I don’t outline my novels, strictly speaking. I make a list of narrative waypoints I need to hit, and sometimes that evolves into a chapter outline, but I don’t sit down and nail down the plot from start to finish. The chapter outline is more of a loose guide, and whenever I do one, I end up deviating from it. They do help to keep things flowing, however, and they are a handy way to chart your narrative arc.
What I’ve started doing for those chapter outlines is storyboarding them. I swiped the idea from Jo Knowles, who shared her method at a Q&A she did a few months back over in Vermont. She draws a picture for each chapter containing the central visual of the chapter, and then jots brief chapter notes underneath.
I went to Printable Paper and downloaded their free letter-sized storyboard template, which gives me nine chapter panels per page. (They have other sizes of storyboards as well, with fewer or more panels per page.)They’re just the right size for a quick sketch and few sentences about the chapter. It’s helpful to have a visual index of your narrative, and it’s kind of fun to do.
Here’s the sheet I’m currently doing for the Urban Fantasy detective novel I’m working on:
Disregard my rather lacking drawing skills. I think about the main image that comes to mind for the chapter, and make a quick sketch of it in the picture panel. Then I write a two- or three-sentence chapter synopsis underneath. Each sheet has space for nine chapters, and you can lay them out next to each other and have the whole story in visual format, with chapter highlights. It’s easier for me to see where I need to swap things around or tighten them up, and how the whole narrative flows. Mysteries are really dependent on good plot construction, and this is a big help for keeping the plot tight.
(Thanks for the brilliant idea, Jo. It’s a part of my writing toolbox now.)