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How to Format a Book Manuscript, with Examples and Templates (2023)

novel writing layout

by Kelly Hart

Updated Sep 20, 2021

It doesn’t matter if you want to be an independently published author or a traditionally published author—submitting a manuscript that follows the industry-standard manuscript formatting rules is critically important for getting your work read.

For writers wanting to be independent published authors, this process will cut down your costs when the time comes for manuscript assessment, proofreading, editing, and typesetting. The professionals that do this work will charge more if your manuscript format doesn’t adhere to industry standards, because that means they’ll need to re-format your manuscript before they can start their work.

For authors going down the route of traditional publishing, correct manuscript format is also an important step—the agents and publishers you submit your writing to won’t even look at your manuscript if it’s not formatted according to the industry standard. They won’t spend time with an author that hasn’t done the necessary preparation. They get way too many submissions, and they’ll simply move on to the next one without giving your manuscript a second look.

What is manuscript formatting?

Manuscript formatting is the way in which the text of your book or novel is presented on the page. The same text could have a larger or smaller font; it could be set in Times New Roman, or Courier, or another font; it could be on a white page, or a cream page; the page size, or the size of the margins could vary; and so on. The words and sentences themselves haven’t changed, only how we present them—that’s formatting.

When submitting your manuscript to agents, editors, and publishers, they expect your writing to be formatted in a specific way. This makes it easier for them to read through the tens and hundreds of submissions they get every week.

Manuscripts that don’t follow these industry-standard formatting rules are much more likely to be discarded unread, because not only does it waste the reader’s time, but and it also suggests that the writer is an amateur. You don’t want that!

How to format a book

Luckily for you, correctly formatting your book manuscript can be summarized in just a few bullet points.

Some of your recipients might have their own special rules that they’d like you to follow when formatting your manuscript. If they do, then you should of course follow their requirements. But if they just ask for “industry standard manuscript formatting,” then these are the rules you want to follow to the letter:

Set a margin of 1 inch (2.5cm) on all four sides of your manuscript. This is usually already the default setting in Word, but double check on your computer to make sure.

Align text to the left; the right hand side should remain ragged. (I.e., don’t set your text to be justified.)

Use Times New Roman font, at 12 point size. Courier and Arial fonts may also be acceptable, but to be safe stick with Times New Roman unless otherwise specified.

Black text on a white background only. Don’t get creative with colors.

Indent each paragraph by half an inch (1.25cm). Don’t do this by hitting the tab key; instead, set indentation in Word using the Format → Paragraph → Section menu, or see this tutorial .

Double space lines, with no extra space between paragraphs.

Single space between sentences, after periods.

Use a blank line to indicate scene breaks , and center a hash mark (#) in the middle of the blank line.

Create a header in the top right corner by using your last name, then selecting a keyword from your manuscript, followed by the page number. For example, Hart - Manuscript - 1 . You can add headers and page numbers in Word automatically.

Begin chapters on new pages. Center the chapter title, even if it’s only Chapter One, about one-third of the way down the page. Skip a couple of lines and begin the text of the chapter.

At the end of the manuscript, center a hash mark (#) one double-spaced blank line after the last line. Or, simply write The End . This will reassure the reader that pages aren’t accidentally missing.

Use italics when necessary, but never underline in novel manuscripts.

Title page format for manuscripts

Your manuscript should always include a title page. It should follow the same formatting conventions as the body text, including margins and font size. It should include:

Your contact details at the upper left of the title page, formatted in the same font and size as the manuscript text.

The approximate word count, to the nearest hundred, at the upper right of the title page.

The name of the novel, about a third of the way down the title page and centered.

Your name just below the novel’s title, preceded by the word by .

Copyright details if applicable, centered at the bottom of the page.

An example of correct manuscript formatting

A well-formatted titlepage looks like this:

Body text that follows correct manuscript formatting looks like this:

If you’ve followed all of these bullet points, then congratulations! You now have a manuscript formatted to the industry standard, and it’s ready to be sent to agents, editors, and publishers.

Things to do before you send in your manuscript

Check with the recipient to make sure they don’t have any special formatting requirements that you should follow before sending it in.

Keep an exact copy of the manuscript file you sent in, backed up separately from your master document. For example, if your master manuscript file is named my-novel.docx , keep an exact copy of the file you submitted named my-novel-penguin-submission-feb-3-2023.docx . It’s important to track exactly what text you submitted to which recipient, in case you make changes to your master manuscript later.

Download a manuscript formatting template

We put together a useful Word document template for a manuscript submission. Use it as a base for your own writing as you get ready to submit to agents and publishers!

Download the manuscript formatting template (docx)

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Last updated on Dec 19, 2022

How to Outline a Story: 7 Steps to Creating Your Book Outline

A book outline is a template that lays out the structure of your story. It can function as a roadmap that tells you where to go next and includes information about your plot, characters, themes, and conflicts. 

There are dozens of different ways to create an outline — and no single correct method. Whether you prefer using a program like the Reedsy Book Editor or a good old-fashioned pen and paper, getting the outline out of your head is the only thing that matters. This post will help you take your initial ideas and create an outline that will set you to work. How to outline a story:

1. Solidify the premise of your story

2. create your core cast of characters, 3. develop your setting, 4. choose your outline template, 5. plan out your individual scenes, 6. create your outline, 7. reread your work and troubleshoot any issues.

Working on a nonfiction book? Check out our post about creating a nonfiction outline !

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Before you can write a compelling plot, you need a good premise. Think of this process as building a house. This is the first stone that will make up the foundation of your novel — and you want it to be sturdy.

In a nutshell, the premise is your book’s central facts and the answer you will have to give when editors ask about your story. If all you’ve got is a sense of the themes you want to explore (e.g., grief, trauma, coming-of-age), it’s best to start by grounding those themes in concrete details. Take a step back and ask yourself another important question: Why do I want to tell this story?

Then work your way through the 5W (and H) questions to flesh out these core facts: 

You’ll expand the answers to some of these questions further in the outline, but keeping each point in mind throughout will allow you to create a well-rounded story.

When you’re done, you should be able to complete this sentence: 

[Character] must [do something] to [story goal] or else [reason why the audience should care] ?

Essentially, this will help you understand who your protagonist is — how they got to this point in life, how they think, their goals and desires.

Bear in mind that literary fiction , which is often voice- rather than plot-driven, may not fully fit this sentence — but it’s still worth trying to establish as many of these central pillars as possible. Ultimately, your outline will give you a path you can follow as you draft, so you don’t get lost.

A cast of characters from A Christmas Carol

One good place to start is considering their motives. Ask yourself what your protagonist's goal is and what drives them to achieve it. For example, in The Hunger Games , Katniss is driven by her desire to protect her sister and create a fair and peaceful world. 

Once you know who your characters are, you can start considering what they will do in the story. This is when you start thinking about how each character interacts with the world and plot and the characters around them. Get outside your protagonist’s head and look into their relational dynamics.

The following questions will help you flesh out your characters even more:

Another way you can do this is by creating “What if” scenarios and considering how your character will react to them. These don’t have to be things that happen in the plot but a way of understanding how someone will react in certain situations. For example, you can learn more about your character by asking, “What would happen if they were faced with their greatest fear?”

To help you develop your characters and keep track of their unique traits, download and print our free character profile template below

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Reedsy’s Character Profile Template

A story is only as strong as its characters. Fill this out to develop yours.

an action figure of a knight is being played with on a playset

Setting is its own character in some ways, adding just as much personality and intrigue to the plot as anyone else. It can help set the tone, bolster the theme, and in general, create a more realistic reading experience, even if your story takes place in a galaxy far, far away . 

In an outline, your setting should focus on the big picture. You might want to consider what kinds of political or social dynamics are at play and how they affect your characters and the progression of your story. Essentially, ask how your setting affects the plot and keep that in mind as you build your plan. Detail isn’t important at this stage, so don’t make the mistake of spending too much time on worldbuilding and never making it to the next step (fantasy authors, we’re looking at you). 

Some questions you can ask yourself as you develop the setting are:

You can learn more about worldbuilding and its intricacies by checking out our extensive worldbuilding guide or downloading our free worldbuilding template below!

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The Ultimate Worldbuilding Template

130 questions to help create a world readers want to visit again and again.

✋ Stop and evaluate!

If you answered yes to all of the above, you're ready to move on to the next step.

three playing cards, each featuring a story structure model.

1. The Hero’s Journey

Based on Joseph Campbell’s monomyth theory , this structure has 12 stages that an author can follow to take their character on a journey. It works incredibly well for writers who want more plotting guidance than you would get from the three-act structure and who want to zero in on the story of a singular character. 

Plus: Works well across mediums and genres, can use it to subvert the audience’s expectations

Minus: It can quickly fall into cliches if you’re not careful, for certain storytellers, it can be limiting

Free Download: Hero's Journey Template

Effortlessly plot your story with our customizable template. Enter your email, and we'll send it to you right away.

2. Three-Act Structure

The three-act structure is exactly what it sounds like: outlining your novel in three acts, much like a play, beginning with an inciting incident, then following with a midpoint, and finally, a climax. Each part is subdivided into three beats, adding up to nine in total. This structure’s broad strokes are helpful for any kind of author, whether you’re unsure where you’re going or already know your entire plot. 

Plus: Ensures each scene starts and ends with a clear purpose

Minus: Doesn’t offer guidance on how to move your story forward 

Free Download: Three-Act Structure Template

3. dan harmon’s story circle .

This eight stage story cycle was developed by Dan Harmon, the co-creator of Rick and Morty , and follows a character as they pursue a goal outside their normal world. The Story Circle is great for authors writing a character-focused story. 

Plus: Suitable for any genre and medium, less complex than the hero’s journey

Minus: Not as structured as other methods, not well suited for plot-focused stories

4. Save the Cat

Perhaps the most detailed of the story structures we cover, Save the Cat is a 15-step beat sheet developed by screenwriter Blake Snyder. It takes moments that are common to most stories and puts them in an ordered list that also tells you at what point of the story (or page of the screenplay) it should happen. This format is for you if you’re looking for extra guidance when crafting your story.

Pros: Balance is built directly into the story structure, creates a story people will instantly recognize

Cons: Some authors might find this format too restrictive

Enter your email address to download a beat sheet template!

You’ll get it in your email inbox right afterward.

Not sure which structure to use? Take our quiz to help determine which best fits your story and style!

What’s your ideal story structure?

Take our one minute quiz to find out.

After choosing your structure, it’s time to get down into the nitty gritty details and start planning scenes.

While scene and structure are connected, they aren’t the same thing. Story structure deals with the big picture — think of it as the architect’s plan. And the scenes are the individual rooms within the plan, each with its own purpose. 

So how do you plan out your scenes? There’s no method to the madness, but if you’re not sure where to start, here are a few different techniques. Pick the one that best suits you. 

The “tent pole” method

Here, you sketch out key scenes and sequences first — the “tent poles” that prop the novel up — and build the rest of the book from there. To get started, brainstorm scenes that will be the centerpieces of your plot, which may include anything from major turning points to the climax of the entire book. For pantsers, writers who find that their instincts resist too meticulous outlining, this may be the point where you stop and allow the story to unfold naturally, as you type it out.

The chronological method

If you’re more of a straight thinker, this will be the obvious way to break down the scenes of your book: start from the beginning and proceed linearly. Be sure to preserve your narrative arc as you go to give your story purpose and direction.

The Snowflake method 

The Snowflake Method encourages you to start thinking about your scenes from a granular point of view — and then build up from there. To learn more, this post goes in-depth into the benefits of this particular kind of outline.

Don’t overthink it at this point — jotting down quick notes as your scenes come to you will do.

At every point during the scene creation phase, go back to your “foundation” and ask yourself:

Next up, let’s flesh out these light scene sketches.

It’s time to roll up your sleeves and start putting the pieces of your novel outline together.

Pick the variables that you want your story outline to track throughout your story. The outline is not final, so you can always change and swap the elements in each scene as you write your story. So long as you keep the outline updated, you can always see your story's big picture.

Essential elements

Optional elements

Prioritize your story outline’s variables based on what you think is key to your storytelling. If you’re writing a story with a huge cast of characters, you may want to include a column that tells you where each character is in every scene. If you’re juggling a lot of subplots and character arcs, use your novel outline to trace that.

You can use notecards, post-its, or spreadsheets to make your outline: whatever works best for you and your story. No matter what medium you choose, make sure to back it up digitally, keep multiple copies, or take a photo of any work you do on paper so it’s easier to work on the go. You’re prepared for any unforeseen disasters.

To give you some inspiration, we created a few novel outline templates, so you can download them and alter them however you need!

The great thing about outlines is that they can make any glaring plot issues apparent, so it’s helpful to pause before you start writing and evaluate your outline one more time.

To approach your outline with fresh eyes, take a break and relax for a few days before returning with a highlighter and an appetite for ruthlessness. Highlight any areas where:

If you find that you’re struggling before you’re even done planning, there might be larger issues with the overall story that you’ll want to look into. The Reedsy marketplace has dozens of editors that will be able to help with this later, but it’s good to catch any inconsistencies or pacing issues before you put pen to paper. A few potential problems (and solutions) are listed below. 

Your story doesn’t really go anywhere

The problem here may be a weak premise. Consider going back and perfecting it to a T. What story question will compel readers to flip the pages? (For instance: Is Katniss going to survive the Hunger Games? )

novel writing layout

Get our Book Development Template

Use this template to go from a vague idea to a solid plan for a first draft.

Your pacing is uneven throughout the novel outline

Mapping your story directly onto the structure of a story arc is one way to fix awkward scene placement and order. Here’s a free 10-part course on the 3-Act Story Structure if you want to learn more about it.

You don’t know what should come next

Try to return to your characters to drive the plot. What would they do next if this happened? Where would that then take the story? If this is a persistent problem, it’ll probably be worth revisiting the character development phase and honing your understanding of your characters. Here's a free course on character development if you'd like to dive into it.

No matter what kind of story you’re writing, an outline can help you get organized and find a path forward. But it’s important to remember that an outline is just a guide you build for yourself. You don’t have to rigidly adhere to it if it’s not working or you suddenly have a new idea. Just take it as an opportunity to explore and discover before jumping straight into your book.

Good luck and happy writing!

3 responses

Bhakti Mahambre says:

12/06/2018 – 08:19

An informative article along with useful story development aids, I heartily thank Reedsy for their efforts to put this together! #mewriting

Robintvale says:

08/05/2019 – 12:28

Whew so much to read on here I'm at the Premise right now and didn't even have to look at the links to finish it. :D I must be getting somewhere then! (Trying to fix a mostly written book that has a few hick ups. [Merryn] must [steal the book of P. with the trapped god] to [bring it back to the elder adapts back home in Dentree.] or else [Her and everyone else will disappear as the crazed and corrupted god will restart the world.]

kwesi Baah says:

08/02/2020 – 04:30

Reedsy is and I think will be the best thing that has happened to my writing career . thank you so much in so many ways .........i Love Reedsy

Comments are currently closed.

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12 Best Novel Outline Templates to Structure Your Story

12 Best Novel Outline Templates to Structure Your Story

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Table of contents.

Are you ready to overcome writer’s block with a book outline template?

Let me preface this by saying that while this article is about book outline templates, it’s not a “this is how we do it” article. Not everyone needs a novel outline template for their book road map, but they do help.

Like books, authors and their writing styles are unique and numerous. Even basic things like the programs we use to write in can be diverse. Many prefer to write using a word processor, whether paid or free. Others prefer to use something like Scrivener or Squibler.

Having said that, many new writers are overwhelmed by the writing process and aren’t sure how to write a book. For that reason, templates can help them get started. Even seasoned authors can find templates helpful, too.

Some simply prefer to write from an outline .

Benefits of Using a Novel Outline Template

Despite your writing style and whether or not you’re an author who typically relies on a book outline template, it’s probably safe to say there are times you might wish you had one. Maybe.

I should note there are a few definitive cases for having at least a loose outline of your book. Even those who hate to outline will agree to this.

There are times you start a book and for some reason, you put it aside. Maybe you have another story burning to be told. Maybe you had to deal with sickness, your own or a loved one’s. Your mind map of your book disappear, and you feel the need to start fresh.

Assuming you don’t have total recall, after months—or perhaps years—do you remember your story? It’s plot and all its details? Or have you completely lost its thread? If you have an outline, it doesn’t matter what you’ve forgotten.

Perhaps you’re intent on having your books traditionally published. If so, agents and publishers will often request a synopsis of your book.

Imagine this. The publisher you’re interested in requires a query letter, three chapters, and a synopsis. I know several authors, myself included at times, who would only have those first three chapters written.

Back when I started writing—this hasn’t changed, by the way—you could wait for months to hear back from a given publisher and depending on how quickly you wrote that was plenty of time to finish the book. Or at least motivate you to write faster. But you had to write your synopsis first.

That’s much easier to do if you have a detailed outline in place already.

Templates and outlines might be especially useful to writers new to a genre. Some genres have very specific structures and arcs that need to be developed and followed. For example, if you’re thinking about writing a romance novel you need to meet reader expectations. An outline could help you meet them.

Let’s recap some reasons why templates or outlines may be good for some:

Which Novel Outline Template is the Right One for You?

The following is by no means a comprehensive list, but I’ve culled a fair selection. So no matter what you write, from academic treatises to screenplays, there should be something for you.

Also, note that book outlines are known by different names. Depending on the genre, they might be called beat sheets or something else, but they all serve the same purpose.

Since I’ve mentioned romance, let’s start there.

1. Squibler – Romancing the Beat Template

novel writing layout

What makes a romance novel a romance novel? Just a bunch of lovey-dovey stuff, right? A couple makes eye contact, they fall in love, the end.

There is a very specific romantic arc that needs to be followed for a book to be a true romance novel.  And the overall plot or arc of the story needs to be wound around the romantic arc.

Sound confusing?

That’s why using a romance beat sheet is so popular.

From the introduction of your main characters, through the meet cute—when and where they first connect—to all the reasons why they shouldn’t and couldn’t fall in love. To the maybe this could work, the this will never work, and finally happily ever after.

And that wasn’t all the points in the arc that need to be addressed.

The beats are broken out and provide you with sections like:

Since this is a romance, you know it doesn’t end with a breakup.

If you’re new to writing romance, you may have an easier time at it when using a novel outline. Specifically, a romance novel outline.

If Scrivener isn’t your thing, Gwen does offer an outline in PDF format for anyone who joins her mailing list.

Regardless of format, this outline is based on Gwen’s book of the same name.

Key takeaways:

2. Scrivener – Romance Template

novel writing layout

The second book outline template on our list that focuses on romance is courtesy of Jami Gold .

While it will ultimately get you to the same place as Romancing the Beat above, these romance authors each approach things in their own unique way.

From a pure romance standpoint, Gwen’s outline might be easier for some to follow.

Remember the two arcs I mentioned above? The romantic arc and the story arc? Jami separates out the two arcs. From Martha Alderson’s The Plot Whisperer , she uses beats and terminology that play to the plot or story arc. They don’t deal with the character’s inner struggles and journey, which is central to a romance novel.

The advantage to you?

You can focus on the romance arc—the developing relationship between your main characters.

Some of the sections of the template are:

If you don’t own or are still trying to learn how to use Scrivener , you can still follow Jami’s outline. She also has it available for free download in Excel format. Even better, it has the functionality to track your word count too.

If you’re still learning how to write a book and you’re contemplating writing romance, why not see what the Romance Writers of America has to say about the genre.

3. Scrivener – The Great American Novel Template

novel writing layout

This is a Scrivener template created by Michael O’Bryan .

His stated purpose is to help with the writing process itself. Or at least give you a vehicle to help you get together everything you need in order to write your book.

He provides an Idea Creation section that has even more templates based on some of his favorite methods and formats, like the Snowflake Method or Truby’s Anatomy of Story .

The Great American Novel template provides lots of ways for organizing your writing project including folders and color coding.

You have folders for:

He also includes what he calls an Obsolete Files folder, which I think is an excellent idea. This folder acts as a repository for ideas you may have had and discarded, revisions, drafts, and so forth. These are maintained on the off chance you may need or want to readdress them for some reason. Which you can’t do if you have deleted all these files.

Have you started writing your own Great American Novel several times? Perhaps using this template would help you to finally finish it.

4. Squibler – The 30 Chapter Novel Template

This book template is courtesy of Damien Benoit-Ledoux .

novel writing layout

This is a very clean, well laid out outline for a book. Each of the 30 chapters has a purpose, basically taking you by the hand and leading you through the creation of your masterpiece. At a very basic level, it can teach you how to write a novel.

You won’t be leading your readers in confusing circles.

To give you an idea, the outline starts off with the following chapters:

And continues on to chapter 30.

You will also find some of the typical ancillary templates and folders for things like character sketches, historical events, objects, and back matter.

For those without Scrivener, there is a Word document version of the template as well.

5. Scrivener – The Hero’s Journey

novel writing layout

Got an epic story to tell?

This book outline template is based on Joseph Campbell’s theory that all stories are based on the foundation of a single story. This conclusion is reached due to an observation that there exists a common pattern in the narrative elements of nearly all great myths.

Mel Corbett wove that theory in with her own personal notes on The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler to give us the Hero’s Journey Scrivener template .

Using this template or outline will help you create and clarify conflict and enable you to keep your characters moving forward on pace.

You probably know this outline without even being aware of it. Many of today’s blockbusters are built on this plot pattern or outline.

To name a few you’re likely familiar with:

You’ve heard of one or two of those, right?

The template takes you through 3 key stages:

You also have folders for:

6. Scrivener – K.M. Weiland Template

novel writing layout

An author of historical and speculative fiction, K.M. Weiland is also the author behind several books around the outline and structure of novels. The initial version of the book outline template that bears her name was created by one of her readers, one Stuart Norfolk. He based it on Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel.

Yes, she has provided a lot of info for any who are learning how to write a novel.

Jump ahead and K.M. has updated the template to include info from her book Creating Character Arcs and a folder system that she personally uses for keeping track of her notes.

This template provides you with some initial folders meant to help in the prep stage. Help on creating your outline, notes on character development, and catchall for all your worldbuilding details.

Then she provides you with the manuscript section. If you follow this, you are pretty much mirroring her footsteps as she builds her story. There’s even lots of color coding.

Use the color coding to aid you in keeping track of any foreshadowing setups and payoffs.

Here’s an example of the setup and payoff color coding:

7. Squibler – Novel with 4 Parts

novel writing layout

Did you even realize there was so much help available for those seeking to learn how to write a novel?

Courtesy of Tony McFadden , we have this Scrivener novel outline.

According to Tony, all good fiction—at least good fiction written in the last 100 years—follows a specific development arc broken down into four parts.

Let’s flesh those out a bit.

In part one, you have a goal. Sure you’re going to introduce your main character here, but you need to grab the attention of your readers and hold on to it. We’ve probably all read—or started to read—a book where an author failed to do that.

If you’re like me you have a huge TBR file, and you just move on to the next book. There isn’t enough time to read all the books we’d like to read, and if an author has lost you in the first chapter, that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the book.

Again, grab and hold the attention of your readers.

The first plot point is where our hero leaves behind the status quo and his quest—whatever it may be—begins.

At about half-way into the book, act two should begin. Our hero is now reacting to whatever brought about the change of status quo.

Finally, in act three our hero knows what’s necessary to succeed and overcomes all odds to do so.

Clearly, there’s a lot more involved than that. Why not check out the template?

8. Scrivener – The Snowflake Method Template

novel writing layout

As should be very clear by now, there are a number of methods and techniques floating around. Probably one of the most respected and well known is the Snowflake Method , inspired by Randy Ingermanson.

The concept behind the Snowflake Method is that great novels don’t just happen. They are based on sound planning and design.

The idea is you need to build upon an extremely simple theme and then layer on the complexities. It calls for some intense planning and research upfront.

Having said that, Randy freely admits that all authors are different and what works for him isn’t necessarily going to work for every other writer.

For those who would like to try this method, here’s a condensed version of the initial steps:

Sound like something you would like to try? You can read Randy Ingermanson’s book of course, but you can also follow the book outline template based on his method.

9. Squibler – Thriller Template

novel writing layout

This novel outline comes to you from writer Jennifer Mattern . A blogger and mystery writer, Jennifer writes both by means of an outline.

Her Murder Mystery Template provides you with all the necessary resources to plan, outline, and draft in a single file. If you also do any marketing for your book—and if you aren’t, you should be—there’s even a folder for promotional material.

There’s a lot of research and planning to goes into a modern murder mystery, and there’s a spot within the template for nearly anything you could think of at this stage.

1.  One-paragraph Summary 2.  One-page Summary 3.  Subplot Summaries 4.  Suspect List 5.  Secrets and Lies 6.  Clues 7.  Red Herring

1.  Murder Method 2.  Police Procedure & Forensics 3. Other Research Notes

But if you write murders mysteries—or read them—you know there’s still more involved, don’t you? It hasn’t been forgotten.

1.  Scene of the Crime

1.  Protagonist 2.  Antagonist 3.  Victim

There’s still more to this template, but for any who may be writing a mystery for the first time, or even if you’ve struggled with writing one in the past, this is an excellent template to follow. You’ll be sure to hit all the key plot points of a good mystery novel.

10. Excel – The One Page Novel Outline Spreadsheet

novel writing layout

We’re leaving Scrivener behind and moving on to other book writing templates and novel outline formats. This one is provided courtesy of Eva Deverell .  One of her favorite writers is Joseph Campbell, mentioned above, who theorizes that all great stories are based on the foundation of a single story.

So it’s not surprising she is also a proponent of outlining. And as she points out, even “pantsers” typically work from some kind of preconceived plot or outline. Scant or encyclopedic, all writers need to follow some type of story structure.

This template is based upon a video workshop that Ms. Deverell offers.

In this video, she covers the following and more:

Using the spreadsheet, you are taken through different stages and scenes. For example, some of the stages are:

The spreadsheet also gives you an idea of where you should be in terms of word count. The template is based on a 50K novel, but you could easily—depending on your math skills—adjust the final word count and where you should be at any given point.

Assuming your book was also 50K, when you reach the “Trigger” stage, you should be about 10K words in. This stage introduces a scene where your main character is involved in an incident that sets your story in motion.

11. Scrivener – Blogging Template

novel writing layout

This template is made available to us from Bryan Collins , a non-fiction writer who contributes to publications like Forbes .

Every writer isn’t a novelist. Especially in this content-driven world we now live in. We also have technical writers, case study writers, proposal writers and more.

Or perhaps as an author, you maintain a blog as well. Some offer priceless advice on how to become a better writer. For whatever reason you blog here’s an excellent template to use.

You do need to subscribe to Bryan’s mailing list to get his template, but in my opinion, it’s well worth it.

For all you bloggers out there, and especially those who have a busy blog you schedule for, you need to get this template.

I’m sure some of you are thinking a template for your blog is overkill, but here are a few ways it would be useful:

The provided folders allow you to keep your workflow past and present neatly categorized.

12. Scrivener – Screenplay Template

novel writing layout

If you’re thinking of being the next George Lucas or James Cameron, you might want to consider using this screenplay template .

For those of you who already have Scrivener, you know this comes bundled with the software. For those who don’t maybe this will be some extra incentive to buy it.

It’s a fairly basic outline, but it has everything you need. However, some who actually write screenplays say it’s nothing to compare to using Final Draft, so you’ll need to draw your own conclusions.

I did find a last-minute bonus screenplay template though.

A Redditor has provided a Scrivener screenplay template that some are saying is much better than the one mentioned above.

You will need to be the judge of that yourself. You can download it using this link .

If you’re a beginner, this might be the one for you. It includes:

Do You Have to Use a Novel Outline Template?

At least that’s the short simple answer.

Should you use a book template or novel outline? That’s going to depend on the writer, especially when we’re talking about more of the complex outlines and templates.

But here’s the thing. Every writer should be writing from some form of an outline. For some, that could be a very brief outline consisting of nothing more than a handful of words.

Perhaps notes jotted down on things like the following:

Your brief outline may have more or less than that, it depends on you. And it depends on the feedback of your readers too.

Are your reviews complaining about major plot holes? Or in one chapter your character is a plump blonde but in the next a sleek brunette? Then you have some serious problems, and it really doesn’t matter what you think of your story.

Criticism can be hard to take, but constructive criticism is gold. Learn from your readers and your peers.

And start to use an outline or template. Who knows, you might decide you love it. Or you may just think this is all terrible writing advice. But at least give it a try.

A final note on things like worldbuilding.

Depending on what you write, it might be easier to get away without an outline or template. But the more complex your novel, the more detailed, the chances that you should be using an outline template increase significantly.

While the above list is long, it’s by no means comprehensive. And while most of these templates are for Scrivener, with some searching there are a lot more formats available. We also discuss some book outline templates I haven’t mentioned here in another post.

Happy writing!

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Book Template: 6 Best Book Templates

Published in Book Writing


Free Novel Writing Worksheets (PDFs)

The cornerstone of the Novel Factory software for writers is to handle useful information that authors might be collating in order to help them write their novel. This could be relating to plot, characters, locations and more.

As well a offering a place to keep all that data, the Novel Factory goes one step further and suggests to writers what kind of information they might want to be collecting, such as basic info, backstory or character development ideas for characters, or sensory details to do with locations - what can you see, smell, hear, taste and touch?

By far the best way to access these resources is in the software ( which is available to try completely free for 30 days) but due to popular demand we have translated some of these resources into downloadable, printable PDFs.

All of these novel writing worksheets are completely free to use, but please do not remove any of the attribution.

If you like them, feel free to share them - and if you find the resources useful, then you might want to sign up to our newsletter and follow us on social media.

Enjoy, and happy writing!


The Premise

Make sure your novel has all the basic building blocks of a good story:

Without these key elements, most novels are likely to fall flat.

Read more about the premise here.

Screen Shot 2021-09-10 at 3.08.20 PM

Novel Outline Worksheet

Follow a structure that has been echoing inside the human psyche since we started telling stories - beginning with setting the scene and ending with a climactic confrontation.

Read more about the skeleton here.


Character Basics

Just a straightforward character sheet to help you keep track of key information relating to your characters.

(More detailed character development resources are available within the Novel Factory software - try it free to check them out)

Read more about creating characters here


Character Voice

A worksheet which offers prompts to help inspire unique character voices - in their word choices, attitude, tone and more.

Read more about developing character voice here


Character Development

A worksheet which offers prompts to help novelists understand what drives their characters - including their internal and external motivations, flaws and archetype.

Read more about character development here


The Short Synopsis

Ensure you have a solid story by writng a single page synopsis of your entire story.

Read more about the short synopsis here


Extended Synopsis

Expand on your single page short synopsis and create a four page extended synopsis which includes all the major story beats. This overview helps to ensure your story makes sense and has pace.

Read more about the extended synopsis here


Goal to Decision Cycle

Understanding and implementing the Goal to Decision Cycle will help ensure your plot develops in a way that feels right to the reader, and draws them in in an instinctive way they won't even notice.

Read more about the Goal to Decision Cycle here


Scene Overview (head)

Head scenes are action scenes, where you character has a goal, over which the encounter conflict. And in many cases, their continued efforts will end in disaster...

Read more about Head Scenes here


Scene Overview (tail)

Tail scenes are reaction scenes, where you character has a reaction to the turmoil they've just experienced. They will face a dilemma and must ultimately make a decision.

Read more about Tail Scenes here


Five Key Story Elements: Examples from Popular Fiction

This table gives examples of the five key story elements (see the Premise worksheet) from six popular works of fiction to help demonstrate how these elements manifest.

Read more about the five key story elements here.

Write a Bestselling Novel!

Subscribe for exclusive writing resources and special offers - Starting with The Ultimate Character Questionnaire PDF!


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Book Template: Free Book Layout Templates for Word & More

BY Angelica Hartgers | Oct 14, 2020 | Writing , Design , Printing , Production

Do you need a book template to get started writing your book ? If so, you’ll want to download a book layout template before you start typing up your manuscript. This will save you a ton of wasted effort and formatting issues later on!

Whether you're writing a fiction book or a nonfiction book , you'll want to start writing as quickly as possible to reach your goal of becoming an author .

A book template can help you do just that by saving you time from having to set up your own book file.

Select your book writing software, then you can find a book template that is already set up and formatted to get started writing. Using a book template, you’ll begin writing your book by typing your manuscript directly into your template. Once your book is written and ready for edits and production, the template will come in handy since it’ll already be in a common format and file for you to start the book production and publishing process. 

Even better – the book templates listed in this article are absolutely free. Since self-publishing costs come out of the author's own pocket, it's important to save money where you can, so that you can use that budget to hire professional editors and cover designers .

Here are the top free book templates:

Free fiction & nonfiction templates.

Please note that several of the sites listed here offer book production services. This article does not review the quality of the services provided by these sites, so we aren’t able to provide any endorsement or testament as to whether these companies are good to work with or not. 

In this article, we are simply listing the free book template resources that self-published authors can utilize as they write a book.

Get A Nonfiction Book Outline for Your Manuscript!

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Get Our 6″ x 9″ Pre-Formatted Book Template for Word or Mac

We will send you a Book Template for US Trade (standard paperback size).

novel writing layout

If you're writing a book and need a template to help you organize your chapters, content, and format, then we have a book template for you!

When writing a book, templates are helpful to keep you on track and plan for which content your book needs to include.

Here's where you can download a free template for book writing:

Can I write a book in Microsoft Word?

Yes, you can write a book in Microsoft Word, and it may even help you write your book faster and increase your writing focus, since you can save time formatting and setting up your book layout. You can write a book in Word by downloading a free book template, by using the standard book template Word offers, or by setting up your own (which is more time-consuming).

Because Word is a flexible word processing system, you can simply use a book template within Word, and start typing your book directly onto the page.

Even if you don't use a book template, you can still write a book using Microsoft Word – just be aware that you may have to spend more time formatting your book when it's time to publish it .

How to write a book in Microsoft Word

To write a book in Microsoft Word, simply download a free book template, open the file, and start typing your manuscript into the template. 

You’ll want to be sure that you download a book template that is formatted specifically for Word, and all of the sites listed in this article offer Word templates. 

Once your template is downloaded, you can then open it on your computer, and make any modifications as needed. 

Then, you can start typing your manuscript directly into your Word template. That’s it! 

You don’t need a fancy template to start with ; you can simply make do with the free templates that are available for download on these sites. However, if you want to purchase a template, there are some paid book templates that you can buy if you choose to. 

Here are the steps to write a book in Microsoft Word:

#1 – Step 1: Download a Microsoft Word book template (more instructions on this below)

#2 – Step 2: Open Microsoft Word on your computer and click “File” then navigate to “Open.” Select your book template file.

#3 – Step 3: Your book template file will open and appear on the screen. You can now start typing your text directly into Word.

#4 – Step 4: Click “Save” often throughout your writing process, and before you exit the Word application.

Does Word have a book template?

Yes, Microsoft Word offers several templates within the application, including book templates to choose from. Different sizes and formats are offered, depending on the type of book you are writing.

All of the available book templates are customizable and editable, which means you can tailor the template to fit any specific requirements you need for your book.

To access the standard book template in Word, follow these steps:

Reasons to use a book template

novel writing layout

Every author has their preference on writing tools, and one that continually tops the chart is Microsoft Word. 

It’s your standard word processor, and while it seems basic, it’s super versatile and easy to use. 

If you don’t need a fancy writing software , or are just getting started as an author on a low budget, Microsoft Word may be your best bet. 

It’s readily available, user-friendly, and has all the nuts and bolts you need (including a powerful editor). 

Ready to find your perfect Microsoft Word book manuscript template? Here we go! 

Here's 5 reasons why you should use a book template to write your book:

If you don't want to fuss with setting up a book template in Word, or want more variety in templates to chose from, consider downloading a pre-made book template for Word.

There are several sites that offer free downloadable book templates, and they are already set-up and formatted specifically for writing a book . You can download the template, then open it in Word, and get to writing!

These sites offer free, downloadable book templates for Microsoft Word .

KDP Free Paperback Manuscript Templates

For a basic manuscript template, use these free book layout templates from Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). 

Download them here .

If you plan to publish your eBook to KDP , these templates will work just fine. They are available in all of the common standard book sizes. 

Download blank templates, or pre-filled templates with sample content, if you want to have an overall example of how a book will appear with the template. 

kdp book layout template

If you need a book template for Word in a language other than English, these templates will be helpful as they are available in a variety of different languages. 

Once you download the files, a .zip folder will appear on your computer. Once you unzip the file, you will then see zipped folders for each language.

You can unzip the folder in the language you need, which will give you access to the various size book templates.

BookBaby Free Book Template

With several different sizes to choose from, BookBaby offers a variety of book layout templates depending on the type of book you are writing. 

From standard book sizes to niche-specific sizing options, you’ll want to be clear on which type of book template size you need for your story. 

The common standard sizing for most printed books is the US Trade 6” x 9” which is listed under the Interior Text Templates category. 

bookbaby book template sizes chart

Once you find the correct size for your book, you can download the free book layout template by clicking the orange “Download” button underneath the corresponding size. 

The .zip file will then download to your computer, and it contains the template file. Once you unzip the file, you can then open the Word book template (it will be the file that ends in “.doc”). 

If you need additional instructions, BookBaby offers some helpful information in the “Using Our Templates” section. You can check out their specifications, and even download their Book Printing Preparation Checklist PDF. 

bookbaby template instructions

DiggyPOD Free Book Template for Word

A book printing company, DiggyPOD offers free book layout templates for your book interior and exterior. While the sizes offered aren’t as extensive as some, you can find the most common sizes for book printing available. 

If you’re just getting started with writing your book, download the interior template. 

If you’ve already written your book, you can use the resources on the page to create your own book template for your typed manuscript. 

book template for word sizes

DIYBookFormats Free Templates 

This site offers 5 free minimal book layout templates that you can use with a variety of programs , Word included.

These templates offer different designs, not just your standard text and format options. While you can access five templates for free, any additional access to other styles will have to be purchased.

novel writing layout

You’ll also have to do some extra clicking and typing to access these manuscript templates (unlike some of the other sites listed in this article).

The free book templates are a gated offer, which means you will have to provide your email address , and then the templates are sent directly to your inbox. 

Once you download the .zip file, you’ll want to unzip it. Then, you can open the folder for each styled template, and select the file you need. If you are using Word, you’ll want to click on the .doc or .docx file, depending on which Word version you are using.

The site also provides some helpful tutorial videos on how to format your book in Microsoft Word, if you want to skip the template and do it all yourself. 

48HrBooks Word Templates

This site offers four of the most common standard book sizing options available – no email required. Perfect for use if you haven’t started typing your story yet, these Microsoft Word book manuscript templates are straight and to the point. 

To begin your download, look under the “Free Book Templates” heading, and scroll down to the “Inside Pages” option. You can then click on the book icon for the corresponding size you need, and the file will begin downloading automatically.

book template inside pages chart

If you need further instructions, there is also a handy PDF that you can download with more info. 

BookPrintingUK Template Generator

Featuring an easy-to-use design, this responsive template generator is great if you know the specifics of your book’s layout, such as binding and size. 

You can start by selecting which program you are using to write your book, and Microsoft Word is the first option you can select. 

You’ll need to know the document type needed, the book option, template size, color (if applicable), and orientation to generate your template. 

template generator instructions

One thing to note is that this site is for UK book printing, so it will be UK sizing. However, you can always look up the US equivalent with a quick Google search, if needed.

UsedtoTech Free Word Book Template

A simple, clean design, this free Word book template is specifically for the standard 6” x 9” book , which is the most common book size for printed paperbacks. 

To download, you’ll need to scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the “Download” button. This will prompt the download of the .zip file to start automatically. 

Unzip the file, then select the file that ends in “.docx” or, if you need to, you can download the .pdf file. 

This book template for Word features a minimal design, and is free – no email required! 

free template book template download instructions

Book Template Outline Generator

If you need a done-for-you book outline to fill in your book's contents into, consider using a pre-made outline for your nonfiction or fiction book.

This is not a print-ready format for your book, but an actual outline to organize your manuscript.

Use this Book Outline Generator to select your genre and immediately get access to complete outline – all you need to do is add your content!

outline book template

Once you choose your book type and generate an outline, you'll get access to a done-for-you book template in Google Docs . You then follow the steps in the document to get started.

How do I make a book template in Word?

If you prefer to make a book template in Word that is customized to fit your specific writing needs, then there's an easy way to do this, too.

Microsoft Word is a versatile word processing tool that's relatively easy to learn and super customizable. You can make a variety of projects, including a novel or book template with a little learning and direction.

The key is to start simple with one of the pre-made templates in Word, then format and customize the book layout to fit your needs.

Please keep in mind that depending on the Microsoft Word version your computer or laptop has, the step-by-step instructions may vary, since older or newer versions may have different menu items, names, or placements.

Here are the steps to make a book template in Word:

How many Microsoft Word pages equal a book page?

As you start writing in your book template, you can easily track the word count. But, that doesn't necessarily tell you how many actual “book pages” you have typed up.

Depending on how you like to track your progress, it might be helpful to know how many Microsoft Word pages equal a book page. While this will vary depending on your book's genre and writing style (some authors are more wordy than others), there is a rough ballpark range you can use.

1 – Determine what your book's word count goal should be

First, we recommend determining how many words your book should be. You can use this Word & Page Count Calculator to plug calculate how many words you should aim for as you write your book. It calculates the word count depending on your book's type, genre, audience.

2 – Use the Word Count tool in Microsoft Word

As you write, it's important to keep track of how many actual words you are writing. Word has an easy tool that makes it super simple to keep count, and it updates in real time.

Again, depending on your version of Word, there may be a different way to access the Word Count tool, but you can play around with it a bit – it almost always will be in the “Tool” menu.

Here's how to track your book's the Word Count in Word:

3 – Determine how many Word pages equals one book page

Once you have determined your writing word count goal, and know how to easily track how many words you've written using the Word Count tool, the next step is to figure out how many Word pages equal one book page.

To do this, you will first need to understand that there will not be a direct correlation. In other words, there isn't an easy, super accurate answer. The reason for this is because it will depend on your finished book's page size.

A standard US paperback novel is typically printed as a 6 in. x 9 in. book, but it can be printed in a variety of other sizes depending on your book size.

Your book page in Word will be the standard paper size of 8.5 in. x 11 in. Therefore, the variance in size between the Word book template and your finalized printed book means there isn't an exact equivalence.

Generally, a paperback novel in the standard print size can contain about 250-300 words per page. In Microsoft Word, one page in the standard size and 12-point font will be about 500-550 words per page.

So, a rough estimate is that 2 paperback printed pages will equal 1 Microsoft Word page, more or less. Please note that this is a very rough estimate, with several variables involved.

The only way to find an exact correlation is to set your Word document up to be the same size as your finalized printed book. So, you could set your word document up to be 6 in. x 9 in. However, there will still be some variance due to margins, printed text size and typeface, paragraphs, etc.

The best thing is to just go by your desired Word count and worry about the printed pages later. Focus on getting your story out, and the rest will follow suit once you get there!

Start typing your manuscript into the book template

Once you find your perfect Microsoft Word book manuscript template, you’ll be ready to start typing up your book! 

Achieve your writing goals by committing to writing each and every day. Find a fellow author friend to make yourself accountable, or attend a writing conference to drive urgency for your writing career.

Once your manuscript is typed and self-edited, you can start the editing and production process to get your book published and into the hands of readers!

When you're ready to write a new book, you can use the same book template, or make your own!

Which book templates did you find the most useful?

Need some help along the way as you self publish?

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How to Format a Book: 10 Tips Your Editor Wants You To Know

by Blake Atwood | Aug 10, 2022

book open on a table

Unless you prefer your friends to be story nerds or those who lean toward obsessive-compulsive tendencies when it comes to grammar, you shouldn’t necessarily seek to befriend your editor .

However, you should seek to do everything in your power to be a professional friend of your editor. One of the simplest ways to do that — which too many authors fail to consider — is formatting.

I know. With the greatest of respect for book designers and internal formatters, formatting isn’t exactly the sexiest of topics for an author to consider. But, if you don’t know how to format a book it can cost you a reader. You’d much rather paint a new world on the canvas of your book than talk about unadorned, 12-point Times New Roman.

This guide on how to format a book covers:

What to do next

Why formatting is important.

When you skip over the basics of how your manuscript is formatted, you’re subconsciously showing a lack of respect for your craft and your editor. If you send a poorly formatted manuscript to your editor, they very likely won’t say anything, but I can promise you that they’re thinking one of two things:

In these instances, an editor will either edit your manuscript as-is or spend the time you’re paying them for to do the work you could have (and should have) done yourself.

But once you incorporate the standardized basics of formatting a manuscript in preparation for your editor, you’ll see that it will save both you and your editor a lot of time and frustration.

TWL. CTA. Book Outline Template

How To Format Your Book: Tips for Nailing Your Book Format

While this article attempts to offer standardized recommendations, some editors, literary agents or publishing houses may have their own formatting stipulations. Always be sure to scan websites for that information, and when in doubt, ask.

The following formatting recommendations hold true for both fiction and nonfiction manuscripts in the U.S. Any accepted variations are noted, and comments are appreciated with regard to differences for international markets.

Here’s what’s expected for a standard manuscript format.

1. Use black, 12-point, Times New Roman as the font

Yes, Times New Roman is boring, but it’s essentially on every computer ever made.

Don’t use a cool font for effect. Save that for your book’s interior design , which comes much later after the editing process.

(Font trivia: Times New Roman is no longer used by The Times .)

2. Use the U.S. standard page size of 8.5×11 inches and set your margins to 1 inch on all sides

Starting a new document in Word defaults to these parameters, but if you’re exporting to Word from your word processor of choice, double-check the output to ensure your page size and margins are correct.

To set page size in Word, go to File>Page Setup and look at the drop-down menu for Page Size.

To set margins in Word, go to Format>Document.

3. Set alignment to left justified

Left justified text is also known as ragged right text. The text will align itself along its left side, leaving its right side nonuniform (unjustified).

To set alignment in Word, select all of your text, then click the left justification icon in the Home tab or select Format>Paragraph and choose “Left” in the Alignment drop-down box.

4. Use a single space after periods

If you were trained to type two spaces after a period, retrain yourself.

In the digital age, use a single space. (For why, see “ Space Invaders .”)

Tip: if your manuscript has two spaces after a period , use your word processor’s Find and Replace tool. Type two spaces into “Find” and one space into “Replace” then hit “Replace All” with reckless, typing-teacher-be-damned abandon.

5. Use double-spaced line spacing

This may be the greatest help to your editor.

You want to ensure they see your every last word, so give your words room to breathe on the page.

Tip: if you’ve already written your book with different line spacing, select all of your text in Word, click Format > Paragraph, then select “Double” in the drop-down box under “Line spacing.”

How to Format a Book

6. Indent all paragraphs by .5 inches, and don’t hit tab or space to indent

This may be every editor’s pet peeve. Setting tabs and hitting tab aren’t the same thing.

If you’re a tab-hitter or space-space-space-space-spacer, select all of your text in Word, then set indentation using Format > Paragraph. Under “Indentation” and by “Left,” type .5. under “Special,” then choose “First line” from the drop-down menu.

Note: Generally, the first paragraph of any chapter, after a subhead, or following a bulleted or numbered list isn’t indented.

7. Format paragraphs according to genre standards

Fiction authors should use indented paragraphs without full paragraph breaks. Nonfiction authors may opt for no indentation so long as paragraphs are separated by a full paragraph break.

Tip: Crack open a book in your genre to see what the paragraphing conventions are, then emulate.

8. Use page breaks

To begin a new chapter, don’t just keep hitting return until you create a new page. Rather, use page breaks.

In Word, place the cursor at the end of a chapter, then click “Insert > Break > Page Break” in Word’s top menu.

9. Number your pages

Don’t begin numbering on your title page. Rather, begin numbering on the page your story begins.

To place page numbers in Word, double-click within the header area of the page on which your story begins and click “Insert > Page Numbers,” then select your preferred options. Choose to place your page numbers at the top left of the page.

10. Send your manuscript as one Word document (.doc /.docx)

You don’t have to compose your masterpiece in Word, but because Word’s “Track Changes” feature is still the de facto editing tool of choice, your editor will appreciate receiving a Word file.

And whatever you do, never send your editor individual chapters as separate files.

Alternate Option: Use Software to Help

While you can do most of these steps in Microsoft Word or Google Docs while writing your manuscript, when it comes time to turn it into a format that is used in the marketplaces, you’ll probably want specialized book formatting software. This kind of software can help you with both ebooks and paperbacks.

While there are a number of options out there, one of the best is Atticus . It will help you produce professional-looking books easily, with no technical background. Plus, with all of its features, you can customize your book and make it truly unique.

These 10 easy-to-follow steps will put you on your editor’s good side. While each of these issues typically doesn’t take too much time to rectify, the problems are compounded when an editor has to fix more than a few.

Want more help formatting your book? Check out this related article on “Book Format: 7 Common Mistakes & How to Avoid Them.”

Just remember, when an editor receives a well-formatted manuscript, they can immediately begin the work that you’re actually paying them to do: editing !

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Photo via Chinnapong /Shutterstock

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by Meena Azzollini | 32 comments

6 Keys For Book Page Layout image

Now that you have decided to self-publish, it’s time to consider the design elements of your book.

Most writers know they need to create a great book cover design, but good design principles for the interior pages are often neglected. This results in a poor reading experience for the reader. That means you might be losing readers and getting bad reviews for your book simply because you failed to design it properly.

If you don’t want to get bad reviews, you need to make sure your book layout is professionally designed.

To do that, take the time to understand the rules of book layout and design – both for the cover and the interior pages of your book.

A book layout is pretty much like a floor plan of a house.

When you incorporate good design principles into a floor plan of a house, it results in a well-built house.

In the same way, when you plan the layout of your book based on good design principles, you will achieve a great looking book with no hassles.

The layout and design of your book will depend entirely on the type of book you are writing or creating. Is it an eBook or a paperback? Does it have images and illustrations or is it text-based only? And who is your target audience?

For example, if you are a young children’s book author, then the children’s book layout will include images and pictures. It will be colorful and will have easy-for-kids-to-read kind of typeface, while not having too much text.

This means the layout of your pages may not be the same across all your pages as each page will be different from the other.

But if you are writing a suspense novel targeted to adults, then your book will be text-based. In this case, you must plan your text so that your pages look appealing and are well designed.

Whatever kind of book you plan to self-publish, you need to know six key rules of book layout and design.

Without these, your book will look shabby, unorganized and put your reader off even before they flip to the second page.

So to start planning your book layout and design, you must first consider these important aspects.

Here are the six most vital rules for page layout and design you should never forget.

The margins of a book are the blank area that surrounds a body of text on every page.

Every page has a top margin, a bottom margin, an inner margin and an outer margin.

One of the most important elements of book layout and design is the use of margins. If you know how to use your margins then you are creating a visually appealing page.

If you look at the anatomy of a book you will notice that pages are bound together or stitched up. When you open the book, the text looks like it is in the center of the page.

This is because the margin on the inside of a page, also known as the gutter, is always larger than the other margins —the top, bottom and the other side (depending on the page).

setting margins in book layout + image

The size of the top and the bottom margins will also depend on where you place your running heads and feet — information such as author name, book title and page numbers.

Running heads are little lines of text in the top margin which provides important information to the reader like the book name, chapter name and page number.

Sometimes the page number is in the bottom margin making it a “foot”.

Runnin heads and feet in book layout + image

Ideally, the bottom margin is quite large, and it provides a balance of white space after a block of text on a page.

Margins allow an ample amount of white space which is pleasing to the eye and allows the reader’s eye to move through the text without any strain.

Sometimes you need to include a bleed area which extends beyond the page margin or the printing area.

The bleed area is that part of the page which goes beyond the trim line – so that when the page is printed, this area will be trimmed off.

If your book has an image, photograph or other elements that go all the way to the edge of the page, then a bleed area needs to be added.

This ensures that when a page is printed and trimmed there are no unprinted edges or white space.

Bleed and trim size in book layout + image

This article gives you margins recommendations based on your book size.

2. Whitespace

When you are self-publishing, you need to keep your printing costs under control or you’ll never be able to earn a profit.

Since printing costs are mostly based on the number of pages, some authors try to reduce the number of pages to be printed by reducing margins and line spacing.

This creates a tight layout and makes your book look congested, leading to a very unpleasant reading experience.

A perfectly balanced page layout will include a fair amount of white space which balances the text and images present in the book.

As mentioned before, adequate margins are your first starting point for creating that much-needed white space.

Here is a great tutorial  on white space and the role it plays in effective design which will help you understand the concept better.

Line spacing- or leading as it’s called by typographers – is another important element. It balances white space and text by keeping each line of text adequately separate from the line of text above or below.

Starting a paragraph deep within the sink area is another way to give your reader a pause before they start reading the next block of text.

The sink is when you start your text almost in the middle of the page with a lot of white space above it.

It is also a clever way to add white space in a book while signaling a change in your storyline.

This area of white space is a great opportunity to add a little motif or graphical element.

You can add a bit of interest in this area by using a different font in the first line of the paragraph or starting the paragraph with a drop cap.

A drop cap is when you use a large capital letter at the beginning of a text block or paragraph and it has the depth of two or more lines of normal text.

whitespace and drop cap in book layout + image

3. Line Width

Another aspect of text placement to consider is line width.

You have probably noticed that some books have text blocks in two columns or more rather than having a single block of text.

The width of each text block (line width) should enable the reader to keep track of the words they read.

This becomes difficult when line widths are too long.

In this case, it’s a good idea to place text in two or more columns. The ideal characters per line are 65, but this greatly depends on your writing, the typeface used and the size of your book.

4. Typography

There are hundreds of fonts to choose from. But the best kind of font is readable and pleasing to the eye.

The kind of typography that you choose depends on the type of book you are planning to create.

Most books use serif fonts like Garamond or Baskerville as the smooth curves of the fonts makes it easier for the eye to follow.

But many other genres such as cookbooks and art books use sans-serif fonts like Verdana or Arial for a modern look.

You don’t have to stick to one type of font in your entire book.

This means that one typeface must consistently feature throughout all chapters in the book. But you may use different fonts for titles, heads, feet, break-out boxes and sidebars.

Break out boxes and sidebars are generally included in non-fiction books and include extra text and helps make the main text more readable by breaking up a large block of text into various sections.

breakout box in book layout + image

A sidebar is a small article which appears next to the main text, usually to the side of the page.

A break out box contains text relating to the main topic and could be a list, quotations or a factoid. This boxed information is generally short.

sidebar in book layout + image

When readers scan a page they may see the boxed information first, so it’s important to include text which complements the main topic on that page.

Text in the sidebar and break out box should appear in a different font and font size to distinguish it from the main text.

Sidebars and break out boxes must also have a headline to indicate what the text is about.

There are no other hard and fast rules for using typeface than trying to find a balance between the different fonts that you choose to use in your book layout.

This is done by identifying the purpose for a particular typeface in your book. Once you have identified the purpose of the main typeface, you will realize that you may need another one or two typefaces to signal a change in context or meaning in the layout.

Don’t go overboard and pick a maximum of two typeface families for best results.

A typeface family has a variety of weights and italics – so it will include bold, semi-bold, italics and small caps.

Font size also makes a difference. The ideal font size is between 10 and 12 points. This size is good for reading and gives your book page layout a clean, well-balanced and finished look.

Use larger font sizes for headings and if you are using all block letters than go for a sans serif font.

All photographs, images, and illustrations in your book must make your book look great.

This means that the layout of the book must incorporate them properly so that the pages look beautiful and well designed.

Again, achieving a balance between all the elements in the book plays a key role.

So, the visuals in your book must balance typography, text placements and other elements on the page.

It’s a great idea to give the visuals in your book some space to breathe on a page — this means isolating one visual at a time with text to offset it.

For example, if you are creating a cookbook you may want to place the photo on the left page while having the recipe on the right page.

Sometimes you may have an image and text on the same page like in a children’s book.

But it’s important to remember not to crowd all your images together. Let each image be part of the story that you are telling in your book.

6. Widows and Orphans

Another thing to look out for is single lines that get isolated from a paragraph. If a single line of text moves on to the next page or next column of text at the top, it is called a widow. A single line of text or a few words is an orphan when it isolated at the bottom of the page or a paragraph.

orphans and widows in book layout + image

First, this makes your page layout look shabby. Secondly, it impedes the reader’s reading experience as it causes them to pause mid-paragraph.

To avoid this, you may have to rework your text layout which can be tricky. This can be done by reworking your text or adjusting tracking and kerning options in your layout software.

Tracking adjusts the space between a group of letters, words or whole paragraphs.

Kerning will adjust space between two characters.

Both tracking and kerning are font-dependent. So the adjustments you make for one kind of font is not the same for another.

Check out this post on how to deal with widows and orphans .

It’s Time to Design Your Book Layout

Book layout involves many aspects of design and getting it right depends on consistency.

This is achieved with planning and making decisions about your book at the beginning of the layout and design process.

Because what you choose to do with one page needs to be consistently done to other pages too.

So, don’t ignore these six important rules of book layout and design and soon you’ll have a great story and a good looking book too.

Meena Azzollini

Meena enjoys the opportunity to use her content writing skills and content marketing knowledge in creating valuable and engaging blog posts. She is also a skilled graphic designer and loves working on design projects as well. When she’s not working, Meena loves to read, practice yoga and spend time with family and friends.



Thanks very much valuable tips

Kaelyn Barron

we’re so glad you found these layout tips helpful! :)

Zabron madano

Well understood

Monsuru toheeb ajibola

A perfect write up very educating

We’re glad you found the book layout tips helpful! :)

Tvrtko Molnar

U can have the spacing between paragraphs even and the bottom of the text box aligned. Just use baseline grid.

Daniel Befekadu

Simple, clear and excellent clarification. Thank you.

You’re welcome, Daniel! Glad you found it helpful :)

Cal Cutter

Widows and orphans; your text says one thing the illustration shows the opposite. Any of you have an idea which is correct?

Tony Del Prete

Orphan is on the same page; widow is on the next page. We also called a single word on a line an orphan, although it’s also called a runt. Regardless, they all need to be addressed.

Hi Cal, widows appear at the top of a page, while orphans dangle at the bottom of a page. You’re right, the image is inaccurate, I’ll work on getting this updated. Thank you!

Steve McCluer

If you are NOT self-publishing but are submitting your document for consideration by an agent or a publisher, do the same rules apply? For example, left-align vs. justified (block)? indented paragraph vs. block? margin sizes? etc.

Hi Steve, in most cases publishers will have submission guidelines where they’ll specify formatting requirements. Usually they only care about font style, size, and spacing. Alignment isn’t usually so important unless they specify.


I have a question about the bottom of the text box. Does it have to be even across the spread? In order to adjust the letters to match, I slightly changed the spacing between paragraphs, which made that spacing slightly uneven. Is it better to leave the spacing between paragraphs even and the bottom of the text box uneven in the pages facing each other?

Memoir Helper

I do the same thing and would love to know the correct answer. I also make adjustments to the line spacing, if necessary. I feel like it looks better with the page length aligned (except for the end of a chapter).

It’s tedious to do it this way and I keep looking for a tool that would help automate the process.


Yes, I tried a lot to find the answer to this question but could not. One designer said that the bottom of the spread does not have to be even necessarily.

But I confess, that it looks cleaner when it is, if I keep my paragraphs spacing even I just don’t know how to make that bottom even at all. Or is one or the other.

Hi Divya, thanks for your comment! I’m not sure if there is a “right” answer, but I think if you need to leave the bottom uneven in order to ensure that the overall line spacing doesn’t look bad, then that’s ok. It’s more about the reader’s experience and deciding what would be more disruptive

Michael Mercy

This exactly and accurately filled and satisfied my urge and needs. Thanks so much for this post

Glad you found it helpful, Michael!

David Scott

Great information but I have a question regarding margins and gutters. I am creating my own day planner that will be spiral bound, Would you alter the margin or the gutter to create the space need for the binding process.

I am using In Design


Wow!!! This is simply powerful and very useful information for book layout, I truly appreciate

We’re glad you found it helpful, Isaac! :)

Paul Nicolosi

can I download a app for this

Hi Paul, it depends on which layout software you want to use. Tools like InDesign and others have desktop and mobile apps

Zebron Ncube

Thanks Zebron, I’m so glad you enjoyed the article!


I learned so much from this. Thanks you – the terminology makes sense now.

Thanks Liz, we’re glad you found the post helpful! :)

Knowell Sagum

This is great info. Thank You I am currently learning this.

Glad you found it helpful!:)

Jafar Sadiq

Kudos ! Filled a gap . Thank you

So glad you found it helpful! :)

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Free fiction writing template to help you outline your novel (Word, Scrivener, G-Docs, Plottr)

BRILLIANT! Positively BRILLIANT. Most comprehensive outline I’ve ever seen anywhere. Thank you Derek!

A few years ago I made the Plot Dot ( now free on Amazon ! ) – my simple 8-point novel writing template, with the major dramatic twists most stories need to hit. I always wanted a more in-depth book outline and plotting cheatsheet, but there’s so many conflicting story structures out there it was hard to sort out the specifics. Last year however, I managed to put together a 24 chapter template for commercial fiction .

writing template for story plotting fiction

It’s based on a lot of other things, but I’ve looked at other beatsheets or story planning guides and haven’t found one that actually tells you what to do at each stage in your story… So I hope you like it. I made an hour long video walking you through the steps, I’ll share that down below.

You can also download the Word Template; I managed to get it down to 2 pages (so you can print front and back if you want, and so that I can call it a “one page” plot outline).

PS. Scroll down to find the download links! I’m going to copy the whole thing down below. You can paste it into the word processor of your choice. PS. this is only the basic outline; my downloadable templates are much more refined and include some bonus writing tips.

It’s not pretty this way…. but I hope it’s useful!

best novel writing template

Story Outline: 24 Chapter Writing Template


writing template plot outline: begin your novel

Start the first chapter in the middle of the action; a big important day that the protagonist has been waiting for. Not characters sitting around and thinking about lore or history. Give them small, simple tasks to complete that show their world and the people in it. Don’t share information, share action, and be descriptive. A good protagonist is  busy and has  things to do.

But then, those small chores or tasks, or the preparation for this big event they’ve been waiting for, all goes terribly wrong. Whatever they were planning for, or counting on, that better future they’ve been dreaming of for years, it all falls apart. You need to make them  willing  to take risks by taking away all the other things they care about – because a great protagonist/hero is always unwilling at first.

1 Really Bad Day

Ordinary world, empathy, conflict. Show flaw and lack. Want, Problem, Need.

2 Something Peculiar

Something unique or strange happens, but they dismiss it.

3 Grasping at Straws

Trying to regain control of ordinary world but setbacks mount.

In these first three chapters, they are taking increasingly risky actions to try to stay on their main path, despite setbacks. They haven’t given up yet, but they are anxious and nervous to fix their mistakes and seize what they wanted, despite being denied.

There will also be something new, something different, that changes things, but they are trying to ignore it for now. Show the weirdness, show the mystery. Have them wonder about it, but only a little, because they have other more important things.

People won’t sit around and think about weird things until later, when things calm down, and you shouldn’t let things calm down! The protagonist will focus on the biggest, largest problem related to their current goals, wants and needs.

There’s still no place for detailed backstory or infodumps. Stick to the simple present: they will ask questions or explore or study  when they need to . Right now, they already know everything about this world, and so do the other people around them. Nobody should be accidentally oversharing world-building stuff (unless it’s tied into a world event).

Character conflict, if any, should be hidden or avoided (tension, not violence).

writing template plot outline: inciting incident call to adventure

4 Call to Adventure

Something extraordinarily different happens, they can’t ignore. Major setback.

5 Head in Sand

The new interrupts the old and causes conflict. Reveals dissatisfaction with ordinary.

6 Pull out Rug

Trying to fix ordinary world problems while resisting the lure of the supernatural world.

ACT II: 1 ST PLOT POINT (point of no return)

In these next three chapters, something much bigger happens that they can’t ignore. It changes how they think about things, the way the world works. It’s new and unexpected; it hints of  differences  and  opportunity , or maybe some danger. It could be a “literal” invitation, like in Harry Potter.

The trick is, they don’t want it. They avoid, and refuse, and try to fix things, or brood about what they’ve already lost. They look for other, easier solutions (smart protagonist will always take the path of least resistance). But then you force them, kicking and screaming if you must, onto the new path that they absolutely don’t want.

In fantasy, this could be returning home to find their village burned and family killed.

In romance, this could be forcing your protagonist into a tight space (forced proximity) with their hot enemy; like finding out the cute asshole is their new boss.

*hint: add drama and suspense with prohibitions. Make whatever they need to do, against the rules.

writing template plot outline: inciting incident call to adventure

7 Enemies & Allies

Explore new world; meet characters, find their place and and role. Introduce all main characters.

8 Games & Trials

Struggle to belong. Frustration and doubt. Trials and challenges. Promise of premise.

9 Earning Respect

Small victory as lead proves capable. Fun and games. Begrudging acceptance.

novel writing layout

In these three chapters, the protagonist needs to learn the ropes. It might be a new job, a supernatural world, a new and interesting case. They will get to new some of the new, mysterious characters who might have shown up earlier. They will be forced to learn things, and there will be new friends, foes, allies and mentors – but also, challenges, tasks and trials to keep things interesting.

This is where you can do more world-building (but not backstory yet! More on that later). They feel like they don’t belong. They don’t want to be here. They hate everybody. But… somehow they find something they are good at, that they enjoy, and the people around them begin to show signs of warming up to them, which makes them start to care about this new world/environment/team of people.

But then you hit the 1st pinch point, which is a confrontation with the forces of the protagonist. Probably not the main protagonist directly, just something that shows opposition, danger, threat, risk. Something more serious. Conflict is out there. It doesn’t have to be a fight or battle; maybe a fight or argument.

10 Forces of Evil

Stakes are raised, antagonists revealed.

11 Problem Revealed

Surprise problem or situation. Demanding answers.

12 Discovery & Ultimatum

New information, vulnerable share. In or out?

writing template plot outline: first battle mirror stage

Now that the protagonist is starting to feel at home, the first pinch point reveals the conflict. Now they can start asking real questions, and getting real answers, about the backstory, history, world-building, and everything else. But don’t make the answers easy. Every year answer should start as a mystery and a question; and it should be fought for, sought out or difficult to obtain. You need to  resist giving information or easy answers. Questions should be ignored, refused, denied, and they need to push for answers  because the questions really matter now – not idle curiosity, but self-preservation.

But when they finally get the answers they seek, it’s a shock: it’s more than they bargained for. The history, the antagonist, their personal role, their family secrets or truth about their parents or their core identity; something they did not expect that is deeply personal.

Then we get to the mirror stage, where they take a step back to reflect on everything. They need to figure out if they actually want to be here, if there’s a way out, if they can put themselves back together. Don’t give them all the answers though: every single Big Answer or reveal should be an  event: it happens at the end of the scene, then close the curtain, before they have time to respond. Don’t dump a bunch of reveals on a page and have the characters just role with it. A shocking revelation should be like a slap – sharp and sudden, followed by silence.

13 Mirror Stage

Self-realization or a discovery. Victim to Warrior.

14 Plan of Attack

Plan of action to thwart antagonist’s forces or overcome main problem.

15 Crucial Role

Trusted with an important task.

writing template plot outline: second battle midpoint

After the mirror stage, the protagonist decides basically, they’re sick of being pushed around, ignored, underestimated. They care about this new world or the players. They decide they  want to belong. They want to succeed or prosper in this new, unexpected and unwanted, opportunity. Instead of being reactive, they decide to stay and try harder. Even if it’s painful and challenging. Because they’ve found something they want, something worth it.

They regroup and form a plan with their allies. A plan to get rid of the threat, the competition; a plan to win and thrive. Smart protagonists don’t rush into battle, and the odds should be overwhelmingly against them (this is a REAL threat, that will take all of them together). So they don’t plan for violence. They plan something else, something subtle, a way to do good, save someone else, stop the antagonist, but they aren’t really planning on full-on fighting.

But… somehow the plan goes wrong and they are interrupted or surprised by the antagonists forces, which are even greater, more powerful, and more aware than they realized. This time ( this is important! )  because the protagonist was here voluntarily, and because they were trusted with an important task, this feels like a personal failure or setback. People they care about were counting on them, and they let everyone down. Maybe someone got hurt (or even died!).

Character deaths won’t feel dramatic at the beginning; they need to happen after we’ve seen these characters interact and gotten to know them. The protagonist took a big risk and failed; now they have to deal with guilt in a way they’ve never had to before.

The “first battle” is a skirmish, and it’s impersonal and distant. The “second battle” is immediate, and personal. Both the antagonist and protagonist have more awareness of each other.

16 Second Battle

They execute the plan, and come in direct conflict with antagonist’s forces.

17 Surprise Failure

The plan goes horribly wrong, faulty information or assumption. Consequences.

18 Shocking Revelation

The antagonist’s full plan/true identity is revealed. Stakes are raised. Guilt and anger.

ACT III: 2 ND PLOT POINT (dark night of soul)

novel writing layout

At the end of this sequence, we get a big reveal. It’s also important to point out, my version is very different from the typical hero’s journey or other writing templates or outlines, because there are more battles and layers between them.

The first battle they  lose.

Probably because of a lack of information. So not only did something go horribly wrong, and not only do they have the guilt or shame, but they are also overwhelmed by the stakes, and feel unqualified – because there is information they don’t know yet.

It goes like this: – plan – fail – twist

The *new information* is a shocking reveal, that comes with difficulty. Something they didn’t know, some secret, that they only discover after the failure. Maybe by a taunting antagonist, maybe be a peer or mentor who was keeping secrets.

They are angry, upset, guilty, all the emotions at once. This battle or fight is much bigger, and much more personal, than they anticipated. Previously, they thought maybe they could win. Here, there is  no way out. There is no possible resolution where they can keep what they want, keep being who they are, live happily ever after. Something huge must be sacrificed, this battle or conflict will cost everything – it will cost, specifically, the one thing they can’t bear to lose.

I wrote a breakdown of several big movies and TV shows, focusing on this part, it’s worth reading here for examples. (You could also see EACH 3-chapter segment like this: event, reaction, new goal. Or event, response, reveal.

novel writing layout

19 Giving Up

Lead loses confidence; the forces are too great. What they want is unattainable.

20 Pep Talk

Encouragement from ally. Vulnerable share, inclusion. What’s at stake; choice.

21 Seizing the Sword

Deliberate choice to continue, even if slim chance of success.

novel writing layout

After the big twist, we have the dark night of the soul, where the protagonist basically gives up. An ally helps out, possibly by sharing new information, or just telling them why this matters or why they’re special. They see more of the world worth saving; they decide to try again even if it will cost everything, destroy them, even if they can’t survive this conflict and also keep what they want. They need to decide to give up what they wanted for the greater good; or risk EVERYTHING on the slim chance of success.

For romance it would go like this: avoidance of new feelings, realization of their feelings (mirror stage), rush to confess their feelings but misunderstanding – seeing him with another woman for example. Dark night of the soul, feeling alone and betrayed. But then going to confess their love again, dramatically, publicly, even when they think there is no hope, when they think their love has found someone else or is getting married or leaving.

They need to go into battle (face their demons, do the thing they are afraid of) even if they think they might lose; they should have no real plan for victory – or rather – they do have a plan, but the plan must go wrong or fail. That’s critical, or the ending would be flat and boring.

Things have to get much worse until victory really seems impossible.

Also, this fight is personal, between the protagonist and antagonist. It can’t ever be easy, which is why in any movie or TV show, the final battle comes down to fists. All those big magic powerful weapons or abilities are useless. They lose their vehicles, their guns, their knives, and resort to a wrestling match, face to face, straining muscle against straining muscle (or it would all be over too easily and without cost).It’s silly, but it needs to happen this way to extend the final battle scene and make it more gripping and immediate.

writing templates: final battle scene

22 Ultimate Defeat

Triumph of Villain. All hope is lost. Confront fatal flaw.

23 Unexpected Victory

Secret weapon or ability, deep resolve, new understanding, unlikely ally. Remove glass shard. Sacrifice.

24 Bittersweet Reflection

Temporary victory. Innocents saved. How far they’ve come.

Final battle scenes are tricky, but they shouldn’t be easy. There are stages. Here’s a post about writing final battle scenes , with two detailed videos.

In short, they LOSE at first, or almost lose. The hero is captured. They’ve lost, it’s over. The antagonist gloats. This is still due to lack of information or self-awareness, or because the hero has one vulnerability that’s been exploited, or it was all a trap.

There’s a huge tension – and an inner and outer conflict – where all the allies are fighting and losing, but waiting for the protagonist to complete their task. Everyone is counting on them. There’s a lengthened, physical resistance, peak conflict, figuratively or literal, a gritting of teeth and straining and pressure.

novel writing outline template: final battle

Often they need to “break a rule” or do the one thing they’ve sworn they would never do, something reckless and dangerous, but they win *because* the hero has nothing left to lose and is willing to risk everything. In the middle of this tension, this long, heavy pause, there might be a “flashback” scene where the protagonist sees all his allies, suffering, or reflects back on all the good times in the world worth saving; what this means to him/her. It could be an accidental boon or reward from an ally (received because of previous good behavior, kindness, friendship, something deserved).

Backstory character reveal!  A hero often has a tragic backstory, related to why this challenge is specifically impossible  for them and can’t be defeated without personal, internal healing and change; facing their demons. The best time for a full character flashback reveal is in the middle of the final battle scene or close to it. Previously it can be hinted at, in flashes, but never fully fleshed out. We learn the truth here to show JUST how impossible and difficult this thing is, for them, and why it will mean a complete break/healing from all the ways they’ve avoided their problems or memories before.

If you have a large cast ensemble, each character’s backstory is given near their own personal moment of truth/challenge (each one must do the thing that is difficult for them, in a way it may not be difficult for others. Whatever their limitations or disabilities, their challenge should match – and they should do it anyway).

For romance: they’ve confessed their feelings and there is silence. The love-interest might even say something mean or cutting… after a long, long pause, where it seems like a rejection, they clarify and turn it into something nice.

For action: the protagonist or close ally/love interest might have sacrificed themselves. There’s a long tense pause as everyone thinks they are gone. Bittersweet, sad victory. Hold out that tension for as long as possible… build the pressure. This is the point of the book! This moment!

Then relieve the pressure. It snaps. They win. Victory, celebration. All the people watching in public horror and sadness, suddenly cheer and laugh and smile. Catharsis.

25 Death of Self

From ambition to service. Death of former self. Acknowledgment ceremony.

Optional: Hints of future challenges or antagonist lives.

The ending or resolution, is usually some kind of reunion or coming home party or event. It could be a wedding or gathering. Everyone who survived is given some peace and a happy ending of sorts. Everyone congratulates the hero (and here you can finally have those wrapping up conversations where somebody fills in any details or plot points about how everything went down – that would have been boring or overkill to include earlier, and ruined the suspense and surprise).

Dramatic story turning points

One of the most interesting and unique parts of the writing template are the red lines for the “A” story and the “B” story – that deal with the types of conflict and drama your protagonist might be facing at each major turning point.

These are the 8 points in the Plot Dot so get familiar with them first, they are the spokes that hold everything together.

Every scene needs drama and conflict – there’s a scene checklist below – but the story will deepen and evolve depending on which external or internal threats and conflicts are the most pressing at any given time.

1-Page Novel Plotting Outline Template

The sound is a little off on this one I think… I have another version on YouTube .

“When I put my story ideas into other outlines they seem to leave me still feeling lost, and confused with what should happen in certain chapters. But this one? I was able to connect the dots from beginning to the complete end. I had to study it for a week straight before I finally was able to really understand how to use this story structure completely.”

Word count & chapter lengths

I tend to write chapters with two scenes and one chapter break in between them. A scene is one continuous moment of action, like you’d see in a tv show or movie; a break is when the screen goes black (or the curtain falls) and then they setup again for the next scene, which starts a new action sequence in a different place or time.

This outline is for 24 chapters, and I try to make my scenes about 1000 words. So that’s nearly 50,000 words, which is a decent length for a first rough draft. Don’t overwrite it, get things in the right place first. Once I start editing – which is a 3 step process – I’ll add another 25K in detail (descriptions, dialogue, transitions, other stuff). So my cleaner drafts are around 75k, which is a good length for most commercial fiction. I tend to write long, so a lot of my books, telling a *full* story, are closer to 90K.

But sometimes I actually just *end* the story closer to a cliffhanger, somewhere in the middle, without all the resolution. (Telling the first half of a story is a skill to learn; telling the second half is a separate skill. Don’t try to learn everything all at once).

Download this story writing template!

If you need help with the whole writing process, here’s a huge post:

Best book writing software

Personally I still use microsoft word, but if you’re looking for something a little more powerful, there are some good alternatives. There’s also some new AI software which can be great for brainstorming story ideas, doing research (name generation, even suggesting plot outlines – and then for editing and revising. Writing is hard enough already; use any tool that helps in any way, even if it just relieves the burden on your brainpower, which is an exhaustive resource that you need to protect.

If you want to play with something new and fun:

Drama: story reveals & plot twists

One of the biggest mistakes new writers make is having backstory infodumps at the beginning. Conflict and suspense are caused by the lack of information, which means you need to be raising questions without giving answers.

I made a handy chart for when to reveal crucial information; it’s a response to the questions the characters are seeking. Basically, never give info for free – it has to be asked for first (noticed the lack) and resisted (difficult to find) before the reveal will be meaningful.

You keep what’s important private and hidden until it is forced out of you. I made a clever little graphic for  when  you should be revealing what type of information, depending on what type of questions your protagonist is asking.

In the beginning, they’ll be asking

story reveal cheatsheet

Fiction scene checklist & common writing mistakes

Plotting is important, but even when you have the right stuff in the right place, it doesn’t mean your story will be any good. The fastest and easiest way to resolve that is to use this scene checklist , which includes the 3 types of conflict you should include.

fiction scene revision checklist

And then check these out:

You might not need them until later during edits and revisions – get the first draft out before you polish. But, well, it’s much easier to avoid common signs of weak and amateur writing than it is to fix it or replace it later.

NEW: as part of my Bestseller Blueprint course I made a new video tutorial walking through the 24-chapter novel outline above. I’ve also been adding new videos to my YouTube channel (up to 3 million views!) so you can watch at your leisure. This is advanced writing craft: click the image below, then subscribe to the channel so you don’t miss updates.

novel writing layout

“I’ve been listening to this non-stop. Dude has done his research on story structure.”

“I’m an author and have been studying story structure, narrative arc, and plot points for years….this is a REALLY good template. I can tell you’ve digested and synthesized more vague outlines and converted them into a more comprehensive map of the types of scenes that must happen in between the typical plot points.”

“Thank you so much for creating this story outline. I have been looking for a plot structure like this for a long time! It helped me to complete a a story blueprint that I’m so happy with. You don’t understand what this means to me.”

“Man this right here helped me a ton. It cut out most of all the nonsense that the other outlines be giving.”

Do I need a writer’s template?

If you’re new to book writing, you may feel overwhelmed with everything. Creativity is a fickle beast, and all great writers have struggled with procrastination and productivity. There are basically two types of writers: plotters and pantsers.

These correlate directly to the two types of creativity: intuitive and logical. Pantsing (writing from the seat of your pants) is more magical. It feels amazing to have ideas just come up from nowhere, as your brain fills in gaps or generates scenes and characters. Sometimes you can just write it all down and it works.

A lot of famous, experienced authors are pantsers to some degree. But for most new writers, pantsing will end up will end up with a big, messy manuscript full of stuff but not really a  book . All commercial fiction, even literary or speculative, has rules. There’s a way to construct a book so that it works, and it’s entertaining enough to keep readers turning pages.

Many authors find plot outlines or plotting structures to be restrictive: it’s very hard to unleash that special kind of magic when you’re trying to stick to your plot points. It’s also less fun. For this reason, some authors stick to pantsing until they fail long enough to seek alternatives. If you’ve been struggling with a book idea for months or years, without really figuring out how to fix it all, you might need structure.

Or, maybe you’re a plotter (like me!). I found that I can be a lot more productive when I know where I’m going. You can either start with my simple 9 point Plot Dot to hit the main big points, that generate momentum and energy for your story like an engine. Or you can use the 24 chapter plot outline template to fill in the weak, saggy middle.

Here’s where it gets weird:  Even though I’m a plotter, I recognize that my best, most effortless writing comes in the flow of the scene. I need to step away from my outline (my big word manuscript document) and do writing sprints on my iphone with minimal distractions, to get in the scene and picture things happening. Even if I know  what needs to happen, I haven’t sorted out the details. Things flow and evolve in surprising ways, and scenes unfold the way they need to. This isn’t all in your control. You need to allow yourself space and freedom to be creative, even with a plan.

This is right brain/left brain stuff, and we all will have our strengths and preferences. It’s a tricky thing to balance. This is also, the drafting brain and the editing brain. There’s a time to be creative and pump out words; and there’s a time to fix, polish and make them better. You can’t do both at the same time. Writing books is a continuous juggling act between both brains.

I wrote a whole post about the creative war between writers and editors , and as an author, this means you’re basically at war with yourself. It isn’t easy, and it takes time. But it’s  so much easier to skip the years of flustering around, and have the structure and system to get the work done. You need to write a first draft, and for me at least, all the really good writing comes very late in the editing stages. After I have a draft and I know how the story works, then I can make it good, but not before.

So this writer’s template can save you a lot of time and angst, but only if you use it.

Isn’t this hero’s journey stuff just for fantasy?

This plotting template works for all kinds of genres. I don’t have an example handy but I put a bunch in my book. Just keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be literal. All stories worth telling are about an impossible journey – something too difficult for the protagonist to currently handle. They are forced to change or grow; this story is worth telling, it’s remarkable,  because  it forces the protagonist to have an identity crisis and rethink who they are, what they want, and what they believe in. It tests them more than anything else ever has. The entire story is the build up to that moment of change or final conflict, which triggers the transformation. I have resources about how to handle that key scene, the final battle (figurative or literal). But it can work just as well for children’s books, or romance novels, or even literary masterpieces.

Stories have structure, there’s a way to tell a story for maximum dramatic effect. You can add this structure in later, after you have a draft, to make it more powerful, but I prefer to start with an outline and fill in the gaps as I go.

There will also be scenes that resist: often the scenes in between where nothing is really happening, feel slow and boring, without purpose. But these often become my  most powerful scenes, because those are the spaces where characters can bond and you show the world worth saving. They are the sweet and touching scenes that play a huge role later, at the decisive, critical moment, when the hero or heroine decides whether this battle is worth fighting, whether they care enough to continue. The bigger the danger or obstable, the more motivation you need for your protagonist to act anyway, even though it may destroy them – to take a risk bigger than they are comfortable with, to leave it all on the line. The stakes must be dire (and the challenge must not be easy); and the story needs to slowly justify their stubborn, absolute commitment to something greater than themselves (love, peace, fulfillment, identity, whatever).

Advanced creative writing tips

This writing template is a good start but it isn’t everything; you also need to create suspense and conflict in your book to keep readers turning pages. I wrote a book with advance writing tips, sharing everything I know about writing books that sell (I’ve sold about 50,000 so far).

But it’s a bit tedious and heavy. If you’re ready to dig deeper and enjoy a historical, magically-based theme to help develop your writing, check out BookCraft.

I also made a big list of the best books on writing for authors . These helped me a ton.

If you want something cleaner and faster, I also put together a video course called “the Bestseller Blueprint.” It’s on sale for just $37 (usually $197). And I’m giving away two bonus courses, with some more advanced tips for writing fiction and nonfiction books.

If you’re looking for more direct feedback and a deep developmental critique of your writing, there are a few more spots left to work one-on-one with me. Happy writing!

PS. Looking for nonfiction book outline templates ? (click here )

novel writing layout

The 3 secrets to book marketing, and a haunted castle tour. Totally free. Get it here.

novel writing layout

I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.

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Hi Derek, thank you so much for this video on your plot structure. I have found it really useful. Just a question…do you give examples anywhere to back up the points? I know there are some (like the Starwars and Harry Potter references) and these are super useful as they really explain the point. So is there an example, say, for when the protaganist is given a magic object? or someone is told what their blind spot is. Specific examples are so clear. I just wondered if there was somewhere you’ve covered this and I can’t find it. Thank you so much for all your resources.

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I haven’t really yet – I agree they’d be useful. I’m thinking about writing my own for each genre but that may be excessive.

I’m not sure about the legalities and don’t want to misinterpret major stuff, especially when movies and breakout (superfamous) fiction usually (don’t) follow my outlines. It’s confusing, but the templates work for the vast majority of popular stuff, but probably not the best, well-known stuff. I’ll probably get to it, but then I’d have to rewatch all the classics and I get bored too easily. I could easily do it with anything new on netflix… their scripts are pretty great.

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Just a heads-up Derek… In your Amazon book description for the Plot Dot, you wrote “panster” instead of “pantser.”

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thanks! I’m going to redo it soon and I’ll update it.

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I downloaded your Novel writing template for Open Office twice. Both times, the “24-chapter outline” consisted EXCLUSIVELY of a one-page “about the author.” Something get lost?

Oh that’s weird! I’ll check it. The whole thing is on my website, so you could copy/paste in into open office. I thought I formatted it all but I’ll fix it.

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I absolutely love this- in your video you said that you would eventually like to put examples scenes or more detail against the 24 chapters- did you ever get around to doing this- or is there more information in one of your books I can purchase? I just got “Book Craft” on Kindle Unlimited but there are no additional notes in Chapter 4 that I can see. I’d just love to know in depth a bit more what each of the chapter headings means or requires.

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How could you adapt this for a short story? Love this template so much!

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novel writing layout


novel writing layout


How to Write a Novel in 11 Essential Steps [Free Template]

Posted on Mar 5, 2023

by R.E. Vance

If you misunderstand how to write a novel with the proper story structure , your book will never sell.

Harsh, but true. And that’s why we’re here to tell you the exact methods that skyrocketed the popularity of books like The Hunger Games and the Divergent series.

Thankfully, we’ve deconstructed some of the world’s most compelling stories, and then taught countless people how to write a novel that pulls readers in using the 5 Milestone Method—that we’ll teach you here.

If you’re ready to learn what it takes to write a great novel, stick around! We’re breaking down the 12 steps you NEED along with the most common questions we get.

Here are the steps for how to write a novel:

Common questions about writing a novel

But before we dive right into those, we have to understand your unique writing method in order for you to understand novel writing in a way that’s best for you.

Pages 1

Book Outline Template Generator

Choose your Fiction or Nonfiction book type below to get your free chapter by chapter outline!

Enter your details below and get your pre-formatted outline in your inbox and start writing today!


Thanks for submitting! Check your email for your book outline template.

In the meantime, check out our Book Outline Challenge.

Pages 2

Most novels and movies have five key points that make up the core of their story – it’s a formula that’s been around for longer than books have.

This may not even be something authors do intentionally but rather, these are what make a story (even spoken) good and captivating.

What’s more, these milestones are something that readers have subconsciously been trained to look for when digesting a piece of fiction—meaning, if your novel doesn’t follow these, it will feel like it’s “missing something” and isn’t satisfying.

In other words, if you don’t have these five key moments, your reader is likely to turned off of your story because it didn’t meet expectations set by the hundreds (if not thousands) of stories they have already digested before yours.

Let’s get started.

#1 – Craft your story idea & premise

This is really what will kick off your book. You probably already have an idea for writing a novel, and that’s why you’re here! The tricky part is taking a single idea and turning it into a full story.

If you’re like most fiction writers, the idea is very clear and very vivid. You’re just not sure what’s needed to turn it into a story . For that, we always go to the premise.

The premise of a novel is the overarching concept that sets up intrigue.

For example, in Hunger Games , the premise is: what if a society forced people to fight to the death—even children.

That is a single idea that holds a lot of promise for an intriguing story. It says, “there will be violence, heartache, and pain.” And to readers, that is perfect.

Here’s a guide for turning your novel idea into a premise and story:

#2 – Develop characters

No novel can exist without great characters. Even the crappiest of plots can be saved by incredible characters. Spend time on this step of writing a novel!

Each main character should have a backstory, description, personality traits, and a purpose (or arc) for your novel.

Remember: you may build your characters as you build your plot and world. Each of these should compliment one another in the sense that they are building on to each other. You may have a character trait that is really, really inconvenient with the world. This will create additional conflict to add entertainment value to your story.

We have extensive blog posts to help with crafting characters we recommend reading for this section:

#3 – Create your world

Even if you’re writing a romance novel set in the modern world, you still have to build your world. Oftentimes, the term “worldbuilding” can be synonymous with building the “setting” of your novel.

These are some questions you should be asking before you write your novel:

There are countless questions you can answer, and the type of novel you’re writing will dictate which questions to answer before you start.

We have more blog posts catered to advanced questions that go in-depth of this process you can read here:

#4 – Choose your point of view

The point of view will totally depend on what you enjoy writing, the norm for your genre and target audience , and what voice fits best with the story you want to tell.

Many authors will have a certain point of view that is most comfortable for them, but you also have to keep in mind what is standard practice in the industry for your type of novel.

For example: Romance novels are often written in first person present tense, because romance readers want to feel very close to the main character (often a woman) because those readers like to put themselves in the shoes of that character.

However, epic fantasy is often written in third person past-tense because readers may have a hard time placing themselves as the main character in a world that’s so far from reality.

Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule. The key with writing rules is to know them and their purpose so you can break them intentionally .

Here are the different points of view you can write in:

If you can’t decide, find books that are similar to your idea and target audience (age-range) and choose which point of view is most common: this is likely the industry standard. But keep in mind, that if you write better and more naturally in a different tense, go with that one.

#5 – Outline your novel

Your novel will need direction. Even if you “can’t write from an outline,” you still have to know where your story is going if you want to craft it in a way that’s exciting.

There are two types of writers out there, and each will have a unique outlining method: plotters and pantsers.

A plotter is someone who plans out their novel with an outline before actually writing, whereas a pantser is someone who writes with seemingly no direction – they write by the seat of their pants.

Are you a plotter or a pantser ? Fiction authors tend to fall into one of two buckets when writing their books.

These are writers who basically only have a few vague elements about the story in mind when they start writing, but nothing else. They may have an ending or at least a climax in mind for where they’re headed.

One of the most famous pantsers is Stephen King. In interviews, Stephen King has said that he often has an idea of the beginning, the premise, and a vague idea how it’s all going to end – and that’s all he needs to start writing his first draft.

These are writers who need to know every major piece of their novel before they start writing. They have full, complete outlines that serve as a guide for their writing.

They will know who each and every one of their characters are, what their motivations are, the chapters needed for the book , chapter sections, and in some cases, even paragraphs. Probably the most famous plotter out there is James Patterson.

Knowing if you’re a plotter or pantser will dictate your entire writing process.

Clearly, it’s possible to be successful whether you’re a plotter or pantser. But here’s the harsh reality: whereas Stephen King and James Patterson sit on opposite extremes of the ‘Outline Spectrum’, most of us fall somewhere in between.

Either way, you’ll need some sort of structure for putting all the pieces of your novel together.

This is why we crated a fully functioning novel template you can use—that includes structure, tips for writing each section, along with front and back matter of the book for when you’re finished. Just fill out your info below and check your inbox!

How to Write a Novel: BOOK TEMPLATE hbspt.forms.create({ region: "na1", portalId: "4208601", formId: "5324d6c2-79f6-49a8-b132-e2feed4d05c4" });

#6 – Write the first page

We’d love to say the first page isn’t all that important when writing a novel, but we all know that’s not true. The first page is often what helps readers decide to buy or pass on a novel.

This is especially true when you publish on Amazon and have the “look inside” feature.

The Amazon “look inside” feature acts as the same thing as a person flipping open a book to the first page in a bookstore. That is your opportunity to snag readers.

However, many first-time novel writers get caught up in writing the first sentence, which isn’t as important as the first page in full. We’ve found that by building the first page in a way that causes a reader to at least flip to the next page, you can snag them.

Why is this?

Because when a reader feels the need to keep reading , they subconsciously see our book as a “page-turner” and will buy it.

The best way to construct your novel’s opening is by doing this:

Here’s an example of a book’s first page that showcases these elements: This first page works well because: we’ve established intrigue with the item Roian has found we’ve established sympathy by showcasing injury—in 2 ways we’ve started “in media res”, the everyday life of the main character we’re requiring the reader turn the page to actually learn more about the item, the “Robes”, and more we’ve created intrigue for the world by introducing 2 suns, which is out of the “ordinary”

#7 – The Setup when writing a novel

This is where you make your story promise and write an introduction that pulls readers in.

Here’s a solid resource for how to start a story if you need a few more tips.

You tell your reader what kind of story it will be – a comedy, drama, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi – and you give a few clues as to what they can expect. Whatever you said in these initial pages must be followed to the end of your story.

A stone-cold drama cannot turn into a slapstick comedy by the end of the story. That doesn’t mean a stone-cold drama can’t have humor in it, it just means that you can suddenly pivot and become an Adam Sandler movie.

Also, during the setup, we learn a little bit about:

We get a sense of where the story is heading.

One mistake made by first-time fiction authors is that they do not properly set up the story expectations and the reader goes in expecting one thing, only to get another.

Nothing annoys readers more, and so it is essential that during the setup phase of your novel, you set the expectations that you will meet during the book or you’ll lose those 5-star Amazon reviews that make such a difference.

The Setup of a novel example

In the Hunger Games , we meet Katniss. From her surroundings, it is obvious that she is poor, and as soon as she steps outside of her wooden shack we see hovering drones.

Within the first few pages of this book, we have learned three essential things:

#8 – The Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is the moment in your story when your hero’s life changes forever. It is the ‘no-going back’ moment, where nothing that happens afterwards will return your hero’s world back to normal.

Katniss volunteers, Neo takes the red pill, Dorothy lands in OZ … the aliens are here!

As soon as your inciting incident happens, your story should be full throttle towards the climax.

The most common mistake first-time authors make is that their inciting incident is reversible. That means that something could happen that would return the hero’s life back to normal.

No, no, no!

Your inciting incident should as final as the severing of a limb or a death of a loved one. Nothing should be able to reverse the effects of your inciting incident has on your hero.

Inciting Incident in a Novel Example :

Katniss volunteers! In the Hunger Games, the inciting incident is irreversible because – quite literally – soldiers grab Katniss, whisk her away from her world, and into the world of the games.

There is no escape.

And even if she could get away, she would be hunted by the Capital for the rest of her life. With those two simple words, “I volunteer!” her life has changed forever.

Note : There is an exception to this rule when it comes to romances.

With romances, the inciting incident is almost always when the two lovebirds meet. (Not always, but for the vast majority of romances, this is the case.) With romances, try to create an inciting incident that simultaneously shows how perfect these two people are for each other while setting up the numerous reasons why they can’t be together.

#9 – The First Slap

Now, we are away to the races for writing a novel!

Over the next few chapters, your character should be making a series of gains and losses, where the aggregate result is that their situation is slightly better than what it was at the moment of the inciting incident.

The reason why we need this upward trajectory is because we are setting up the reader for the first slap.

The first slap is the moment when everything that our hero has gained is lost in fell swoop. Your hero is brought down to zero. In other words, all gains are lost, and your hero’s situation has never been bleaker.

Character Development 2

The greater the fall, the more engaged your reader will be.

First Slap Example:

In the Hunger Games , Katniss’s world is brought down to zero when she actually enters the Games.

Between the inciting incident on the first slap, Katniss has made several gains, garnering the attention of the Capital and making some friends along the way. But none of that matters the moment she enters the Games – and what a moment it is.

#10 -The Second Slap

Your hero has rose to the challenge! They have successfully thwarted the big evil that has been thrusted upon them by the first slap and she is doing well.

…Now it is time to bring her back to 0 again.

The second slap should be as harsh, if not harsher, than the first slap. This is the moment when the reader should be looking at your book and thinking, “Wow, this author is mean. Diabolical villain mean!”

In the second slap we are setting up for the climax, which means that the hero needs to have an out. In other words, there should be some semblance of hope.

Second Slap Example:

In the Hunger Games , the second slap is when the Game Masters announce that two tributes can survive the Games should they both be from the same district.

Katniss goes looking for Peeta, only to find him mortally wounded – he is bleeding to death and won’t survive the next few hours, let alone the rest of the Games. We know enough about Katniss to realize that Peeta dying is the worst thing that could happen to her (besides her own death).

But there is hope!

An announcement is made that there is something at the cornucopia that the Tributes need, and Katniss just knows that there is medicine there for Peeta.

#11 – The Climax

The rollercoaster that you’ve put your reader on is almost over.

The reader has gone from an engaging setup where they get to learn about your characters and world to the inciting incident where everything is turned on its head.

Then they are subjected to the first and second slaps where you embrace your inner sadomasochist in order to punish your hero and give the readers the thrills they so richly deserve.

Now it is time to wrap it all up with the climax.

There is only one rule to the climax. A rule that must be adhered to, no matter what genre you are writing in:

Make it amazing! The climax should be the moment where your reader puts down the book and goes, “Holy S&*%! That was awesome!”

Novel Climax Example:

The climax in the Hunger Games is the final confrontation between Katniss and the remaining Tributes, as well as the monsters that the Game Masters send after her. It is wrought with danger and excitement.

But what makes the climax truly kickass is the poisonous berries at the end.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, pick up a copy of Hunger Games today and read it ! You’ll immediately get why this scene is so amazing.

There you have it: writing a novel is made much easier with your 5 key milestones. This method is particularly effective for first-time authors who are still finding their writing feet (or should I say typing fingers) and is an awesome resource that experienced writers can rely on time and again when planning their stories.

Now that you know the 5 key milestones of a gripping novel readers will love, let’s consider some of the common questions people have.

How do you plan a novel?

Planning a novel involves coming up with your plot, character development, knowing your audience, and outlining your book.

If you want to have a solid fill-in-the-blank template, we have a book outline template generator available above for you!

What should I write a novel about?

You should write a novel about any idea or theme that excites or inspires you. 

If you’re stuck for inspiration, consider using a writing prompt to give you an initial story seed your full novel can eventually bloom from. 

Many writers take inspiration for their novel from their own lives. Is there an event you’ve lived through that makes for a compelling story? How about a memorable person you’ve known that you could fictionalize?

You can also take an emotional truth you’ve experienced and apply it to a different context. Even if the situation of your novel differs from your life, the emotional authenticity will shine through. 

You can also let your imagination run riot and see where it takes you. Picture an entirely different world from ours. Go crazy brainstorming ‘what if x happened to y person’ scenarios.

How many words should be in a novel?

The exact number of words that make up a novel varies greatly depending on the genre and personal taste, however, a book is considered a novel if it has more than 50,000 words.

But that doesn’t mean your book will be that long. You have to learn how many words are in your novel .

Below is a table detailing how many words make up a novel in each respective genre, as some are typically longer than others.

Keep in mind that these are a baseline. You want to make sure your novel is in the ballpark word count for your genre and target audience but just remember that you can easily go over or under depending on how well the story is crafted…

…and if it covers our 5 key milestones – it will be crafted  well .

How do I get started writing a novel?

Getting started with novel writing depends entirely on you and your situation.

If you already have an idea in mind, you can start by outlining your plot , or jumping straight in if you’re more of the pantser school of thought.

If you don’t have an idea, you could aim to come up with as many as possible using some of the techniques you’ve read here. Coming up with a large number of novel ideas gives you a good chance of finding something you love and want to pursue further.

You can also consider setting out a project plan for your novel. How many writing sessions will you need? When will you schedule them for?

No matter how you go about starting your novel, the important thing is to build momentum and a sense of excitement to propel you forward. 

How do I choose a point of view when writing a novel?

It can be tricky to know which point of view to choose when writing a novel, especially if it’s your first time. 

The most common choices are first-person and third-person. 

Most published novels are written in the third person. You can read about the different points of view here and decide which is the best fit for the novel you want to write. 

Should I edit my novel as I write?

It’s often a bad idea to edit your novel as you write. Doing so results in a loss of momentum and flow that inhibits your progress towards a complete first draft. 

If you self-edit on the fly, you often end up second-guessing yourself and losing that delicious sensation of being swept away by the story. 

Are there books on how to write a novel?

Yes, there are a large number of books on novel writing. 

Some of the best out there include: 

Are you ready to start your novel writing adventure?

The 5 Key Milestones combined with a spot-on Premise and A-Story will tell you where your story starts, where it is headed and how it will end.

In other words, if you do the novel writing exercises above, you should have everything you need to get your novel to the finish line.

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Ready to work on that novel you’ve been thinking about since you were young? Or to finally commit to journaling every day? Microsoft has the writing templates you need to succeed at whatever project you’re passionate about. You’ll find both fiction and non-fiction templates for writing a book that help you plan and structure your stories. These templates for writing a book are editor-ready, so you can get your words out to the world. If film is your medium, get formatting help with scriptwriting templates. Using professional templates for screenplay ideas are essential for helping you break into the business. Refer to scriptwriting templates for tips on setting the scene, describing the action, and more. There are lots of writing templates for personal use, too. Look for journal templates for travel, fitness tracking, meal planning, personal growth and more. You’ll find goal logging and tracking is a lot easier when you use journal templates. You can even add your own colors and style to make them your own. Microsoft writing templates have you covered, whether your dream is to be published, premiered, or just more organized.

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How to Outline a Novel in 7 Steps [+Free Template]

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Have you ever wondered why writers scribble on blank sheets but then burn those innocent pieces of paper just because they can’t seem to capture the story in their mind perfectly?

Perhaps it’s because they don’t know how to outline a novel. Some writers cringe at the mention of such extensive planning, but outlining a novel is an important step.

If you are struggling with the idea, it can be helpful to start with a novel outline template. These are pre-made outlines that only need your story’s specific information plugged in. They can be far less intimidating than starting from scratch.

Outlining a novel is a part of knowing how to write a novel or how to write a book.

Jumping directly into writing without taking the necessary steps will do nothing but slow down your progress and leave you frustrated. It may even stop you from putting that story together.

It is true that many writers won’t put emphasis on how to outline a novel. But, the importance of detailing the outline for your novel is enormous. In fact, it should be the first step after idea generation.

According to Zadie Smith , there are two types of novelists: Macro planners and micromanagers. You need to ask yourself what type of novelist you want to be:

One who plans at a micro level or one who doesn’t care about planning or outlining a novel at all.

Missing the benefits outlining a novel comes with is not something you want for your story. This is why you may want to consider using a story outline template and learning how to outline a novel before you jump into any large writing projects.

By merely looking at bestsellers, one begins to think – “What went into the preparation?” “How did the author pull this off?”

The answers to those questions vary, but they tend to have one thing in common, and that is the efficient use of novel outlines.

Follow these steps to create a complete and useful outline:

1. Outlining a Novel (Why It’s Important)

A novel outline is a structure that helps you articulate ideas around the central theme of your story.

Here is an example of what the start of a novel outline looks like:

novel outline template

Think of something like this as a novel outline template, chapter by chapter. It summarizes your story, by significant events that will eventually make up chapters. Your story outline template is essentially the first draft you will prepare.

I can’t stress the importance of outlining a novel enough.

There may come times when you hit rock bottom and run out of ideas for your book . It could even be the almighty writer’s block .

If you know how to outline a novel, it will serve as an inspiring force to keep these situations in check. If you need a little extra help, consider using a novel writing template:

general fiction template

This template, offered by Squibler, will help you get a novel started from scratch.

A Novel Outline Template Saves You Time

When you have a structure on the ground, it will be easy to look back. You can reference a particular chapter, develop better ideas, and increase the pace of your writing.

It is always frustrating to begin writing even when you do know how to write a novel . Sometimes, you feel lost – as though the story wasn’t right to begin with.

The outline should be your companion, your go-to map to direct the storyline. Without knowing how to outline a novel, you won’t have anything to fall back on. In the end, if inspiration is lost, you might give up entirely.

This is another reason a novel outline template is a helpful place to start. With a good template, outlining a novel becomes much easier.

Squibler offers a novel outline template for many different purposes – from a basic novel outline to specific genres.

Even once you know the structure of a novel, each genre has different tropes, guidelines, and “rules” that make it work.

For example – the “happily ever after” is a staple of a true romance. Dramatic plot twists are what make a thriller thrilling. A crime drama or mystery usually isn’t complete without at least one murder.

Following these genre rules doesn’t make your novel unoriginal. It makes it interesting, effective, and ultimately, successful.

Squibler’s novel outline templates will take you through the required elements of each genre and help you craft the perfect story.

This will save you copious amounts of time as you won’t be drowning in plot holes and rewriting everything just to make it work.

Outlining a Novel Gives You Direction

When you write a novel with an outline in place, you know where you are headed. Without it, much of your writing will be random and unplanned. At some point, uncertainties will throw you off the path.

Your outline should be your map and your compass to navigate through the sophisticated process.

A Novel Outline Template Feeds Creativity

Some writers argue that having a fixed story outline template that guides your writing will stifle your creativity.

This is not true.

When there is an outline for your book, you know where to go if you are lost in character development or the milieu. A glance at your outline will remind you where you’re going. Staying on track will help the novel ideas flow.

The outline helps you gather your thoughts and creativity and make productive use of them. So, don’t settle for the school of thought that suggests knowing how to outline a novel is unnecessary.

2. Which Novel Outline Should You Use?

In writing novels, there is no right or wrong method. The same thing applies to the novel outline.

There are different ways of planning your story. In the end, though, you want to be able to take your novel outline template chapter by chapter.

Scenes need to flow easily into each other and create logical, deliberate chapters. Regardless of exactly how you do it, each chapter should be covered.

If you have become frustrated with outlining a novel in the past, it could be because you didn’t take time to find which type of outline best fits your writing style.

Below are the types of novel outlines you can use. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing fiction or nonfiction . Learning how to write an outline for a book is valuable and necessary.

A seasoned writer should know what this means, but how about first-time novelists ?

A synopsis is a brief overview of a story.

It contains holistic and detailed information about the story’s plot, major themes, characters, settings, and other elements of fictional writing.

Not sure how to create a synopsis for your novel? This guide on how to write a one-page synopsis by Amanda Patterson is sure to help you.

how to write a one-page synopsis

A typical synopsis summarizes the story in not more than three pages of a document.

Character Development

Any story centered on the role of one or two main characters requires a character-led novel outline.

Emphasis will be placed on the development of such characters and other character-centric elements like a character arc.

Here is an example of a character development template that you can use to get started.

Visual Outline

Every story is first conceived in the mind before it is brought on paper.

You can explore your mind, tap into your creative flair and start to plan. You will be able to see the rises and falls, highs and lows, and every other thing you will need to tell the story.

Create a linking relationship between the characters, plot, setting, structure, themes, and conflicts. This will make the story cohesive and understandable.

Here is an example of what a visual outline for your novel could look like:

visual outline for novel example

Here we see the inciting incident, some rising action, and major conflict. This is, of course, a very basic example. The point is, you need to convert your mind into a map and explore its rich terrains.

You own the fictional world your characters are set in. Take what you see in your mind and replicate it on paper, even if you’re not an artist. This will help you see the story play out.

The Beat Sheet

Beat sheets are interesting structure templates to personalize novel outlines.

With a beat sheet, most likely in Excel format, you represent major plot items by point and detail them.

For example, after determining the structure your book is going to take , the next step will be to highlight the major plots and themes.

This is what a beat sheet looks like:

beat sheet outline example

This is a useful, straightforward novel outline template that will help you create the perfect outline. Fill in the sections and answer the questions with your novel in mind, and everything will start coming together.

Next, you can begin to elaborate on each of the plot points one by one. Once you get some information down, scenes and chapters will start forming naturally.

Beat sheets are like thought holders. They hold ideas in concise lines and unleash creative thinking when you go back to them.

The Skeleton

As the name implies, this is a rigid but naked framework. All it comprises are major plot points.

Think of an outline as a human with mere bones. The shape is there, but there aren’t any notable or significant features. Here is an example :

skeleton outline example

When the book is eventually completed, it assumes that fuller, more attractive fleshy form.

The skeleton constitutes the pillar of your novel. It is like a road map with the major cities marked in large letters for easy navigation.

What does this mean?

With this outline, you navigate your thoughts, explore your fictional world, and bring that story together perfectly.

3. Benefits of Using a Book Outline Template

Despite your writing style and whether or not you’re an author who typically relies on a book outline template, it’s probably safe to say there are times you might wish you had one. Maybe.

I should note there are a few definitive cases for having at least a loose outline of your book. Even those who hate to outline will agree to this.

Keeps Your Plot Fresh in Mind

There are times you start a book and for some reason, you put it aside. Maybe you have another story burning to be told. Maybe you had to deal with sickness – your own or a loved ones.

Assuming you don’t have total recall, after months—or perhaps years—do you remember your story? It’s plot and all its details? Or have you completely lost its thread? If you have an outline, it doesn’t matter what you’ve forgotten.

It Can Aid in Writing a Synopsis

Perhaps you’re intent on having your books traditionally published. If so, agents and publishers will often request a synopsis of your book.

Imagine this. The publisher you’re interested in requires a query letter, three chapters, and a synopsis. I know several authors, myself included at times, who would only have those first three chapters written.

Back when I started writing—this hasn’t changed, by the way—you could wait for months to hear back from a given publisher and depending on how quickly you wrote that was plenty of time to finish the book. Or at least motivate you to write faster . But you had to write your synopsis first.

That’s much easier to do if you have a detailed outline in place already.

It Can Help You Ease Into Writing in a New Genre

Templates and outlines might be especially useful to writers new to a genre. Some genres have very specific structures and arcs that need to be developed and followed. For example, if you’re thinking about writing a romance novel you need to meet reader expectations. An outline could help you meet them.

Let’s recap some reasons why templates or outlines may be good for some:

Outlining a Novel is a Process

A good novel outline template will be flexible enough for you to hop in at any stage and flow with ease. It should be a ladder with rungs that help you climb higher as you write more – not something that confines you to one rigid path.

A poor outline or no outline at all, just like a ladder with faulty rungs, will only make you collapse. Even if you have mastered how to write a novel, you will struggle without an outline.

We have analyzed the benefits of a novel outline. And we have discussed the various types of outlines.

Now, the question remains – “How does one begin outlining?” “Where do I start?”

These questions do have answers, though they will vary for every writer . Learning how to write an outline for a book is a different process for everyone.

4. Get the Stage Set

Just like in any field, poor planning will result in shaky structures that will later on collapse.

If you don’t set the stage well for your characters to exist and your setting to be logical, the story won’t make sense.

A lot of time should be devoted to brainstorming.

Do you have a central idea?

Are there related and underlying themes that you need to capture in the story ?

Consider these and craft a perfect environment for them to thrive.

Another name for the central idea of your novel is ‘premise.’ It is the most basic component of your work. Without it, things will become messy.

Imagine you have learned everything on how to write a book , have finished writing that dream novel, and it is time to publish . When you take it to an editor, and they ask what your story is about, what summary will you give them?

What you respond with is the premise –the central idea of your novel.

If you can’t answer this question, you need to sit back and review the themes of your story. The answer to that question should also contain the reason for telling that story and writing that book in the way you did.

5. Develop Your Characters

The characters always make or mar a book.

How they are presented to the readers, and how their actions progress, are of concern to the literary world.

People tend to have an emotional attachment to the characters in a book.

For you to come out with a great novel , perhaps a bestseller, you need to build your characters well . Know who they are, their attributes and features. How they function as individuals and how they view the world.

Since they are imaginary, although not totally (more on this soon), their wills are just in your fingertips, one snap and they obey. Create unique personas that are relatable, mysterious, and awesome.

Characters From Real Life

Now about characters not being entirely imaginary – most characters are built from the people we come in contact with.

That old pa in a train station, sinking into an armchair. The redhead in a movie theater with an obsession for pasta.

Characters can be sourced from many places.

No doubt, they could also be solely the product of your imagination. This does happen, especially in the fantasy genre .

If you don’t know how to go about creating your characters, do some research. Just like when you don’t know how to write a book , you do research and learn all about it.

Take on a couple of character development tests and build a unique cast for your book. After creating them, test to see if they can survive in the stage you have set.

Will their attributes allow them to function?

Will there be difficulties or flaws in their dealings?

You call the shots!

6. Create a Structure

Now you have some of your elements ready – specifically the characters and plots.

Next, you need to give your book a structure .

There are different structures that you can choose from.

It could be the three-act structure where your book is partitioned into three acts. This will have each ending and flowing into the next to later end in a resolution of the major conflicts.

three-act structure for book

If you need a headstart, check out  this post  on how to structure a novel.

The structure will give you a clear picture of your story’s beginning, middle, and end.

This helps in summarizing the story and gives you coherence in writing; a structure helps you stay on track. There won’t be a need for unnecessary deviations that you’ll just end up removing later.

Even when new ideas come, your outline will help to articulate them and broaden the storyline. It will make them productive parts of the plot, rather than random additives.

7. Organize the Scenes

After mapping out the path that your story will trend, visually and in other formats, you should begin to break down the story into acts, sequences, and eventually chapters.

When you do this, you understand the progressive pace, and you are guided against jumping scenes and creating messy loopholes.

Scenes build on your central idea.

Therefore, before creating and organizing scenes, think of how they will fit into your narration.

No reader should sense a forced organization in your book like the chapters are barely clinging to each other with no fluid transition between each one.

You can create suspense.

How do you do this?

Jot different scenes in the normal, logical order of their occurrence. Then, try to reshuffle them without the story losing its distinctive beat and meaning.

Go Over the Final Version

Once you finish with the previous steps, you will need to check the outline for leaky scenes –places that need better illustrations.

Highlight and review the outline. Be critical. Don’t be afraid to make changes and move things around.

You don’t have to get it right all at once; it’s acceptable to make mistakes. There is no right or wrong approach. Do what works for you and your story. Just remember – don’t neglect the importance of learning how to outline a novel properly.

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