top of page
Author's Notes.png

Outline Mapping for Your First Book: Organizing for Success

Victoria A. Witkewitz

21 June 2022

Outline Mapping for Your First Book: Organizing for Success

You have some splendid thoughts whirling around in your head for your next creative objective.  The problem is how do you pull that sticky cobweb of thoughts out of your head and put them into action?  This article provides you with multiple options for the outlining process to organize your thoughts into actionable tangible ideas.  Let's get to work.


Outline methods

While there are multiple approaches to creating an outline, I will cover five of the more widely utilized methods:

  • The Synopsis

  • Clustering

  • Mind Map

  • Snowflake Method

  • Skeletal Outline


No right or wrong answer, or no write answer for that matter

Before we plunge into outline concepts, remember there is no right or wrong answer as to how you formulate your plan of action to draft your creative work.  You may even find yourself utilizing a multi-pronged approach coupling a few of the outline idea techniques.

Remember the goal is to organize your thoughts to get your pages to come to life and finish with a project you can be pleased to stamp your name on.  

For demonstration purposes, I am going to use the same fictional story plot and characters called "Baker's Delight" as an example to see how you can employ several outline methods to work for you.


The Synopsis Outline

I like to refer to the synopsis outline as "the elevator speech" of outlines.  Basically, if someone asked you what your book is about and you only have one sentence to deliver your main idea, this is where the synopsis outline method really shines.  The synopsis outline pays a high-level attention of detail from start to finish.  The goal of this method is to get your brain thinking about laying down ideas for each chapter of your story, hence formulating a synopsis for what happens in each chapter and how it eventually ties to the main plot or thesis of your story.  In my personal experience, implementing the questionnaire approach has been the most effective.  So think about this in terms of interviewing yourself about your book overall and the details for each chapter.  What important questions need to be addressed?


The Synopsis Outline Abridged sample:

What is the title of the book?
Baker's Delight

What is the overall main plot, punch line, or delivering message?
Baker's Delight is a comedic novel about a woman that starts her own bake shop despite the fact she knows nothing about baking with the last name Baker.  With time, patience, and a whole lot of flour, she begins to bake some incredible dessert creations bringing her family closer like a braid of bread.

Identify all the character names and attributes.  What are their roles in the book?
Betty Ann Baker, a single mother raising one teenage daughter, age 46
Unique characteristics: Funny, courageous, daring, disorganized, impatient
Main delivering thought:  If you can put your mind to it, you can accomplish great things

Terry Baker, daughter of Betty Ann, age 16
Unique characteristics: Bossy, caring, lazy, and has a terrible habit of texting on her phone all day long
Main delivering thought: Teenage life isn't easy, but realizing she has a mother that cares deeply for her changes her outlook on her relationship and the love of baking

What time frame does this cover and does it change from chapter to chapter?
Modern-day, time remains consistent from start to finish

Chapter One Snapshot
Introduce the main characters of the book-the protagonist and the antagonist
Betty Ann Baker (protagonist) Terry Baker (antagonist)

Where are the characters in a physical sense?
New Jersey, a cramped two-bedroom apartment

What is the main goal deliverable to the reader for chapter one?
To establish the struggles of a mother-daughter relationship



Clustering may be more in tune with an intense brainstorming session which in turn, will explore ideas for the potential reach a story may or may not take.  If you don't have your entire creative work fleshed out, a cluster outline can ignite a visual display to get your creative juices flowing.  The cluster  outline allows you to record ideas and group them for further examination.  Utilizing a tree structure, the larger bubbles will include the main ideas with the details branching up to the main idea.  Keep adding details until you have fully exhausted each topic.

The center circle represents your main idea of the book, with each offshoot circle an idea that supports the plot of the book.  Let's take our fictional example, "Baker's Delight" and see how we can apply some details utilizing the clustering approach.


Clustering Outline.png

Mind map

The mind map outline layout is virtually a carbon copy of the cluster method.  The only difference is mind mapping is commonly done after the first chapter has been written.  This analysis will identify what you have already taken and the knowledge you have gained along the way after writing.  You can then compare ideas and decide what you would like to keep and what you want to remove.  In addition, this will help prepare you to determine if you have enough content to write an entire story.

The snowflake method

The Snowflake Method was developed by American author and physicist Randy Ingermanson.  This mathematical approach utilizes a fractal-based system by assigning different shapes to represent a visual gathering of thoughts.  As the base is set, additional fractals will organize further details upon expansion.  For more information about Randy Ingermanson click here.  

The shapes are as follows:

Triangle: The triangle represents the main idea in the simplest terms as a one-sentence summary.  Ingermanson suggests reviewing the one-liner catchy phrases you read in some of the New York Times Bestsellers list to get an idea of how to create your statement.

Star: The star is the outline point of a paragraph summary with supporting plot points of that summary.  Basically, expand your one-sentence statement into a paragraph.

Basic Snowflake: This crude model of a snowflake will deep dive into explicit points, particularly where you want to build your character bibles.

Detailed Snowflake: This portion is a structured and detailed scale model of your novel and should help you fully flesh out character plots, conflicts, and goals.

Snowflake Sample.png
Snowflake Bakers Delight.png

Skeletal Outline

A skeletal outline is primarily a bare-bones model of your writing.  In other words, if you were to summarize a book by titles and subtitles, such as a table of contents, the skeletal outline is a great place to start and offers a high level of flexibility.

I often find this outline model helpful and use it when mapping a long work such as a novel as opposed to short story writing.  One main advantage of this outline is it helps you understand the "meat" of your novel.  This helps to ensure there is a strong storyline developing with bulky chapters and a good flow as opposed to content that may be light in suspense and/or action.  


skeletal outline.png

Final Punctuation

Writing a novel or creative piece requires time to organize and map the details.  Whether you use one of the methods above or your own approach, take the time to be proud of your work.  Need additional templates to organize?  Purchase our Book Outline Template Guide today.  



For additional information please click the links below.  Questions? Contact Us.

Outline Templates for Writers Cover.png

The story continues on...

  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Instagram
  • Black LinkedIn Icon
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest
  • X
  • Tumblr
bottom of page