I have never used an outline before, but with my second novel partially complete, I have a publisher that would like to see what I have, plus an outline for the novel. This is a crime fiction story with several characters critical to the story, not just a 'good' and 'bad' guy, as a lot of stories do. I have seen several variations on how to format an outline, with information unique to each. Does anyone know if there is a standardized one for novels or does everyone use their own unique format? And, just how much information should be included? I would greatly appreciate any comments. Thanks in advance.

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This is just my experience, so others may have other suggestions....(and I'll preface it to say I'm unpublished in novel length, but have had some *really* good rejections, lol) Your "outline" is basically a synopsis and should cover the basic plot points in a coherent matter. Secondary characters aren't referred to by name, but perhaps by their role, eg. "NSA agent". Your focus is the hero or heroine, their character/story arc, and *all* the details in the crime/mystery. Write it in the present historical tense. Eg. "Evan Rogers knew he was coming home to Grand Forks in order to take-over his father's sheriff's position until a new sheriff could be elected come November."

It helps to start with a "tagline" of what your novel's about - no more than three sentences and one or two is better. Then get right in to the story line. If you google Lisa Gardner, she has a series on how to write these suckers on her website. She's a bestselling author, so she must know what she's doing! :) The best part is, once you've sold on a complete MS, you can just write up these outlines and sell on "proposal".

As I keep trying, and telling myself,....ahem....

Good luck and congrats on finding a publisher who's interested in your novel! You're halfway there!
An outline usually involves a chapter-by-chapter rundown of events. The format is the same you use for a novel, only the chapters are condensed to one or a few paragraphs. While a synopsis is usually 2-5 pages, a complete outline can run forty or more.

At one time JA Konrath had the outline of his novel Bloody Mary available for download. You might want to email him and see if he'll send you a copy. He's a Crimespace member, btw.

Good luck!
I found the link to the Bloody Mary outline in the body of this blog post. It's a really good example, I think.
My outlines are 5000- 10,000 words

I start by describing my characters in bullet form. I use this as a guide and for consistency. (Most of this does not make it into the novel.)

I write a rough opening. 500 words.

I draft an ending - 500 words in loose or bullet format.

I identify the 1/4 and 3/4 crisis points in bullet form.

Then I do a bullet form chapter objective for each chapter. This includes: the beginng, ending and purpose of the chapter.

The last thing I do is identify potential sub-plots.

This does not mean the novel will end up identical to the outline. The characters tend to grow as you write and force the outline to be revised.
I got a read five years ago from a well-known, New York mystery editor. I was told to send the manuscript and an outline -- a chapter-by-chapter description of the story, 5,000 to 10,000 words.
I can't tell you how helpful this has been to me. I had no clue how to format a 'novel' outline. I know what an outline looks like, of course, but to outline something that hasn't been written yet? Well, now I have a starting point and an idea of what type of information to include and just how thorough it needs to be. Once that's done, it will certainly make it easier to proceed with the story and help tremendously with the consistency and flow of the story. Thanks very much to all of you for your assistance. Joyce


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