How to Write a Book Outline

In my recent article, “I Want to Write a Book!,” I mentioned the importance of writing with an outline. That caused some people to ask about the best way to write a book outline. Here are a few techniques that have worked for me and others.

Your outline may be created on your computer or you may prefer to start your outline on paper or a whiteboard, then transfer it to your computer.

I usually start with index cards. I grab a pack of cards and write one element on each card. That may be a topic, a question, a quotation, a reference to a story or anecdote, a resource—anything I want to include in the book. Once I have my cards written, I sort them into stacks of related topics. Within each stack, the cards are then sorted into a logical order. Each stack will ultimately be a chapter in the book.

One novelist I know starts with a poster board or whiteboard. She divides the board into squares, with each square representing a chapter. Novels have key scenes that drive the story along, so she plugs those scenes in. For example, in a murder mystery, the body might be found in the third scene of the second chapter. In a romance, the hero and heroine might meet in the second scene of the first chapter. Once she has those key scenes, she has the skeleton of the story, and the rest of the scenes provide the flesh that holds it together.

You can write a book outline with a mind map. A mind map is a visual representation of ideas. Mind maps make it easy to brainstorm and capture ideas and the connections between ideas, so they are a great tool for outlining. You may want to create your mind map on paper or a whiteboard, or use mind mapping software.

The more detail you include in your outline, the easier the actual writing will be. Spending some time planning before you start to write makes the process of writing a book go faster.

Cathy Stucker is the owner of SellingBooks. She has written and published several books, including The Mystery Shopper’s Manual.


  1. Yahel Denis says

    Hello. First and foremost, thanks for posting this article. It is amazing the “little” details you can miss when it comes to writing. For years, I have had a passion to write bilingual books for children and I am excited that I found your article. I believe this is going to help me.