Smile! There is no Right or Wrong Way to Outline a Book


In my last post, I summarized the importance of an outline when ghostwriting a book. Now I answer the question, “How to outline a book.”

The short answer: Any way you want. There is no right or wrong way. If you want to stop reading now, I won’t blame you. All I can do is make suggestions. These will be aimed at nonfiction books, my specialty.

First, do some pre-online work by answering a few questions: What is the story and its premise? Why do I want to write it? Who’s the target audience, and why should they want to read it? What themes do you want to explore? Be as concise as possible. If you can answer each in one sentence, so much the better.

For example, a person might have a memoir in which they overcome a mysterious heart ailment and they want to inspire families not to give up. Or maybe a marketer wants to look ahead and instruct people how to market after coming out of some major worldwide economic crisis.

Next, figure out the general story points. The person with the heart ailment might have three parts (also known as the three-act story arc): life before the heart problem, life during the heart problem, and the recovery process after it. The marketer might have four steps: the world before and during the crisis, his solution, and then show how his methods will work coming out of said crisis.

Within these general points (or acts), figure what details you want to put into them. I would ask Mr. Heart Ailment, what aspects of your life pre-heart ailment do you want to include? What details about the heart ailment should be put in or left out? How did you recover from it? What’s your life like today?

For Mr. Marketer, I’d ask what’s the crisis and how did it affect your target audience? How did people cope during it, what are your provable methods for success?

To help yourself screen details, I recommend what a great many sources suggest: Ask questions starting with who, what, where, when, how, and why. All of my previous questions do so. Here are some others: What do you want to include, and what isn’t necessary? Why do you want to include this info, and why do you want to omit other info? When should this tidbit be included? Where does this anecdote fit best? How can you best illustrate this concept? Who else should be interviewed?

Once you compile all this information, you can start thinking about chapters. Time to ask more questions: What is the point of each chapter? Where does it fit in the general three acts? What is going to happen in each chapter? How long do you want each chapter to be? Why is this piece of info important to the reader?

Mr. Heart Ailment might decide to include chapters about his circumstances and family background that contributed, directly and indirectly, to his heart trouble; how and why his friends, family, co-workers, and medical personnel reacted as they did; what health complications arose, what recovery and rehabilitation he had to undergo, and his triumphant return.

Mr. Marketer might opt for chapters outlining the crisis’ origins and how it affected marketers, his step-by-step solution (each chapter could be a step), and the promised land after the reader follows his steps.

I strongly suggest writing everything out. Remember that an outline is a road map. The more detailed your outline, the clearer the road map will be.

The last step is to step away for a while, then come back and look at your outline with fresh eyes. Does everything still make sense where you have it? Did you forget something? Does something now look like it doesn’t belong?

I understand I’ve written in general terms. Remember, there is no one way to construct an outline. If you’d like to discuss this further and collaborate with a ghostwriter in Newport Beach, contact me.

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