat interconnected.

For a story to have meaning, the plot will be about an attempt to resolve a problem, achieve a goal, or (in dramatica terms) rebalance an inequity. The whole story will illustrate how effective a particular approach is at solving the problem.

A plot generally begins with the discovery of a problem or a desire for the goal. Next, the effort to pursue the goal runs into complications. At the climax, a final attempt is made that determines the outcome. Finally, there is an aftermath that shows whether the approach worked or not.

You can think of an outline as a summary of a story, including its plot. Most writers find it is easier to draft an outline before they start writing a longer work, such as a novel. Other writers invent the plot as they go along, and then later rewrite it to make a better dramatic structure.

Some outlines are short - a paragraph or so. Others can be very long. It just depends how much planning you like to do.

For help creating an outline, check out the articles on the How to Write a Novel page (

A good place to start is the article, "How to Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps" (

For a fictional autobiography, the plot might start with the early event(s) that affected the rest of the person's life. Next might be the problems and complications they faced as a young person/adult. The climax might be the defining moment in their lives when they faced their greatest challenge. And the aftermath may be how their life ended, or the effect their choices had on other people.

Of course, that's just one approach.

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