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Book Outlines – How much is enough?

Hi,

This question just came up with a novice writer. She is writing her first book and is wondering how much detail to put into the outline.

Eventually, the answer to this question becomes: Use as much detail as you want.

Of course, you can guess that this answer works when you have written a couple of books and can rely on  your experience as a guide. For a novice, the answer is a lot easier and more regimented.

Put just the “must have” items into your outline. Remember that your outline will become your table of content. That means each entry in your outline is just one line – maybe even just three or four words.

For example, if I’m writing an article about the components of an essay, then my outline would have just three headings: Intoduction, Body, and Conclusion.

You can always add more headings to your outline. While you’re doing your research, you might find a huge amount of material for one of your headings and decide to split it into two or more sections. Your research might also turn up information you hadn’t considered that you then decide to include – that would mean adding a new heading to your outline.

Other things like: questions to answer, steps to completing a section, or facts to include get written down after the outline is completed.

I’ve written about this before, and it bears repeating. When your outline is done, copy it and paste it on a new page in the same document. Then take that copy, and use page breaks to put each heading on its own page.

This gives you your outline at the beginning as a table of contents, and the first page for each chapter with the title on it.

Now you put all your questions, research notes and ideas on those chapter pages.

Now, someone might be at the stage where all the “must have” items are in the outline and they have a few other “nice to have” items they want to include. What do you do with those?

Put each one at the end of the outline as an appendix.

You can always move these items into the body of the book later. The criteria for changing something from being an appendix to being part of the book body is that your writing has to flow naturally into the subject of the appendix.

Let’s say you’re writing a book about kitchen renovations. One of your appendices is “How to Choose Appliances.” This is good information to have, but it isn’t a “must have” because lots of people renovate their kitchen without replacing their appliances. 

While you’re writing, your research brings up a lot of information about energy efficiency for appliances and the various types and styles of appliances available for a kitchen.

You can see how this new information will tie in very well with a “must have” chapter on electircal wiring and code requirements. Since it ties in well, you might choose to move the appendix into the body of the book.

Your outline is a roadmap to the destination of having a published book or e-book. You get to design that roadmap, and you can make changes to it as the book develops.

That’s why you want to start with the minimum in your outline – the seeds – and watch over it carefully as it grows.

Does this make writing your outline easier? Let me know by posting a comment.

Conrad