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Blog • Perfecting your Craft

Last updated on Dec 06, 2023

How to Outline a Novel in 9 Easy Steps

This post is written by author and editor Kirsten Bakis . She’s an award-winning novelist with 25 years experience as a writing coach, developmental editor, and teacher.

Here’s the most important thing about novel outlines: If you write one, it will change before your last draft is done — probably a lot. This is because, whether you think of yourself as a plotter, pantser, or neither, your book is going to evolve as you write it. And that’s a good thing. 

There are things you can’t know until you’ve drafted your novel — and you’ll learn even more when you revise. To quote George Saunders, “An artist works outside the realm of strict logic.” A book has to change and grow as you move through the process of creation.

Most of all, as you create your outline, don’t worry about things like whether your ideas are “good enough” to write about. This will get you stuck before you start. Award-winning author Nicholson Baker’s novel The Mezzanine is literally about a man going out to buy shoelaces on his office lunch break. If that plot can work, yours can too. 

You’re going to find out a lot more about your ideas as you write. So don’t judge them, or yourself, at this stage. Many working writers I know actually prefer to outline after they have a draft, and it will be just as useful — or even more so.

So what’s a pre-drafting outline actually for? To get you started and give you a structure to hang your words on. In this post, I’ll share the key steps I've found most useful for outlining novels before writing the first draft.

How to outline a novel:

1. Choose your main character

2. give your main character a big problem, 3. find a catalyst that sparks action, 4. set obstacles on their path, 5. define their biggest ordeal, 6. figure out a resolution, 7. pinpoint the character’s arc, 8. connect the end to the start of the story, 9. put your outline together  .

💡 Writing nonfiction? Follow these 3 steps to outline a nonfiction book instead.

wy8XPuPiC74 Video Thumb

At the heart of almost every story is a main character who goes on a journey from Point A to Point B. This journey can be emotional, physical, or both. Your protagonist might travel to new lands; learn, change and grow as a person; or do all of those things.

For this first outline, choose one main character. Remember, this can always change later. You can even add multiple main characters, each with their own journey, after you’re done with this. But right now, start with one. 

📝 To Do : Write down your main character’s name. If you struggle to find one, take this character's name generator for a spin. If you have lots of characters in mind and don’t know which one should be the protagonist, don’t freak out! Just choose one for now and go through this ten-minute outlining exercise to see what you get.

For this pre-draft outline, you just need their name. But to further develop your characters and keep track of their unique traits, download and print the free character profile template below.



Reedsy’s Character Profile Template

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

You might already know a million problems your main character will face, or you might be coming up with all of this from scratch. Either way is fine! For this outline, choose one Big Problem. Or, if you prefer, choose a Big Goal. 

These are two sides of the same coin: Their Big Problem is that they need to reach their Big Goal — and there are obstacles in the way. (Of course there are obstacles, because that’s your story! More on that below.)

Take Daniel Woodrell’s novel Winter’s Bone . The protagonist, Ree, learns that if her dad doesn’t show up for his court date, her family will lose their home.  

Problem : Her family could lose the house. 

Goal : Save their home by getting her father to show up in court.

Ree and her siblings in Winter's Bone

Ideally, your problem should have stakes that are high for the main character. For example, Ree’s family is so poor that their house is basically all they have. If they lose it, they lose everything.

On the other hand, maybe your main character’s problem is smaller — maybe they can’t comfortably wear their shoes until they have new shoelaces. That can work, too. The most important thing is that it matters to the character .

📝 To Do : Write down your main character’s main problem. Don’t get hung up on whether you’ve chosen the best one. Choose one and go. You can change this later. You can even give them a random problem to get yourself started. 

In most stories, there is usually a catalyst (or inciting incident ) which sparks a series of actions. To find yours, answer this question: When does your character first realize they have this Big Problem (or Big Goal)? Does someone visit them and tell them they’re going to lose their house? Does their shoelace break? 

📝 To Do : Describe this moment in one sentence. You can try Pixar writer Emma Coats’s formula: “Once upon a time there was _____. Every day _____. One day_____.” Your catalyst is the “one day” event — the occurrence that launches the story.

What’s the first action your character takes to move forward after the Catalyst? In Winter’s Bone , the deputy tells Bree she needs to find her dad or lose her house in Chapter Three — that’s the catalyst. In Chapter Five, she sets out on the first leg of her journey, to visit the uncle who might know his whereabouts — that’s her first action.

Still of Ree in action in Winter's Bone

The Mezzanine is actually told slightly out of chronological order (a discussion for another post!) but we still see the same catalyst/action progression: At the start of Chapter Two, the narrator discovers his shoelace is broken; a few pages later he attempts to solve his problem by tying its two halves together.

Remember that your character’s first action won’t solve the Big Problem — otherwise the story would be over. It may be an attempt that will fail, or an action that will cause the next step to be revealed. 

📝 To Do : Write one sentence to describe this action. We often like characters who are trying their best to get what they want. Having a protagonist who is active and determined — even if they make mistakes! — is a good way to keep readers engaged.



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Golden Age Hollywood director Billy Wilder famously described plot as: “Get your character up a tree. Throw rocks at them. Get them down.”

In Winter’s Bone , Ree’s family will lose her house if her dad doesn’t make his court date — that’s the tree she’s up. But she hasn’t seen him for ages, and no one knows — or maybe, no one wants to say — where he is. And: The more people she asks, the more she gets told to leave it alone and not try to find him — or else. These are the rocks that get thrown at her — the obstacles she faces on her journey.

Ree’s father, played by John Hawkes in Winter's Bone

📝 To Do : Write down three to five “rocks” for your main character. Bonus: Make them go from bad, to worse, to even worse. Don’t worry if you don’t immediately know what these should be. Make some up! Writing is truly just making stuff up, then changing it when you revise. Might as well start now. 

This is a key plot point in almost every story. It’s the moment when things look dark and hopeless. Your narrator has a goal, and there’s at least one scene where it appears there is absolutely no way they can ever, ever reach it. In the 12 stages of The Hero’s Journey , this is the one called The Ordeal. In film, this stage is often referred to as the “All is Lost” moment.

Think back to the last book you read. Was there at least one point, somewhere in the second half, where the main character seemed about to give up? It could have been a life-or-death situation; or it could have been a scene where they just felt discouraged and like they weren’t going to solve their problem/reach their goal. 

If your character is up a tree having rocks thrown at them, this plot point is the biggest rock of all.

📝 To Do : In one sentence, what is the “all is lost” moment in your story. You know the drill by now! Don’t overthink this — just throw down one idea, any idea, even if it’s a terrible one. This will give you something to revise later. I cannot overstate the mystical, magical power of giving yourself something to revise, no matter what it is. 


Hero's Journey Template

Plot your character's journey with our step-by-step template.

How is your character going to get out of this situation? This is one of those questions you might not really answer until you’ve written your draft, but come up with something to start with. 

Here’s a trick: Make a quick list of your character’s wants vs needs . Often after “All is Lost,” is the moment the character realizes they truly won’t get what they want — but that they will get what they need instead. In The Wizard of Oz , this is the moment Dorothy realizes the Wizard won’t get her back home, after she’s worked so hard — but she’s had the power to do it all along with the ruby slippers, she just didn’t know it.

Bestselling author Caroline Leavitt discusses wants vs needs during a Reedsy Live . Leavitt uses the example of Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby thinking that if he can just have money and get into Gatsby’s world, he’ll find happiness. The “All is Lost” moment is when Gatsby is murdered. By the end, Nick realizes that world is actually empty — and he walks away. He’s found his solution, but it isn’t what he thought it was going to be at the start of the story.

Nick in The great gatsby, looking disillusioned

So when you think of how your character will get out of their darkest moment, ask them if there’s something they need to understand about themselves — understanding it might be their way out. 

📝 To Do : Write one to three sentences about how your character gets out of the “All is Lost Moment” and begins to solve their problem. This could be one of your hardest plot points to figure out ahead of time, so again, no pressuring yourself to make it perfect. You can even leave this blank if you need to for now.

The character’s arc refers to the transformation of the protagonist from the start to the end of the story. It highlights the evolution of the character as a result of the challenges and experiences they face. Identifying and outlining this arc is a crucial aspect of developing your story.

Here’s a simple, incredibly useful exercise from Rachael Herron’s Fast-Draft Your Memoir that also works for novels. 

📝 To Do : In your main character’s voice, fill in these blanks: 

I started out _______.

I ended up _______. 

Bonus: Do that three more times — quickly. This will give you more information about your character’s journey. Be specific. If they started out sad and they ended up happy, what made that difference? A new job, a new love, a new sense of self-acceptance?  

Tana French’s literary thriller In the Woods begins and ends with a description of the main character experiencing the same patch of woods — first in a seemingly perfect summer when he's a kid; then twenty years later, when he’s grown up. You could see these parallel first and last scenes as “bookends.”

The narrator's situation in the last scene is very different from the first, in every way, from his age, to the landscape’s appearance, to the weather, to his mood and actions. These physical changes reflect the journey he went on over the course of the book. 

Screengrab from Boyhood, same character as a kid and teenager laying together on the grass

You don’t have to set your first and last scenes in the same location, but this is a great thought exercise to show yourself how much the main character changes, and how. Or, instead of using a location, try an object — say, a doll that the narrator plays with as a child on page one, that we see on the shelf in their own kid’s room on the last page. 

📝 To Do : Make it visual. Look at your fill-in-the-blanks exercise and quickly describe two bookend scenes that would show your character’s transformation. You don’t have to use these exact images in your novel. This is to give you a visual A-to-B journey to track as you write. But you’ll find they’ll help you create a strong beginning and ending.

Congratulations: You just created nine key plot points for your novel! Take a minute to celebrate. 

The final step is to create your outline. I love to do this with sticky notes which can then be arranged (and rearranged) on a wall, table, or trifold board. You could also use index cards or just type your notes into a document. It’s key to keep your scene descriptions short, though — one reason why sticky notes or cards are helpful. 

📝 To Do : Get your pack of sticky notes, and quickly jot down one sentence to describe each of these key plot points:

  • Opening : You can use the first “bookend” you just created.
  • Catalyst : Put your Catalyst moment here.
  • Action : Put your character’s first action towards their Big Goal here. 
  • Rocks 1 through 3 : The scenes where your character encounters the obstacles or “rocks” you described above. This step should create three separate scenes.
  • The Big Rock : This is the all-is-lost scene you came up with above.
  • Resolution : The Solution you came up with above. 
  • Last scene : For this, use the closing bookend scene you created.

You now have a map of nine key scenes. Choose a spot that works for you — like a section of wall near where you write, a bulletin board, or a table — and arrange them in order. Behold your novel outline! You did it! 

💡 You can easily create these nine steps in Reedsy's writing app , where you can also write and format your manuscript. 

Screengrab of the Reedsy's writing app outlining feature


The Reedsy Book Editor

Use the Boards feature to plan, organize, or research anything.

You can add other scenes later if you choose, such as act breaks, depending on which story structure model you’d like to use — but you don’t need to. You can start your draft right now using these plot points as guideposts. 

The most important thing is to remember that when you start writing, your story will change. You may find your initial outline ideas don’t quite fit, and that’s okay — it’s a good thing. It means you’re on the unpredictable, creative journey of writing a novel. Remember what George Saunders said about working outside the realm of logic.

When you’re done with your draft, sit down with this template and do the exercises again, using what you’ve written, and you’ll be amazed at how your understanding of the plot points — and your story as a whole — has evolved and grown. Now go write that draft! 

Photo of author and editor Kirsten Bakis

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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How to Plot and Write a Novel With 12 Free Templates & Worksheets

Writing your first novel can be daunting. That's where these free novel-writing templates and worksheets can prove handy.

Writing your first novel can be more daunting in life than actually putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard. The untouched page is a frank sign of how much work there is to do.

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott explains the writer's dilemma:

You are desperate to communicate, to edify and entertain...to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.

Yet getting started is easier once you've done some initial prep work on your story; its structure, characters, and how on earth you're going to get this thing out of your head.

That's where these free novel-writing templates and worksheets prove handy.

1. Story Premise Worksheet

Evernote Story Premise Worksheet

This worksheet from Evernote is a simple way to outline the main characters, plot themes, events, and conflicts within your story. By teasing them out of your mind and onto a worksheet like this, you'll be able to plot the broad story arc.

Remember to keep your descriptions specific and concise. This isn't meant to be an entire plot description.

If you're an Evernote fan, there are plenty of other Evernote templates you can use . But if you don't use Evernote, this worksheet can easily be replicated in other programs, or on a sheet of paper.

2. Character Basic Info Worksheet

Basic Character Info Novel Writing Worksheet

This straightforward worksheet from The Novel Factory helps you to pad out your main characters. You'll find yourself adding to, and referring back to this info, time and again as your character develops.

If you want to flesh out your characters in more detail, you could download the accompanying Character Development Worksheet and Character Voice Worksheet .

3. The One Page Novel Plot Spreadsheet

writing a novel template

If you're looking for a more linear approach to plan your novel, this spreadsheet from EA Deverell is especially useful. This customizable resource allows you to break down and describe each of your scenes so that you have a concrete plot before you start writing.

To start using this spreadsheet, open it up, click File then Make a Copy.

4. Freytag Novel Planning Worksheet

Freytag Model Plot Outline

The Freytag method of planning out your novel sits somewhere between vague and extremely detailed. If that sounds like the approach you'd like to take, complete this worksheet from Duolit .

The model covers all essentials, without going overboard on planning. From the introduction of characters, through to rising action, and to the final resolution of your story.

5. Setting Worksheet

Novel Setting Wor

This PDF from The Writers Craft will help you to flesh out important scenes before writing them out in your first draft.

With this worksheet, you'll paint a detailed picture of an individual scene from your main character's viewpoints. You'll explore the sights, sounds, and smells of the situation to develop a vivid idea of what it is that you need to portray.

6. At a Glance Outline

At a Glance Novel

Writer's Digest has a number of useful writing worksheets aimed at helping writers pen the first draft in 30 days. One of the most useful of these templates is the At-a-Glance Outline. This worksheet helps you to fill in any gaps and plot holes in your story before you come across them in the middle of your draft.

Working your way through this worksheet may be difficult at first, but when it comes to writing your novel, it'll make things a whole lot easier.

7. Choose Your Perspective Flowchart

Choose your perspective flowchart

This simple flowchart from Duolit will help you to figure out what perspective and tense you'll be writing in. This is an often overlooked part of writing a novel, so having this pinned down early on will give you a good advantage.

8. Chapter and Scene Breakdown

Chapter and Scene Breakdown Template

Another template from Evernote, this chapter and scene breakdown can easily be replicated in whichever program you prefer to use. Once you've planned out your novel in more detail, quickly creating a breakdown like this is useful for easy reference.

This will save you time searching through your notes when you're in the writing "flow".

9. Climax Sketch

Climax Novel Sketch

Another great worksheet from Writer's Digest is their Climax Sketch PDF. This is where you will plan out the climax of your novel, "the point where the protagonist faces the conflict directly, with his goal on the line".

It's important you get this part of your story right, so spend some time on this to make it compelling.

10. Infographic: 10 Ways to End Your Novel

10 Ways to End Your Novel

Technically, it's not a template or a worksheet, but given that figuring out how to end your novel will be one of the biggest challenges you face, this infographic is extremely valuable.

By knowing about the different ways in which you can draw your story to a close, you may well be able to improve your writing  and introduce more interesting plot twists and character development than you might have otherwise.

11. Scrivener Story Structure Template

Scrivener Story Planning Template

There are plenty of programs for creative writers , but Scrivener is arguably one of the best. Case in point: this seriously detailed Scrivener template for outlining and structuring your novel covers everything you could imagine.

From character arcs, premises, abbreviated outlines, and character details, to props, areas for worldbuilding, planning out a series, and more.

If you're using Scrivener (30-day free trial available) to write your novel, this free template is certainly worth checking out.

Other Scrivener templates you might want to try are:

  • The NaNoWriMo Novel Writing Template
  • The Seven-Point Story Structure Template
  • Ray Daniel Novel Template

12. Microsoft Word Novel Templates

MS Word Novel Templates

These five free Microsoft Word book templates from DIY Book Formats (email registration required) are of high quality. And what's more, they'll save you tons of time wrestling with document formatting when you could be writing.

Each template includes paragraph and header styling, a cover page, footers, and page numbers, and comes in PDF, DOC, DOCX, and INDD (InDesign) filetypes.

For Google Docs Users: The DOC and DOCX files included in this collection can also be uploaded and used on Google Docs . You may have to slightly tweak line spacing, etc. but most of the formatting is retained.

Start Writing

By the time you've worked through a few of the worksheets included in this article, you'll be in a much better position to finally put pen to paper and become the writer you always wanted to be.

And who knows? After a few rounds of edits, you may even be ready to finally publish your ebook , and get your story printed so you can enjoy the pride that comes with having a physical copy of your work in hand.

The Write Practice

How to Write a Novel (Without Fail): The Ultimate 20-Step Guide

by Joe Bunting | 0 comments

What if you could learn how to write a novel without fail? What if you had a process so foolproof, you knew you would finish no matter what writer's block throws at you? The zombie apocalypse could finally strike and you’d still face the blank page to finish your novel.

How To Write a Novel Without Fear of Failure: The Complete 20-Step Guide

Every day I talk to writers who don’t know how to write a novel. They worry they don’t have what it takes, and honestly, they’re right to worry.

Writing a novel, especially for the first time, is hard work, and the desk drawers and hard drives of many a great writer are filled with the skeletons of incomplete and failed books.

The good news is you don't have to be one of those failed writers.

You can be a writer that writes to the end.

You can be the kind of writer who masters how to write a novel.

Table of Contents

Looking for something specific? Jump straight to it here:

1. Get a great idea 2. Write your idea as a premise 3. Set a deadline 4. Set smaller deadlines building to the final deadline 5. Create a consequence 6. Strive for “good enough” and embrace imperfection 7. Figure out what kind of story you’re trying to tell 8. Read novels and watch films that are similar to yours 9. Structure, structure, structure! 10. Find the climactic moment in your novel 11. Consider the conventions 12. Set your intention 13. Picture your reader 14. Build your team 15. Plan the publishing process 16. Write (with low expectations) 17. Trust the process and don’t quit 118. Keep going, even when it hurts 19. Finish Draft One . . . then onward to the next 20. Draft 2, 3, 4, 5 Writers’ Best Tips on How to Write a Novel FAQ

My Journey to Learn How to Write a Novel

My name is Joe Bunting .

I used to worry I would never write a novel. Growing up, I dreamed about becoming a great novelist, writing books like the ones I loved to read. I had even tried writing novels, but I failed again and again.

So I decided to study creative writing in college. I wrote poems and short stories. I read books on writing. I earned an expensive degree.

But still, I didn’t know how to write a novel.

After college I started blogging, which led to a few gigs at a local newspaper and then a national magazine. I got a chance to ghostwrite a nonfiction book (and get paid for it!). I became a full-time, professional writer.

But even after writing a few books, I worried I didn’t have what it takes to write a novel. Novels just seemed different, harder somehow. No writing advice seemed to make it less daunting. 

Maybe it was because they were so precious to me, but while writing a nonfiction book no longer intimidated me—writing a novel terrified me.

Write a novel? I didn’t know how to do it.

Until, one year later, I decided it was time. I needed to stop stalling and finally take on the process.

I crafted a plan to finish a novel using everything I’d ever learned about the book writing process. Every trick, hack, and technique I knew.

And the process worked.

I finished my novel in 100 days.

Today, I’m a Wall Street Journal bestselling author of thirteen books, and I'm passionate about teaching writers how to write and finish their books. (FINISH being the key word here.)

I’ve taught this process to hundreds of other writers who have used it to draft and complete their novels.

And today, I'm going to teach my “how to write a novel” process to you, too. In twenty manageable steps !

As I do this, I’ll share the single best novel writing tips from thirty-seven other fiction writers that you can use in your novel writing journey—

All of which is now compiled and constructed into The Write Planner : our tangible planning guide for writers that gives you this entire process in a clear, actionable, and manageable way.

If you’ve ever felt discouraged about not finishing your novel, like I did, or afraid that you don’t have what it takes to build a writing career, I’m here to tell you that you can.

There's a way to make your writing easier.

Smarter, even.

You just need to have the “write” process.

How to Write a Novel: The Foolproof, 20-Step Plan

Below, I’m going to share a foolproof process that anyone can use to write a novel, the same process I used to write my novels and books, and that hundreds of other writers have used to finish their novels too.

writing a novel template

1. Get a Great Idea

Maybe you have a novel idea already. Maybe you have twenty ideas.

If you do, that’s awesome. Now, do this for me: Pat yourself on the back, and then forget any feeling of joy or accomplishment you have.

Here’s the thing: an idea alone, even a great idea, is just the first baby step in writing your book. There are nineteen more steps, and almost all of them are more difficult than coming up with your initial idea.

I love what George R.R. Martin said:

“Ideas are useless. Execution is everything.”

You have an idea. Now learn how to execute, starting with step two.

(And if you don’t have a novel idea yet, here’s a list of 100 story ideas that will help, or you can view our genre specific lists here: sci-fi ideas , thriller ideas , mystery ideas , romance ideas , and fantasy ideas . You can also look at the Ten Best Novel Ideas here . Check those out, then choose an idea or make up one of your own, When you're ready, come back for step two.)

writing a novel template

2. Write Your Idea As a Premise

Now that you have a novel idea , write it out as a single-sentence premise.

What is a premise, and why do you need one?

A premise distills your novel idea down to a single sentence. This sentence will guide your entire writing and publishing process from beginning to end. It hooks the reader and captures the high stakes (and other major details) that advance and challenge the protagonist and plot.

It can also be a bit like an elevator pitch for your book. If someone asks you what your novel is about, you can share your premise to explain your story—you don't need a lengthy description.

Also, a premise is the most important part of a query letter or book proposal, so a good premise can actually help you get published.

What’s an example of a novel premise ?

Here’s an example from The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum:

A young girl is swept away to a magical land by a tornado and must embark on a quest to see the wizard who can help her return home.

Do you see the hooks? Young girl, magical land, embark on a quest (to see the wizard)—and don't forget her goal to return home.

This premise example very clearly contains the three elements every premise needs in order to stand out:

  • A protagonist described in two words, e.g. a young girl or a world-weary witch.
  • A goal. What the protagonist wants or needs.
  • A situation or crisis the protagonist must face.

Ready to write your premise? We have a free worksheet that will guide you through writing a publishable premise: Download the worksheet here.

writing a novel template

3. Set a Deadline

Before you do anything else, you need to set a deadline for when you’re going to finish the first draft of your novel.

Stephen King said a first draft should be written in no more than a season, so ninety days. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, exists to encourage people to write a book in just thirty days.

In our 100 Day Book Program, we give people a little longer than that, 100 days, which seems like a good length of time for most people (me included!).

I recommend setting your deadline no longer than four months. If it’s longer than that, you’ll procrastinate. A good length of time to write a book is something that makes you a little nervous, but not outright terrified.

Mark the deadline date in your calendar, kneel on the floor, close your eyes, and make a vow to yourself and your book idea that you will write the first draft novel by then, no matter what.

writing a novel template

4. Set Smaller Deadlines Building to the Final Deadline

A novel can’t be written in a day. There’s no way to “cram” for a novel. The key to writing (and finishing) a novel is to make a little progress every day.

If you write a thousand words a day, something most people are capable of doing in an hour or two, for 100 days , by the end you’ll have a 100,000 word novel—which is a pretty long novel!

So set smaller, weekly deadlines that break up your book into pieces. I recommend trying to write 5,000 to 6,000 words per week by each Friday or Sunday, whichever works best for you. Your writing routine can be as flexible as you like, as long as you are hitting those smaller deadlines. 

If you can hit all of your weekly deadlines, you know you’ll make your final deadline at the end.

As long as you hold yourself accountable to your smaller, feasible, and prioritized writing benchmarks.

writing a novel template

5. Create a Consequence

You might think, “Setting a deadline is fine, but how do I actually hit my deadline?” Here’s a secret I learned from my friend Tim Grahl :

You need to create a consequence.

Try by taking these steps:

  • Set your deadline.
  • Write a check to an organization or nonprofit you hate (I did this during the 2016 U.S. presidential election by writing a check to the campaign of the candidate I liked least, whom shall remain nameless).
  • Think of two other, minor consequences (like giving up your favorite TV show for a month or having to buy ice cream for everyone at work).
  • Give your check, plus your list of two minor consequences, to a friend you trust with firm instructions to hold you to your consequences if you don’t meet your deadlines.
  • If you miss one of your weekly deadlines, suffer one of your minor consequences (e.g. give up your favorite TV show).
  • If you miss THREE weekly deadlines OR if you miss the final deadline, send your check to that organization you hate.
  • Finally, write! I promise that if you complete steps one through six, you'll be incredibly focused.

When I took these steps while writing my seventh book, I finished it in sixty-three days. Sixty-three days!

It was the most focused I’ve ever been in my life.

Writing a book is hard work. Setting reasonable consequences make it harder to NOT finish than to finish.

Watch me walk a Wattpad famous writer through this process:

Wattpad Famous Author Wanted Coaching. Here's What I Told Him [How to Write a Book Coaching]

6. Strive for “Good Enough” and Embrace Imperfection

The next few points are all about how to write a good story.

The reason we set a deadline before we consider how to write a story that stands out is because we could spend our entire lives learning how write a great story, but never actually write the actual story (and it’s in the writing process that you learn how to make your story great).

So learn how to make it great between writing sessions, but only good enough for the draft you’re currently writing. If you focus too much on this, it will ruin everything and you’ll never finish.

Writing a perfect novel, a novel like the one you have in your imagination, is an exercise in futility.

First drafts are inevitably horrible. Second drafts are a little better. Third drafts are better still.

But I'd bet none of these drafts approach the perfection that you built up in your head when you first considered your novel idea.

And yet, even if you know that, you’ll still try to write a perfect novel.

So remind yourself constantly, “This first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough for now.”

And good enough for now, when you’re starting your first draft, just means you have words on a page that faintly resemble a story.

Writing is an iterative process. The purpose of your first draft is to have something you can improve in your second draft. Don’t overthink. Just do. (I’ll remind you of this later, in case you forget, and if you’re like me, you probably will.)

Ready to look at what makes a good story? Let’s jump into the next few points—but don’t forget your goal: to get your whole book, the complete story, on the page, no matter how messy your first draft reads.

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7. Figure Out What Kind of Story You’re Trying to Tell

Now that you have a deadline, you can start to think more deeply about what your protagonist really wants.

A good story focuses primarily on just one core thing that the protagonist wants or needs, and the place where your protagonist’s want or need meets the reader’s expectations dictates your story's genre.

Plot type is a big subject, and for the purposes of this post, we don’t have time to fully explore it (check out my book The Write Structure here ).

But story type is about more than what shelf your book sits on at the bookstore.

The book type gets to the heart, the foundational values, of what your story is about. In my book The Write Structure , I define ten plot types, which correspond to six value scales. I’ll give an abbreviated version below:

External Values (What Your Protagonist Wants)

  • Life vs. Death: Action, Adventure
  • Life vs. a Fate Worse Than Death: Horror, Thriller, Mystery
  • Love vs. Hate: Love, Romance
  • Esteem: Performance, Sports

Internal Values (What Your Protagonist Needs)

Internal plot types work slightly different than external plot types. These are essential for your character's transformation from page one to the end and deal with either a character's shift in their black-and-white view, a character's moral compass, or a character's rise or fall in social status.

For more, check out The Write Structure .

The most common internal plot types are bulleted quickly below.

  • Maturity/Sophistication vs. Immaturity/Naiveté: Coming of Age
  • Good/Sacrifice vs. Evil/Selfishness: Morality, Temptation/Testing

Choosing Your External and Internal Plot Types Will Set You Up for Success

You can mix and match these genres to some extent. For your book to be commercially successful, you must have an external genre.

For your book to be considered more “character driven”—or a story that connects with the reader on a universal level—you should have an internal genre, too. (I highly recommend having both.)

You can also have a subplot. So that’s three genres that you can potentially incorporate into your novel.

For example, you might have an action plot with a love story subplot and a worldview education internal genre. Or a horror plot with a love story subplot and a morality internal genre. There’s a lot of room to maneuver.

Regardless of what you choose, the balance of the three will give your protagonist plenty of obstacles to face as they strive to achieve their goal from beginning to end. (For best results when you go to publish, though, make sure you have an external genre.)

If you want to have solid preparation to write you book, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of The Write Structure .

What two or three values are foundational to your story? Spend some time brainstorming what your book is really about. Even better, use our Write Structure worksheet to get to the heart of your story type.

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8. Read Novels and Watch Films That Are Similar to Yours

“The hard truth is that books are made from books.”

I like to remember this quote from Cormac McCarthy when considering what my next novel is really about.

Now that you’ve thought about your novel's plot, it’s time to see how other great writers have pulled off the impossible and crafted a great story from the glimmer of an idea.

You might think, “My story is completely unique. There are no other stories similar to mine.”

If that’s you, then one small word of warning. If there are no books that are similar to yours, maybe there’s a reason for that.

Personally, I’ve read a lot of great books that were a lot of fun to read and were similar to other books. I’ve also read a lot of bad books that were completely unique.

Even precious, unique snowflakes look more or less like other snowflakes.

If you found your content genre in step three, select three to five novels and films that are in the same genre as yours and study them.

Don’t read/watch for pleasure. Instead, try to figure out the conventions, key scenes, and the way the author/filmmaker moves you through the story.

There's great strength in understanding how your story is the same but different.

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Those were the three words my college screenwriting professor, a successful Hollywood TV producer, wrote across the blackboard nearly every class. Your creative process doesn't matter without structure.

You can be a pantser , someone who writes by the seat of their pants.

You can be a plotter , someone who needs to have a detailed outline for each of the plot points in their novel.

You can even be a plantser , somewhere in between the two (like most writers, including me).

It doesn’t matter. You still have to know your story structure .

Here are a few important structural elements you’ll want to figure out for your novel before moving forward:

6 Key Moments of Story Structure

There are six required moments in every story, scene, and act. They are:

  • Exposition : Introducing the world and the characters.
  • Inciting incident : There’s a problem.
  • Rising Action/Progressive complications : The problem gets worse, usually due to external conflict.
  • Dilemma : The problem gets so bad that the character has no choice but to deal with it. Usually this happens off screen.
  • Climax : The character makes their choice and the climax is the action that follows.
  • Denouement : The problem is resolved (for now at least).

If you're unfamiliar with these terms, I recommend studying each of them, especially dilemma, which we'll talk about more in a moment. Mastering these will be a huge aid to your writing process.

For your first few scenes, try plotting out each of these six moments, focusing especially on the dilemma.

Better yet, download our story structure worksheet to guide you through the story structure process, from crafting your initial idea through to writing the synopsis.

I've included some more detailed thoughts (and must-knows) about structure briefly below:

Three Act Structure

The classic writing advice describes the three act structure well:

In the first act, put your character up a tree. In the second act, throw rocks at them. In the third act, bring them down.

Do you wonder whether you should use three act structure or five act structure? (Hint: you probably don't want to use the five act structure. Learn more about this type with our full guide on the five act structure here .)

Note that each of these acts should have the six key moments listed above.

The Dilemma

I mentioned the importance of a character undergoing a crisis, but it bears repeating since, for me, it completely transformed my writing process.

In every act, your protagonist must face an impossible choice. It is THIS choice that creates drama in your story. THIS is how your plot moves forward. If you don’t have a dilemma, if your character doesn’t choose, your scenes won’t work, nor will your acts or story.

In my writing, when I’m working on a first draft, I don’t focus on figuring out all five key moments every time (since I’ve internalized them by now), but I do try to figure out the crisis before I start writing .

I begin with that end in mind, and figure out how I can put the protagonist into a situation where they must make a difficult choice.

One that will have consequences even if they decide to do nothing.

When you do that, your scene works. When you don’t, it falls flat. The protagonist looks like a weak-willed observer of their own life, and ultimately your story will feel boring. Effective character development requires difficult choices.

Find the dilemma every time.

Write out a brief three-act outline with each of the six key moments for each act. It’s okay to leave those moments blank if you don’t know them right now. Fill in what you do know, and come back to it.

Point of View

Point of view, or POV, in a story refers to the narrator’s position in the description of events. There are four types of point of view, but there are only two main options used by most writers:

  • Third-person limited point of view is the most common and easiest to use, especially for new writers. In this POV, the characters are referred to in third person (he/she/they) and the narrator has access to the thoughts and feelings to a maximum of one character at a time (and likely one character for the duration of the narrative). You can read more about how to use third-person limited here .
  • First-person point of view is also very common and only slightly more difficult. In this POV, the narrator is a character in the story and uses first person pronouns (I/me/mine/we/ours) and has access only to their own thoughts and feelings. This point of view requires an especially strong style, one that shows the narrator's distinct attitude and voice as they tell the story.

The third option is used much less common, though is still found occasionally, especially in older works:

  • Third-person omniscient point of view is much more difficult to pull off well and isn't recommended for first time authors. In this POV, the characters are referred to in third-person (he/she/him/her/they/them), but the narrator has access to the thoughts and feelings of any and all characters at the same time. This is a difficult narrative to pull off because of how disorienting it can be for the reader. Readers are placed “in the heads” of so many characters, which can easily destroy the drama of a story because of the lack of mystery.

One final option:

  • Second-person point of view is the most difficult to pull off and isn't recommended for most authors. In this POV, the characters are referred to in second person (you/your). This choice is rarely (although not never) found in novels.

The Write Structure

Get The Write Structure here »

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10. Find the Climactic Moment in Your Novel

Every great novel has a climactic moment that the whole story builds up to—it's the whole reason a reader purchases a book and reads it to the end.

In Moby Dick , it’s the final showdown with the white whale.

In Pride and Prejudice , it’s Lizzie accepting Mr. Darcy’s proposal after discovering the lengths he went to in order to save her family.

In the final Harry Potter novel (spoiler alert!), it’s Harry offering himself up as a sacrifice to Voldemort to destroy the final Horcrux.

To be clear, you don’t have to have your climactic moment all planned out before you start writing your book . (Although knowing this might make writing and finishing your novel easier and more focused.)

But it IS a good idea to know what novels and films similar to yours have done.

For example, if you’re writing a performance story about a violinist, as I am, you need to have some kind of big violin competition at the end of your book.

If you’re writing a police procedural crime novel, you need to have a scene where the detective unmasks the murderer and explains the rationale behind the murder.

Think about the climactic moment your novel builds up before the final showdown at the end. This climactic moment will usually occur in the climax of the second or third act.

If you know this, fill in your outline with the climactic moment, then write out the five key moments of the scene for that moment.

If you don’t know them, just leave them blank. You can always come back to it.

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11. Consider the Conventions

Readers are sophisticated. They’ve been taking in stories for years, since they were children, and they have deep expectations for what should be in your story.

That means if you want readers to like your story, you need to meet and even exceed some of those expectations.

Stories do this constantly. We call them conventions, or tropes, and they’re patterns that storytellers throughout history have found make for a good story.

In the romantic comedy (love) genre, for example, there is almost always the sidekick best friend, some kind of love triangle, and a meet cute moment where the two potential lovers meet.

In the mystery genre, the story always begins with a murder, there are one or more red herrings , and there’s a final unveiling of the murder at the end.

Think through the three to five novels and films you read/watched. What conventions and tropes did they have in common?

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12. Set Your Intention

You’re almost ready to start writing. Before you do, set your intention.

Researchers have found that when you’re trying to create a new habit, if you imagine where and when you will participate in that habit, you’re far more likely to follow through.

For your writing, imagine where, when, and how much you will write each day. For example, you might imagine that you will write 1,000 words at your favorite coffee shop each afternoon during your lunch break.

As you imagine, picture your location and the writing space clearly in your mind. Watch yourself sitting down to work, typing on your laptop. Imagine your word count tracker going from 999 to 1,002 words.

When it’s time to write , you’ll be ready to go do it.

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13. Picture Your Reader

The definition of a story is a narrative meant to entertain, amuse, or instruct. That implies there is someone being entertained, amused, or instructed!

I think it’s helpful to picture one person in your mind as you write (instead of an entire target audience). Then, as you write, you can better understand what would interest, amuse, or instruct them.

By picturing them, you will end up writing better stories.

Create a reader avatar.

Choose someone you know, or make up someone who would love your story. Describe them in terms of demographics and interests. Consider the question, “Why would this reader love my novel?”

When you write, write for them.

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14. Build Your Team

Most people think they can write a novel on their own, that they need to stick themselves in some cabin in upstate New York or an attic apartment in Paris and just focus on writing their novel for a few months or decades.

And that’s why most people fail to finish writing a book .

As I’ve studied the lives of great writers, I’ve found that they all had a team. None of them did it all on their own. They all had people who supported and encouraged them as they wrote.

A team can look like:

  • An editor with a publishing house
  • A writing group
  • An author mentor or coach
  • An online writing course or community

Whatever you find, if you want to finish your novel, don’t make the mistake of believing you can do it all on your own (or that you have to do it on your own).

Find a writing group. Take an online writing class . Or hire a developmental editor .

Whatever you do, don’t keep trying to do everything by yourself.

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15. Plan the Publishing Process

One thing I’ve found is that when successful people take on a task, they think through every part of the process from beginning to end. They create a plan. Their plan might change, but starting with a plan gives them clear focus for what they’re setting out to accomplish.

Most of the steps we’ve been talking about in this post involve planning (writing is coming up next, don’t worry), but in your plan, it’s important to think through things all the way to the end—the publishing and marketing process.

So spend ten or twenty minutes dreaming about how you’ll publish your novel (self-publishing vs. traditional publishing) and how you’ll promote it (to your email list, on social media, via Amazon ads, etc.).

By brainstorming about the publishing and marketing process, you’ll make it much more likely to actually finish your novel because you're eager for (and know what you want to do when you're at) the end.

Have no idea how to get published? Check out our 10-step book publishing and launch guide here .

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16. Write (With Low Expectations)

You’ve created a plan. You know what you’re going to write, when you’re going to write it, and how you’re going to write.

Now it’s time to actually write it.

Sit down at the blank page. Take a deep breath. Write your very first chapter.

Don’t forget, your first draft is supposed to be bad.

Write anyway.

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17. Trust the Process and Don’t Quit

As I’ve trained writers through the novel writing process in our 100 Day Book Program, inevitably around day sixty, they tell me how hard the process is, how tired they are of their story, how they have a new idea for a novel, and they want to work on that instead.

“Don’t quit,” I tell them. Trust the process. You’re so much closer than you think.

Then, miraculously, two or three weeks later, they’re emailing me to say they’re about to finish their books. They’re so grateful they didn’t quit.

This is the process. This is how it always goes.

Just when you think you’re not going to make it, you’re almost there.

Just when you most want to quit, that’s when you’re closest to a breakthrough.

Trust the process. Don’t quit. You’re going to make it.

Just keep showing up and doing the work (and remember, doing the work means writing imperfectly).

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18. Keep Going, Even When It Hurts

Appliances always break when you’re writing a book.

Someone always gets sick making writing nearly impossible (either you or your spouse or all your kids or all of the above).

One writer told us recently a high-speed car chase ended with the car crashing into a building close to her house.

I’m not superstitious, but stuff like this always happens when you’re writing a book.

Expect it. Things will not go according to plan. Major real life problems will occur.

It will be really hard to stay focused for weeks on end.

This is where it’s so important to have a team (step fourteen). When life happens, you’ll need someone to vent to, to encourage you, and to support you.

No matter what, write anyway. This is what separates you from all the aspiring writers out there. You do the work even when it’s hard.

Keep going.

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19. Finish Draft One… Then Onward to the Next

I followed this process, and then one day, I realized I’d written the second to last scene. And then the next day, my novel was finished.

It felt kind of anticlimactic.

I had wanted to write a novel for years, more than a decade. I had done it. And it wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought.

Amazing, without question.

But also just normal.

After all, I had been doing this, writing every day for ninety-nine days. Finishing was just another day.

But the journey itself? 100 days for writing a novel? That was amazing.

That was worth it.

And it will be worth it again and again.

Maybe it will be like that for you. You might finish your book and feel amazing and proud and relieved. You might also feel normal. It’s the difference between being an aspiring writer and being a real writer.

Real writers realize the joy is in the work, not in having a finished book .

When you get to this point, I just want to say, “Congratulations!”

You did it.

You finished a book. I’m so excited for you!

But also, as you will know when you get to this point, this is really just the beginning of your journey.

Your book isn’t nearly ready to publish yet.

So celebrate. Throw a party for yourself. Say thank you to all your team members. You finished. You should be proud!

After this celebratory breather, move on to your last step.

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20. Next Drafts: Draft Two…Three…Four…Five

This is a novel writing guide, not a novel revising guide (that is coming soon!). But I’ll give you a few pointers on what to do after you write your novel:

  • Rest. Take a break. You earned it. Resting also lets you get distance on your book, which you need right now.
  • Read without revising. Most people jump right into the proofreading and line editing process. This is the worst thing you could do. Instead, read your novel from beginning to end without making revisions. You can take notes, but the goal for this is to create a plan for your next draft, not fix all your typos and misplaced commas . This step will usually reveal plot holes, character inconsistencies, and other high-level problems.
  • Get feedback. Then, share your book with your team: editors and fellow writers (not friends and family yet). Ask for constructive feedback, especially structural feedback, not on typos for now.
  • Next, rewrite for structure. Your second draft is all about fixing the structure of your novel. Revisit steps seven through eleven for help.
  • Last, polish your prose. Your third (and additional) draft(s) is for fixing typos, line editing, and making your sentences sound nice. Save this for the end, because if you polish too soon, you might have to delete a whole scene that you spent hours rewriting.

Want to know more about what to do next? Check out our guide on what to do AFTER you finish your book here .

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Writers’ Best Tips on How to Write a Novel

I’ve also asked the writers I’ve coached for their single tips on how to write a novel. These are from writers in our community who have followed this process and finished novels of their own. Here are their best novel writing tips:

“Get it out of your head and onto the page, because you can’t improve what’s not been written.” Imogen Mann

“What gets scheduled, gets done. Block time in your day to write. Set a time of day, place and duration that you will write 4-7 days/week until it becomes habit. It’s most effective if it’s the same time of day, in the same place. Then set your duration to a number of minutes or a number of words: 60 minutes, 500 words, whatever. Slowly but surely, those words string together into a piece of work!” Stacey Watkins

“Honestly? And nobody paid me for this one—enroll in the 100 Day Book challenge at The Write Practice. I had been writing around in my novel for years and it wasn’t until I took the challenge did I actually write it chapter by chapter from beginning to end in 80,000 words. Of course I now have to revise, revise, revise.” Madeline Slovenz

“I try to write for at least an hour every day. Some days I feel like the creativity flows out of me and others it’s awkward and slow. But yes, my advice is to write for at least one hour every day. It really helps.” Kurt Paulsen

“Be patient, be humble, be forgiving. Patient, because writing a novel well will take longer than you ever imagined. Humble, because being awake to your strengths and your weaknesses is the only way to grow as a writer. And forgiveness, for the days when nothing seems to work. Stay the course, and the reward at the end — whenever that comes — will be priceless. Because it will be all yours.” Erin Halden

“Single best tip I can recommend is the development of a plan. My early writing, historical stories for my world, was done as a pantser. But, when I took the 100 Day Book challenge , one of the steps was to produce an outline. Mine started as the briefest list of chapters. But, as I thought about it, the outline expanded to cover what was happening and who was in it. That lead to a pattern for the chapters, a timeline, and greater detail in the outline. I had always hated outlines, but like Patrick Rothfuss said in one of his interviews, that hatred may have been because of the way it was taught when I was in school (long ago.) I know I will use one for the second book (if I decide to go forward with it.) Just remember the plan is there for your needs. It doesn’t need to be a formal I. A. 1. a. format. It can simply be a set of notecards with general ideas you want to include in your story.” Patrick Macy

“Everybody who writes does so on faith and guts and determination. Just write one line. Just write one scene. Just write one page. And if you write more that day consider yourself fortunate. The more you do, the stronger the writing muscle gets. But don’t do a project; just break things down into small manageable bits.” Joe Hanzlik

“When you’re sending your novel out to beta readers , keep in mind some people‘s feedback may not resonate or be true for your vision of the work. Also, just because you’ve handed off a copy for beta reading doesn’t mean you don’t have control over how people give you feedback. For instance, if you don’t want line editing, ask them not to give paragraph and sentence corrections. Instead, ask for more general feedback on the character arcs, particular scenes in the story, the genre, ideal reader , etc. Be proactive about getting the kind of response you want and need.” B.E. Jackson

“Become your main character. Begin to think and act the way they would.” Valda Dracopoulos

“I write for minimum 3 hours starting 4 a.m. Mind is uncluttered and fresh with ideas. Daily issues and commitment can wait. Make a plan and stick to the basic plan.” R.B. Smith

“Stick to the plan (which includes writing an outline, puttin your butt in the chair and shipping). I’m trying to keep it simple!” Carole Wolf

“Have a spot where you write, get some bum glue, sit and write. I usually have a starting point, a flexible endpoint and the middle works itself out.” Vuyo Ngcakani

“Before I begin, I write down the ten key scenes that must be in the novel. What is the thing that must happen, who is there when it happens, where does it take place. Once I have those key scenes, I begin.” Cathy Ryan

“In my English classes, I was told to ‘show, don’t tell,' which is the most vague rule I’ve ever heard when it comes to writing. Until I saw a post that expanded upon this concept saying to ‘ show emotion, tell feelings …’. Showing emotion will bring the reader closer to the characters, to understand their actions better. But I don’t need to read about how slow she was moving due to tiredness.” Bryan Coulter

“For me, it’s the interaction between all of the characters. It drives almost all of my novels no matter how good or bad the plot may be .” Jonathan Srock

“Rules don’t apply in the first draft; they only apply when you begin to play with it in the second draft.” Victor Paul Scerri

“My best advice to you is: Just Write. No matter if you are not inspired, maybe you are writing how you can’t think of something to write or wrote something that sucks. But just having words written down gets you going and soon you’ll find yourself inspired. You just have to write.” Mony Martinez

“As Joseph Campbell said, “find your bliss.” Tap into a vein of whatever it is that “fills your glass” and take a ride on a stream of happy, joyful verbiage.” Jarrett Wilson

“Show don’t tell is the most cited rule in the history of fiction writing, but if you only show, you won’t get past ch. 1. Learn to master the other forms of narration as well.” Rebecka Jäger

“We’ve all been trained jump when the phone rings, or worse, to continually check in with social media. Good work requires focus, but I’ve had to adopt some hacks to achieve it. 1) Get up an hour before the rest of the household and start writing. Don’t check email, Facebook, Instagram, anything – just start working. 2) Use a timer app, to help keep you honest. I set it for 30 minutes, then it gives me a 5-minute break (when things are really humming, I ignore the breaks altogether). During that time, I don’t allow anything to interrupt me if I can help it. 3) Finally, set a 3-tiered word count goal: Good, Great, Amazing. Good is the number of words you need to generate in order to feel like you’ve accomplished something (1000 words, for example). Great would be a higher number, (say, 2000 words). 3000 words could be Amazing. What I love about this strategy is that it’s forgiving and inspiring at the same time.” Dave Strand

“My advice comes in two parts. First, I think it’s important to breathe life into characters, to give them emotions and personalities and quirks. Make them flawed so that they have plenty of room to grow. Make them feel real to the reader, so when they overcome the obstacles you throw in their way, or they don’t overcome them, the reader feels all the more connected and invested in their journey. Second, I think there’s just something so magical about a scene that transports me, as a reader, to the characters’ world; that allows me to see, feel, smell, and touch what the characters are experiencing. So, the second part of my advice is to describe the character’s experience of their surroundings keeping all of their senses in mind. Don’t stop simply with what they see.” Jennifer Baker

“Start with an outline (it can always be changed), set writing goals and stick to them, write every day, know that your first draft is going to suck and embrace that knowledge, and seek honest feedback. Oh, and celebrate milestones, especially when you type ‘The End’. Take a break from your novel (but don’t stop writing something — short stories, blog posts, articles, etc.) and then dive head-first into draft 2!” Jen Horgan O’Rourke

“I write in fits and spurts of inspiration and insights. Much of my ‘writing’ occurs when I am trying to fall asleep at night or weeding in the garden. I carry my stories and essays in my head, and when I sit down to start writing, I don’t like to ‘turn off the tap.’ My most important principle is that when I write a draft, I put it out of my mind for a few days before coming back to see what it sounds like when I read it aloud.” Gayle Woodson

“My stories almost always start from a single image… someone in a situation, a setting, with or without other people… there is a problem to be solved, a decision to make, some action being taken. Often that first image becomes the central point of the story but sometimes it is simply the kick-off point for something else. Once I’ve ‘seen’ my image clearly I sit down at the computer and start writing. More images appear as I write and the story evolves. Once the rough sketch has developed through a few chapters I may go back and fill in holes and round things out. Sometimes I even sketch a rough map of my setting or the ‘world’ I’m building. With first drafts I never worry about the grammatical and other writing ‘rules.’ Those things get ironed out in the second round.” Karin Weiss

“What it took to get my first novel drafted: the outline of a story idea, sitting in chair, DEADLINES, helpful feedback from the beginning so I could learn along the way.” Joan Cory

“I write a chapter in longhand and then later that day or the next morning type it and revise. The ideas seem to flow from mind to finger to pen to paper.” Al Rutgers

“Getting up early and write for a couple of hours from 6 am is my preferred choice as my mind is uncluttered with daily issues. Stick to the basic plan and learning to ‘show’ and ‘not tell’ has been hard but very beneficial.” Abe Tse

If you're ready to get serious about finishing your novel, I love for you to join us!

And if you want help getting organized and going, I greatly recommend purchasing The Write Planner and/or our 100 Day Book Program .

Frequently Asked Questions

If you're working on your first-ever novel, congratulations! Here are answers to frequently asked questions new (and even experienced) writers often ask me about what it takes to write a book.

How long should a novel be?

First, novel manuscripts are measured in words, not pages. A standard length for a novel is 85,000 words. The sweet number for literary agents is 90,000 words. Science fiction and fantasy tend to be around the 100,000 word range. And mystery and YA tend to be shorter, likely 65,000 words.

Over 120,000 words is usually too long, especially for traditional publishing. Under 60,000 words is a bit short, and might feel incomplete to the reader.

Of course, these are guidelines, not rules.

They exist for a reason, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow them if you have a good reason. For a more complete guide to best word count for novels, check out my guide here .

How long does it take to write a novel?

Each draft can take about the same amount of time as the first draft, or about 100 days. I recommend writing at least three drafts with a few breaks between drafts, which means you can have a finished, published novel in a little less than a year using this process.

Many people have finished novels faster. My friend and bestseller Carlos Cooper finishes four novels a year, and another bestselling author friend Stacy Claflin is working on her sixty-second book (and she’s not close to being sixty-two years old).

If you'd like, you can write faster.

If you take longer breaks between drafts or write more drafts, it might take longer.

Whatever you decide, I don’t recommend taking much longer than 100 days to finish your first draft. After that, you can lose your momentum and it becomes much harder to finish.

That’s It! The Foolproof Template for How to Write a Novel

Writing a novel isn’t easy. But it is possible with the write process (sorry, I had to do it). If you follow each step above, you will finish a novel.

Your novel may not be perfect, but it will be what you need on your road to making it great.

Good luck and happy writing!

The Write Plan Planner

Discover The Write Plan Planner »

Which steps of this process do you follow? Which steps are new or challenging for you? Let us know in the comments !

Writing your novel idea in the form of a single-sentence premise is the first step to finishing your novel . So let’s do that today!

Download our premise worksheet. Follow it to construct your single sentence premise.

Then post your premise  in the Pro Practice Workshop (and if you’re not a member yet, you can join here ). If you post, please be sure to leave feedback on premises by at least three other writers.

Maybe you'll start finding your writing team right here!

Happy writing!

The Write Plan Planner

Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris , a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.

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Home » Blog » 9 Best Book Writing Templates [+ Free Download]

9 Best Book Writing Templates [+ Free Download]

writing a novel template


Writing a book can be a daunting task and there is never any shame in getting some help. You should constantly be learning how to become a better writer.

Utilizing the many resources that are available to you will make the process easier and more efficient. There is no telling how long it will take to write your book, so some book writing templates can help speed the process up.

A book writing template acts as a guide that writers can rely on. It helps you create the blueprint for your book. They are useful tools whether you are learning how to write a book, or are already experienced in the craft.

Book writing templates are most useful for new writers who are still wrapping their head around the whole idea of writing a book. A template will give them the structure so all they have to do is let the creativity flow.

Especially for those learning how to write a novel length piece of 50,000 words or more, a book writing template will help you. It will allow you to stay organized and focused while you see your project through to completion.

The Benefits of Book Writing Templates

In addition to helping you do the writing itself, book writing software with templates have many advantages. They are there to help your book be the best it can in all areas.

Some of these templates are built into their own software, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take them and do what you want with them.

Using these templates in conjunction with Squibler may be beneficial if you are wanting to stay really organized and efficient. It is a fantastic book writing software that is designed for book writers specifically.

Between Squibler and these brilliantly designed templates, you’ll be learning how to become a better writer in no time. The templates themselves have many benefits:

Professional Design

While the content itself is the main purpose of your book, aesthetics still need to come into play. From the layout to the font, you want it to look good. Knowing how to write a book isn’t only about storytelling.

There are book writing templates that will help you with these things as well.

Book Writing Templates are Easy to Use

When trying to write a good book , you don’t want anything to overcomplicate the process. Book writing templates are there to make things easier.

A template will be easy to understand and implement.

Better Publishing Experience

When it comes time to publish your book, having the right book writing template will make for a better experience. You will already have your book laid out the way it should be.

And, if you have chosen a template with design elements as well, you won’t have to worry about the way it looks. This makes for a seamless and stress-free publishing process.

Book Writing Templates Save You Time

Writing a book directly from scratch is overwhelming and not always necessary. Book writing templates will give you a head start on the structure of your book. This will save you valuable time.

Even as you begin the writing itself, having the template there to guide you will save you from getting lost in your own story. Once one section is finished you can move onto the next.

You will never have to sit there and wonder where you should go or what should happen.

Characteristics of the Best Book Writing Templates

While book writing templates will vary in what they have to offer, many of the core characteristics will remain the same. These attributes are ones you can look out for when selecting the best book writing template for yourself.

The Best Book Writing Templates are Comprehensive

The best book writing templates are often made by professionals. This means they know what they are doing. They are well versed in the world of writing and they know what will help you.

This means they should be detailed and thorough. Nothing should be missing from the process you are trying to create. For example, a novel outlining template should have sections for all basic aspects of writing a novel:

  • Brainstorming
  • Note taking
  • Character sketches
  • Setting sketches
  • Chapter sections
  • Scene sections
  • Worldbuilding

Different types of books will have different requirements, but the template should include all of them.

The Best Book Writing Templates are Customizable

A good quality novel outlining template created by a professional will have a good structure that is effective. However, this doesn’t mean their method is set in stone.

A good template will allow you to customize it with ease while still maintaining its own basic structure.

For example, you might want to add more chapters than the number that is being recommended. Or, perhaps you choose to rearrange some aspects of the given novel structure. Making changes is okay – the templates are created as guides only.

The Best Book Writing Templates are Not Complex

While some book writing templates are expansive and cover lots of ground, they shouldn’t be complicated. A good template will be straightforward and easy to follow.

You should be able to navigate your way through it and know what you’re looking at. For example, the layout should have a proper flow – things should be in order. In a novel writing template, note, research, and brainstorming should all sit next to each other, while chapters and scenes are kept together.

Learning how to write a book is complicated enough. Your book or novel outlining template should be simple at its core.

The 9 Best Book Writing Templates

Many writers swear by using a template and won’t start a project without one. Because of this, many options have been created. It can be hard to find the right one.

Start by identifying what type of book you are writing, and go from there. First, find a template that is relevant, then look for one that matches your likes and preferences.

While there are hundreds of templates available, these are some of the best and most common ones. If you are new to templates, it may take going through a few to find your favorite.

Most of the templates listed below can be used with Microsoft Word, Scrivener, Adobe InDesign, or Apple Pages.

For avid Scrivener users, we do have a more comprehensive list of Scrivener templates that you might find useful as well.

The Three Act Story Plotting Template

This template focuses on the most basic level of story structure there: the beginning, the middle, and the end. This is known as the three-act story structure.

The three act template will walk you through all the elements of each act.

The Beginning:

  • The opening scene
  • The inciting incident
  • Call to action

The Middle:

  • Rising action
  • Turning point
  • Denouncement, or resolution

All of these stages will be laid out for you. Once you have finished brainstorming your story, you need simply to write through every element. This will form an excellent baseline to create an engaging and effective novel.

For more details and some questions to prompt each section, check out Evernote’s version of the three-act story plotting template here.

The Story Beats Template

This template was born from the world of script writing. It breaks the story down into “beats.” These continue to move the story along as each “beat” or milestone is completed.

This template is also available in more detail from Evernote.

The Spark Template

This book writing template was designed for novels and nonfiction books alike. It can be used with Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, and Adobe InDesign.

The Spark template is created to help you format your book for publishing, with less of a focus on the content itself.

This template offers support for both print and e-book publishing. You can find it available for purchase by clicking here.

The Pulp Template

This is another template that was created mainly to help you format your book for publishing. It offers a sleek and stylish design that is perfect for fiction as well as literary nonfiction.

You can buy it by clicking here.

The Britannia Template

This template is designed specifically for nonfiction writing. Another template to assist you in formatting your finished copy, it is easy to both understand and use.

It is compatible with Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, and Adobe InDesign. To preview and purchase the template, click here.

The No-Nonsense Novel Template

This is another book writing template that is useful for beginners and first-timers. It is an extension of the basic novel writing template that comes in Scrivener by default.

the template isn’t complex however it does offer some guidance in terms of structure and outlining. It contains sections for things like characters, settings, research, chapters, and scenes. In addition to these, it gives you a folder with a nine-point outline.

This basic but helpful template is designed for Scrivner and can be downloaded here.

The 30-Chapter Novel Template

This book writing template is a fantastic choice for first-time novel writers. While not every single novel is going to be 30 chapters, that number is a good average.

This template has a section for each of its 30 chapters already laid out for you.

Not only are they already created, but there are questions and thoughts to guide you through each chapter.  These prompts are designed to keep your story on pace and keep events happening where they should.

30 chapter novel template

All the chapters set up for you with their corresponding prompts. This is helpful for first-time novelists who may struggle with structure. It can also help in brainstorming for your outline if you choose to create one.

The World Building Leviathan Template

This book writing template is designed with fantasy in mind. Writing a fantasy novel requires extensive world building.  A fantasy typically takes place in a realm or domain that is created entirely by the author.

This means that things such as physical laws, governments, and social classes need to be figured out. You also need to decide if you are writing a story about humans or other species. All of this is called world-building.

Building a world from scratch can be a terrifying and overwhelming thing to grasp. This is where the leviathan method comes in.

The leviathan method is simply a step-by-step look at your world. It asks you questions that create each piece of your new universe.

It is a comprehensive creation process, with a total of 52 steps. The steps and what they look like can be seen below:

book writing templates

As you can see, there are also sections for a “story bible,” characters, research, and more information on the world itself. A more complete world building template does not exist. This is where you want to be creating your fantasy.

Learning how to write a novel in the fantasy genre is an especially arduous task with all the different elements. This detailed and comprehensive template will take some of the pressure off.

It requires much time and effort, but it’s a template that will give you a whole new world by the end of it. If you think you have what it takes to go through the entire leviathan method, you can download the template for Scrivener here .

For a simpler and more straightforward fantasy template, you can check this one out:

fantasy novel template

This template still walks you through a fantasy novel. But, it focuses more on creating a novel that has a good structure, with fantasy specific elements.

The Personal Template

You may decide that none of the existing templates are going to work for you. It can happen – everyone is different. If this is the case, you may consider creating your own template.

Studying the professional templates already available will give you an idea of what to include for it to be successful. You can consider things like outlines, acts, parts, and varying structures.

You can create a personal combination of all the elements and suit it to your project specifically.

It won’t always be an easy task, but it may prove to be worth it in the end. You will be able to follow a guide that was curated especially for your book. If done correctly, this can help you create work that is truly fantastic.

You are never truly done learning how to write a novel. But, as you gain experience, you may be able to create successful templates of your own for others to use.

For a simple, generic guide to curating your own template, this example can be helpful:

general fiction template

This is an outline for a novel with no specific genre or style. It has some basic prompt for writing general fiction. You can easily add to this one and make it your own based on your book.

Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best Book Writing Template

Each template is different and you will need to decide which is right for you and your book. These are some factors to consider when making the decision.

Easy Navigation

Even in a large and extensive template, navigation should be easy and fast. There should be no delay or confusion when it comes to flipping from one chapter or section to another.


A good template will be responsive and versatile.

It should be compatible with multiple devices and fit on multiple screen types and sizes. This ensures the maximum amount of accessibility among users.

It Should Have a Theme

The template you use should fit the theme of your book.

Don’t try to use a nonfiction template for your novel. Using a world-building fantasy template probably won’t work when trying to write a romance either.

More general templates can be good if you don’t know exactly where your story is going just yet.

For example, you know you want to write a nonfiction book but you haven’t chosen a topic yet. This general template will be helpful in sorting out the details:

general nonfiction template

You can easily add to this template to make it more specific for your book, once you figure it out.

Assess the Features and Abilities

Depending on the template’s intended usage, the built-in features will differ. Make sure you understand the available features of your chosen template. Not every feature will work for every book.

A Template Which Supports the Right Tone

You want the template you choose to use the correct language. You want to tell your story in the proper voice. Find a template that works with the style of your book.

There is a difference in the way fiction and nonfiction are written. Find a template that agrees with what you are doing.

How to Use Book Writing Templates

Many templates are versatile and serve many purposes. However, they are generally used for either planning and outlining, or actually writing the book. Below are some tips for planning and writing your book with a template.

For the Planning of the Book

As a writer, planning is always of the utmost importance. You want to achieve a good result, and those don’t come from thin air.

In addition to book writing templates, there are some other things you can do to collect and organize your thoughts. These methods are useful and effective when used in conjunction with your chosen template.

The Snowflake Method

The snowflake method is a specific process that is used to tell a story. There are steps to take and certain things you need to do to make it work.

This method is well-suited to writers who like to work in chronological order. If you like to start at the beginning and write straight through to the end, this method is for you. If you are interested, you can check out the detailed instructions we created for writing with the snowflake method here.

Track Your Story With Time

It is, of course, important to be aware of the plot of the story you are writing.

In addition to this, however, it is helpful to also consider the passage of time throughout your story. When planning the events of your book, note the time frame. How many days, months, years have passed?

Did this event happen in the morning or evening? This is a simple method that can help you keep track of where your characters are at all times. It will also help ensure you don’t get timelines mixed up and overlapped.

Chapter Outline

This is a method of writing that goes well with the 30 chapter novel template mentioned above.

The idea here is to simply outline each chapter before beginning to actually write.

To do this, go through the plot you have created and break it down into individual chapters. Once you have done that, create an outline for each chapter. This can include potential scenes, events, important revelations, character developments, etc.

Of course, things can be changed along the way. This is just one way of getting an overview of your story as a whole.

Using Book Writing Templates to Create Your Storyline

While the use of an outline is widely debated, there is no denying the need for a good quality storyline. Outline or no outline , this requires extensive knowledge of your characters and the world around them.

Well-written and relatable characters will give meaning to your story and make it memorable for the readers. There are a few things you can do to ensure you keep track of your characters as well as develop them correctly.

Create a Master List

This may or may not be necessary depending on your cast of characters. Some books contain a small handful of characters, in which case a master list might be moot.

However, any story with a large number of characters – whether big or small – is at risk of getting them confused.

This is why it might be a good idea to create a master list and keep it somewhere accessible.

All you need to do is create a list of your characters and note a few identifiable features. Name, brief backstory, and role in the story should suffice. Keep this on hand in case you need to remember who someone is or what they are supposed to do.


In addition to a master list, it may be worth creating short biographies for each main player in your story. Details of their past and their current life situation. This will help you keep everything straight in your mind, which will translate to consistency on the page.

Readers will pick up on holes and inconsistencies in your character’s stories in no time if you allow them to be there.

Character Development Sheet

A character development sheet is something that should be done for your protagonist as well as all the other main characters.

All this entails is a list of every attribute or characteristic the character possesses. Even small things that may never appear in the story can be important in you knowing who the character is at the core.

This knowledge, even if not mentioned in the book, can be helpful in figuring out how a character would react or what they would do in a situation. This will help you create the most believable and authentic story possible.

Your readers will love a character that so closely resembles a real person.

Do Your Best Work With Book Writing Templates

If you are struggling to write your book or just want to get done faster, you can never go wrong with a book writing template. They are there as a guide and are by no means set in stone. In addition to helping you create your book, they really want to help you learn how to become a better writer.

The template you find might be a perfect fit for your book. You may find yourself making zero changes.

Or, there might be a template that you love, but it needs tweaking to fit your project. This is fine too.

While these templates are some of the best, the options really are endless. So, open up your favorite book writing software, grab your template, and get to work!

writing a novel template

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Novel Factory

A plot outline is like your story’s skeleton. It’s the bones on which you hang the flesh, blood, sweat and tears of your story.

It sketches out the underlying  structure  of your novel: its key stages, including critical developments and pivotal moments.

It doesn’t list all of the chapters, or everything that happens in them. Its sticks to the heart of the story – which is usually the personal journey of the protagonist, from who they are at the beginning to who they are at the end.

For some people an outline may simply be a few ideas floating around their head , for others it may be a 50,000 word document.

For our purposes, we’ll assume a plot outline is a written document of a few pages, covering key stages and turning points.

The most basic plot structures

The simplest plot outline could be based on the  three act structure :

writing a novel template

For example:

  • Beginning – Harry is a bullied orphan living with his aunt and uncle, who mistreat him
  • Middle – He joins a magical school and learns of great friends, enemies and challenges
  • End – He manages to stop an evil wizard from stealing an important artefact, and returns home confident and able to stand up for himself

But that’s simplistic to the point of being of limited use. So you may want to expand it into something like this:

  • Rising Action
  • Falling action
  • Final Outcome

writing a novel template

For many people, this is enough of a structure on which to hang the main points of their story. Using these stages will help ensure the story feels satisfying to a reader.

Imagine how a reader might feel if you wrote a story with the stages in this order:

  • Final outcome
  • Falling Action

writing a novel template

It hurts just to look at it. Imagine what it would be like to read.

Applying this distortion to the simplest of plot outline makes it clear why getting the stages out of order can be confusing, unsettling and even nonsensical.

This is an important lesson, because while the diagram above is almost laughable, it might not be so obvious when stages are out of order when using a more advanced structure. However, there’s a high chance that readers will still feel less engaged and emotionally involved.

The most popular and widely used plot structure is probably the Hero’s Journey, which goes something like this:

  • Ordinary World
  • Call to adventure

Refusal of the Call

  • Meeting the Mentor

Crossing the Threshold

  • Tests, allies, enemies
  • Approach the innermost cave
  • Resurrection
  • Return with Elixir

writing a novel template

In this diagram, the higher the line, the higher the tension and stakes. The dip towards the end additionally represents a loss of hope.

Traditional diagrams depict the Hero’s Journey as a circle, but I find that doesn’t sit right with me, as it means the end point appears to be exactly the same as the start point.

For me the linear diagram better represents the concept the the hero returns ‘home’ (back to the baseline), but they are further forward than they were at the start.

Here’s a  very  brief explanation for each of these stages:

You can read about the stages of the Hero’s Journey in more detail  here .

Before we go any further, let’s address some questions that writers sometimes raise with regards to the Hero’s Journey and other plot outlines.

writing a novel template

It’s important to realise that each of these stages can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways, leading to an infinite variety of stories.

At first, it’s easy to be misled (especially by the wording) that this template will force your story into a particular style.

For example, at the most fundamental level, the word ‘Hero’ may give the impression you have to present a sword wielding, brawny young man who longs for adventure - but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

writing a novel template

The ‘Hero’ just means the protagonist, and they don’t have to display any traditionally ‘heroic’ qualities at all. We are all the protagonist of our own experience, however flawed and morally questionable.

Similarly, the Call to Adventure doesn’t have to have anything to do with sirens, evil Kings or swordfights. It can be anything that unsettles and ordinary life.

So, while the hero  could  be a young man longing for exciting quests, and his call to adventure  could  be an old wizard telling him of a dragon who’s kidnapped a princess, it could equally be:

  • A high school airhead who’s just been dumped and decides to go to law school to try to win her boyfriend back.
  • A little girl who follows a rabbit down and hole, then has to find her way home.
  • Or even a widowed fish who needs to find his missing son.

Click here  for more examples of the Hero’s Journey in a range of stories.

If you start looking out for it as you watch movies and read books, you will start to see how varied the interpretations are, and how the same concepts that be found in all genres and mediums.

In fact, because of your own personal experience of life and the world, you couldn’t write a book that was the same as someone else by following these stages, even if you tried.

writing a novel template

One of the most important things to remember when following the Hero’s Journey and its variations, is that nobody  invented  them.

An academic called Joseph Campbell is credited with analysing thousands of stories spanning the globe, from those told around tribal campfires to modern books and movies.

In doing so, Campbell identified similarities that emerged beyond all the borders and ages, and attempted to distil these common patterns into one fundamental ‘monomyth’. The Hero’s Journey is a modernised interpretation of that monomyth.

writing a novel template

So, they are not a set of rules made up and laid out by some authority. They are a fundamental structure that emerged from the collective consciousness of our human psyche.

The success of the vast majority of bestsellers and box office huts is testament to the power of the Hero’s Journey to resonate with large numbers of people.

Cautions of the monomyth

writing a novel template

Having said that… all interpretations we make of the world are shaped by our own experience, and the original monomyth laid out by Campbell certainly contains problematic terminology and elements.

Glaringly, there are those which focus on the traditionally male perspective and experience, but there are also issues with bias towards the western experience and attitudes of the time regarding dominance and individuality.

Campbell can’t be blamed for that, none of us can see the limitations of our own perspective because they are beyond our peripheral vision. However, it also means that we don’t need to treat his analysis as ‘sacred’.

And of course, the Hero’s Journey is already an interpretation of the original work, so it has already begun.

Despite these qualifications, disregarding the monomyth and Hero’s Journey would be throwing away some of a writer’s most useful tools.

And we can continue that work by evolving it to fit our changing experiences and attitudes to the world and our way of existing in it.

Of course, you could choose to throw it all out and start from scratch, creating your own stages, pacing and progression. But there is a much stronger chance you won’t tap into the collective unconscious; in which case you’ll need to work much harder to engage the audience.

writing a novel template

Many have already begun this work, and created interpretations and variations which make it clearer that the emphasis is on a personal journey, rather than anything to do with men slaying dragons.

An excellent one is the Character Driven Hero’s Journey, as developed by Allen Palmer:

Genre specific novel outline templates

And of course, people who write in specific genres are able to identify stages and elements which tend to crop up consistently within their own genres, and have a positive effect on the popularity of their stories.

We’ve created a bunch of genre specific plot outline templates, including:

  • Detective Noir
  • Character Driven Hero’s Journey
  • Mystery / Crime Thriller
  • Short Story

You can access all of these below.

Stronger first draft

If you outline your plot before you start writing, you can be confident your first draft will have a solid structure from the outset, rather than hoping for it to emerge organically, or having to retroactively go and apply it

This will save time and effort when it comes to redrafting and editing towards your final manuscript.

Direction and Completion

Knowing where you’re going helps you get there.

Writing a novel is a mammoth task which can feel overwhelming. Having a plot outline helps break it down into manageable chunks, with clear goals.

It can keep you motivated and on track.

Frees up creativity

Contrary to stifling creativity, having a plot outline frees you up to let the words flow, because you don’t have to be preoccupied with the worry that you’re going to write 50,000 words then find yourself in a dead end.

Could take away the thrill of discovery

Many writers don’t want to know too much about their story before they start, as the knowing sucks out the excitement of discovering the story as they write.

And some successful writers report that they never plan before they start.

But when you analyse their work, you will usually discover that the stages are in fact. So what gives?

It’s not that they’re being dishonest, it’s that they have absorbed these patterns from their experiences of books, movies and life and are applying them sub-consciously.

If you don’t feel writing out a plot outline works for you, then it’s even more important to internalise the universal structures, so you can rely on your subconscious to take care of it.


Writers can sometimes be procrastinators to professional levels, so make sure you’re not doing your plot outline to death just to avoid starting your first draft.

But the fact is that there are certain things that tap into our human psyche. Skilled writers will subvert and break traditional structural conventions to great effect – but it’s unlikely they’ll do so by accident.

You have to know the rules before you can consistently break them effectively, so know about plot outlines and what they do is a great tool to have in your writer’s toolbox, whether you decide to use them in the end or not.

Find a plot outline that suits you

Read through a range of plot outline templates and see which resonates with you the most.

Write a few sentences for each of the stages

For each of the stages write a few sentences, or a paragraph which describe how that stage manifests in your novel.

Read through the entire thing and make sure it flows and makes sense. Make adjustments for consistency.

Ongoing improvement

As you’re writing your first draft and subsequent drafts, treat your plot outline like a working document, not a set of commandments carved into stone.

If it needs tweaking and updating, that’s fine. You may decide to reorder the stages, add new ones, or remove some.

Don’t be too rigid

As with all rules of thumb, you can break the conventions to great effect – the important thing is that you know what you’re doing and why, rather than just fumbling because you don’t have the right tools in the first place.

Following the stages fairly closely is the easiest way to take advantage of the patterns of the collective unconscious. Deviating from them is to be encouraged, but you have to be aware of the impact it will have, and realise you may have to work harder and use other techniques to engage the audience and keep them emotionally hooked.

Good luck with your plot outlines! Please share your plot outlines and other plot outline resources in the comments!

8 Plot Outline Templates - Free Downloadable PDFs

The plot structures below are available as free downloadable PDFs, but there  is  a better way to use them.

They are all fully integrated into the Novel Factory novel writing software.

There, you can select a template from the dropdown menu and begin writing within the software.

You are given the option to add and delete your own stages, sort them into acts, and drag and drop them into the order you prefer.

It takes using these novel outline templates to a new level of efficiency.

Get a free trial of the Novel Factory  to see it in action.

If you like these, you may also like our  free book writing worksheets.

Character Driven Plot Outline

Character Driven Plot Outline

This story outline is driven by the development of a compelling character arc .

The protagonist begins with something missing from their existence, even though they may not be aware of it.

Through the story, they learn why they feel incomplete and must face their demons and deepest fears in order to evolve as a person and become whole.

Incomplete  - establish the hero's 'want' and their 'need'

The protagonist is unfulfilled in their normal life. There will be two things missing – one thing that they think they want (like money, fame, a Porsche – you get the idea) and another thing which they haven’t thought of, but is the real thing that will give them fulfillment. (compassion, self-confidence, etc).

Unsettled  -  an outside force appears (e.g. invitation or threat)

The protagonist’s world becomes unsettled by an outside force. An invitation, threat, or attack, perhaps.

Romance Plot Outline

Romance Novel Story Outline

The classic romance story structure, including all the major story beats and complications.

Based on characters having personal character arcs and motivations that conflict with the romance aspect.

Introduce the protagonist (who feels incomplete)

Introduce the main character’s world. They may be successful in many areas of life, but clearly, there’s a gap when it comes to a loving relationship. Foreshadow the conflict that will create challenges for the romance to come. Establish the hero’s non-romance based goal.

The protagonist meets love interest but there is conflict

When the two main characters first meet it is extremely likely that they will hate each other on sight. Show how they are from different worlds, with strongly contrasting views on life.

Characters are forced to spend time together

Due to external factors, the characters are forced to spend time together, and even to cooperate to achieve a goal. They are still at odds, but the sparks are kindling some fire… A friend may even comment on it, but the couple-to-be both hotly deny there is an attraction.

Hero's Journey Plot Outline

Hero's Journey Novel Plot Outline

The Hero's Journey, as proposed by Joseph Campbell, trimmed to the bone and applicable across all genres - not just sword-wielding fantasies.

The Ordinary World

To begin with, you set the scene and introduce the main character. This is the place to establish what’s missing from the main character’s life, and give hints about the story to come.

Call to Adventure

An external force challenges the main character. This is usually an invitation or a threat.

The protagonist often expresses reluctance to answer the Call to Action. They may be afraid or feel poorly equipped for such a challenge. Sometimes the reluctance is expressed by a supporting character, not the hero.

Meeting with the Mentor

The mentor is a character of authority to the protagonist. They provide advice and useful gifts, such as weapons or talismans. The mentor often reflects the tone of the story - a tragedy will have a one who is toxic or destructive (or one who is already dead), a children's fairytale will have a benevolent all-knowing one, a dystopia may have an unreliable one. The mentor is usually a recurring character.

Crime Mystery Plot Outline

Mystery / Crime Thriller Plot Outline

A fairly detailed structure that explains how to develop the sleuth's inner character journey alongside solving the crime and uncovering deeper conspiracies.

Present the crime

Mysteries and crime thrillers often begin with a prologue in which the inciting crime takes place. The first crime is very likely to be a murder or kidnapping. This is from a POV that is not the main protagonist, it may be from the point of view of the victim, the killer, or an omniscient narrator.

Introduce the sleuth

Next, we meet the sleuth, who is the protagonist. This person is often a professional detective, but not always. Sometimes they are a normal person thrust into a situation that gives them no choice but to take action – usually because someone they love is missing or threatened.

Universal Plot Outline

Universal Novel Plot Outline

Based on the hero's journey, but rejigged to make the terminology more generic and easy to apply across genres.

The Status Quo

Introduce the main character’s world and establish their want and their need. The character clearly has things missing from their lives and they are unsatisfied with their current existence.

The Complication

Something happens to shake the character’s world and offers them an opportunity, or creates a threat.

In pursuit of the goal, the character crosses some kind of barrier (could be physical but doesn’t have to be), which means it is not possible to return to their old life.

A New World

The character is now in a new and unfamiliar world, trying to navigate unknown rules and challenges.

External Obstacles

The character must face a series of conflicts, each of increasing difficulty and stakes. Some they will win, some they will lose.

Internal Obstacles (temptation)

The most compelling stories will pit main characters against their inner demons, forcing them to overcome them in order to become a better person.

Dark Moment

In order for the high of the climax to have the greatest effect, you should precede it by taking your character as low as they can go. Despite all the progress they’ve made against external and internal obstacles, something should happen at the end of the second act which makes everything fall apart and makes them certain that all is lost.

The Final Conflict

This is the final battle where they throw everything they’ve learned and everything they’ve become, against the great enemy - and in the vast majority of cases, they will be victorious.

The Return Home

Bring your readers back down to earth after the climax, show the hero's new normal and tie up any loose ends.

Detective Noir Plot Outline

Detective Noir Novel Plot Outline

Drawn from the detective noir / hard-boiled genres, a dark mystery structure with dark undertones and plenty of betrayal.

The protagonist of a detective noir is often an anti-hero. An outcast, often someone who held a heroic position in the past, such as a police officer or soldier, but who has fallen from grace. A sense of alienation should be established and maintained throughout the story.

The siren walks in

A client will appear, seeking help with a case – usually a murder or missing person. They may appear vulnerable or wanting to help, but they will have a deep, dark secret that is bound to get the protagonist into hot water.

Although the femme fatale trope is common, there is no requirement for the siren to be female, or sexy, and in fact, mixing it up may make your story more refreshing.

Initial investigation

The protagonist begins their investigations, searching for clues. This will often be done at night, and in the shadows. Throughout the investigation, there should be a healthy amount of red herrings.

Note - click here to read about the difference between hard-boiled and noir.

And you can read more about the elements of detective noir here.

Screenplay Plot Outline

Screenplay Plot Outline

Based on Hollywood Blockbusters.

Stage I: The Setup

Create the world and transport readers there. Introduce your hero in their everyday life and create empathy with them. Hint at the hero’s inner conflict (their ‘need’).

Turning Point #1: The Opportunity (10%)

10% into the story something new and different must happen to the hero. The Opportunity begins the journey and presents outer motivation.

Stage II: The new situation

They find themselves in a new situation. The newness of the situation may be internal (a new emotional state or attitude) or external (change in circumstances / location). The hero tries to navigate this new, unknown territory and begins to formulate a plan for achieving their outer motivation.

Turning Point #2: The Change of Plans (25%)

The outer motivation transforms into a specific, visible goal with a clearly defined endpoint.

Stage III: Progress

The hero makes progress towards their outer motivation. They may receive training and / or mentoring. There are conflicts and setbacks, but overall they seem to getting closer to achieving their goal.

Short Story Plot Outline

Short Story Plot Outline

A seven-point system for writing a short story.

A character

In a short story you can often get away with characters being larger than life, or having distinctive qualities that are more exuberant, because the reader won’t be experiencing the character for so long that these characteristics begin to become tiresome or irritating.

Is in a situation

Very quickly you need to introduce the character’s world and their place in it. What is interesting about this character and their life? Make sure the reader feels excited and intrigued.

With a problem

At the heart of all good fiction is conflict. What problem does your character have to solve? Try to get to the problem as quickly as possible (within the first few paragraphs) so the reader is hooked and needs to know how the problem is going to be resolved.

They try to solve the problem

The character should begin to make efforts to solve their problem.

But fail, making it worse

But these efforts have the opposite effect, and the originally small problem begins to grow into something really serious.

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12 creative writing templates for planning your novel.

writing a novel template

It’s that time of year when thousands of writers around the world prepare to type faster than a speeding bullet, drink coffee more powerful than a locomotive, and leap tall deadlines in a single bound. Of course, we’re talking about  National Novel Writing Month  (also known as NaNoWriMo), and the challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to create a 50,000-word story from scratch in just 30 days, from November 1–30. How’s that for productivity?

We’ve met a lot of writers who use Evernote to plan, brainstorm, and sometimes even draft their novels. But as any fiction writer knows, the hardest part of any new work is figuring out what to write about in the first place:  What happens next? What motivates these characters? What’s this story about, anyway?

Only you can answer those questions, but it helps to figure them out early. If you’re going to write a novel in November,  the time to plan is now . With that in mind, we’ve created a dozen Evernote templates to help you collect and structure your thoughts. Many of them include questions or prompts to get you started, but you can feel free to replace those with inventions of your own. Start filling them out today; they’ll keep you anchored while writing your 30-day masterpiece.

Power tip:  To use any of the note templates mentioned in this article, click the “Get it »” link and then click “Save to Evernote.” The template will be added to your Evernote account in the notebook of your choice (we recommend  setting up a new notebook  just for templates). You can then copy, move, rename, and edit the note to suit your needs. 

Templates for plotting and outlining your novel 

Are you the sort of writer who wants a solid plan in place before typing “Chapter 1”/ You’ll need a roadmap that begins with a premise and culminates in an outline. There are a lot of different ways to get there, so we’ve made templates for walking you through several of the most popular plotting methods. You can choose the one that fits your personal style.

1.   Story premise worksheet

Your premise is the foundation on which the entire novel is built. With this step-by-step guide, you’ll think about who your protagonist is, what they want, and the problems or conflicts they must overcome. The end product is a concise, two-sentence explanation of what your story is about.

2.   Three-act plotting template

Remember learning in school that all stories should have a beginning, middle, and end? This classic, logical method of storytelling takes you from your story’s initial setup and inciting incident through rising action, turning points, and resolution.

3.   Story beats template

Adapted from the world of screenwriting, this popular method replaces the concept of acts with a set of milestones that commonly appear in many kinds of stories. Hitting these “beats” gives your story a rhythm while leaving the details open to your imagination.

4.   Snowflake method checklist

Maybe you’d rather work from the top down than from the ground up. Inspired by fractal geometry (really!), Randy Ingermanson’s “snowflake method” grows an entire novel from a single sentence. Each step of the process methodically expands upon the one before, filling in details until you have a complete draft.

5.   Story timeline tracker

Regardless of your novel plotting method, keeping track of time in your novel is important. Did your hero get that threatening letter on Tuesday or Sunday? Does the next scene happen on a sunny morning or in the dead of night? This template will keep your novel’s clock ticking smoothly.

6.   Chapter outline

Once you’re in the writing groove, you may not want to wade through all your plotting notes to remember what comes next. This checklist gives you a scannable view of your plot, chapter by chapter and scene by scene, making it easy to see what you’ve completed and how much lies ahead.

Templates for Building Characters in Your Novel  

Even if you aren’t the plotting and outlining type, the more you know about your characters and the world they inhabit, the better your writing will be. The following templates will help you brainstorm and remember the little details that make a story come to life. 

7.   Character master list

Got a lot of characters? This “quick and dirty” list helps you remember who’s who at a glance. Add names, ages, and notes about your characters. And you can drop in a photo or drawing of each character to help you visualize your story.

8.   Character profile worksheet

If you want to go deeper with your characters, you’ll need a full dossier describing their physical appearance, manner of speaking, behavioral traits, and background. This questionnaire covers everything from their hair color to their biggest secret.

9.   Character biography

Now that you know who’s who, here’s a template for figuring out how they got to the situation in your novel. When it’s time to write a flashback or refer to a past event, you’ll breathe easier (and save yourself some edits) knowing you can look up the dates in this simple timeline.

10.   World-building questionnaire

So far, we’ve been talking about the what and who of your novel, but where and when are just as important. Whether you’re writing about a fantasy world or the town you grew up in, this questionnaire will get you thinking in depth about the setting. Then you can write richer, more realistic scenes that draw the reader into your world.

Pulling it all together: Project trackers

A novel has a lot of moving parts. When you factor in research, articles saved with  Web Clipper , and random jottings about who did what to whom, you’ll probably find you have a  lot  of notes for your writing project. Consider adding a couple more to keep it all straight: a dashboard where you can manage the whole thing and a checklist for bringing your completed opus to the world.

11.   Story dashboard note

For a quick overview of your project, use this “dashboard” to track its status.  Add it to your shortcuts  for easy access, and  insert links to related notes  to save time on searches. If you’re writing in Microsoft Word or Google Docs, you can paste the file or link into the body of this note and jump into your manuscript with a click.

12.   Self-publishing checklist

Planning to publish that novel when it’s done? Here’s a checklist of all the important steps, from writing a blurb to editing, design, and proofing.  TIP: If you copy this checklist into your dashboard note, you can easily track your novel from first brainstorm to final publication.

Ready, set, write!

If you’re up to the challenge, sign up for free at  nanowrimo.org . Evernote will be posting more tips and strategies to our blog and social media throughout October and November. We invite you to follow along! 

Originally published on October 2, 2017. Updated on October 12, 2022. 

writing a novel template

How to Write Your Novel Using the Save the Cat Beat Sheet

writing a novel template

Writing a book outline is hard. Writing a book in general is hard. Plotting a compelling character arc and figuring out what happens next is a challenge for any writer, professional and newbie alike! Fortunately, I’m here to make it WAY easier for you. This blog post features my tried and true 15 steps to writing a book. Also known as the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet. You can use this handy novel-writing template to outline, write, or revise any novel of any genre.

You might have read the paragraph above and thought, What??? Only 15 Steps? And that’s right. ONLY 15 steps and you have a full novel outline. And here’s the best part. These aren’t just 15 random steps. These are the 15 “plot points” that are found in almost every successful novel ever written. Whether the author intended them to be or not.


Seriously. I’ve studied story for a long time. I’ve read a lot of novels. And after having written over twenty of my own (all published by major publishers like Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, and Macmillan), I can tell you that there is a definite pattern or structure at the heart of every successful novel. I call it the “Secret Storytelling Code”. And it’s this very code that is the basis of the story structure method that I teach to other writers called Save the Cat!

I’m guessing you’ve actually already noticed this secret storytelling code or structure on your own. Maybe without even realizing it.

For instance, have you ever noticed that in every great book or movie, something BIG always seems to happen right around 10% of the way into the story? Or that at 20% of the way in, the story seems to change direction and new characters and worlds and ideas are introduced? Or that at around halfway through the story is when the BIG twists are revealed or the big bombs are dropped (both literal and figurative)?

This isn’t a coincidence. This is the secret storytelling code in action. Essentially it’s the blueprint of what makes up a good story. And it can be broken down into 15 essential plot points. Or what I like to call “beats.” And if you learn those 15 beats and use them to outline and write your own story, you’re almost guaranteed to write a successful one.

Because this blueprint is not only for writing a successful plot. It’s also a blueprint for charting a successful character arc, writing characters that readers will root for, and ensuring that the pacing of your story is always engaging, exciting, and full of conflict and high stakes (regardless of whether you’re writing a quieter contemporary novel or a high-octane thriller.)

And in this post, I’m going to share with you exactly what they are and where they go in your story, so that you can start applying them to your own fiction writing.

So, without further ado, let’s break down your novel using the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet and figure out what should go where.

The Save the Cat! Beat Sheet Beat #1: Opening Image. (0-1)% This is the first beat of Act 1 and it serves as a “before” snapshot of your main character (who from here on out I will refer to as the “hero” of your story), where you visually show , in a single scene, who your hero is and what their world or life is like. Beat #2: Theme Stated (5%) This is where a statement is made by a character (typically not the hero) that hints at what the hero’s arc will be (that is, what the hero must learn/discover before the end of the book). This can also be referred to as a “life lesson.” Beat #3: Setup (1% – 10%) These scenes are used to explore the hero’s status quo life and all its flaws. This is where the reader learns more about what the hero’s life looks like before its epic transformation, including how your hero’s life is flawed in some way. Here we also introduce other supporting characters and the hero’s primary goal. But most important, we show the hero’s reluctance to change (aka learn the theme or life lesson) while also hinting at the stakes at risk should the hero not change. Beat # 4 – Catalyst (10%) At 10%, an inciting incident (or life-changing event) should happen to the hero, which will catapult them into a new world or new way of thinking. This is an action beat that should be big enough to prevent the hero from being able to return to their status quo life. (things like break-ups, deaths, firings, and invitations are popular choices.) Beat #5: Debate (10% to 20%) After the Catalyst, the hero usually takes multiple scenes or chapters to react to what happened in the Catalyst. This is a sequence in which the hero debates what they will do next. It’s usually presented in the form of a question (such as “Should I go?” or “What do I do?”). The purpose of this beat is to show the hero’s reluctance to change. Beat #6: Break Into 2 (20%) This is the moment when the hero decides to accept the call to action, leave their comfort zone, try something new, or venture into a new world or new way of thinking. It’s a decisive action beat that separates the status quo world of Act 1 from the new “upside-down” world of Act 2, which we are now in! It’s at this moment that a new or modified goal is typically introduced, something that the hero is pursuing through the first half of Act 2. Beat #7: B Story (22%) At this point in the story, we introduce a new character or characters who will ultimately serve to help the hero learn the theme or life lesson. This can also be referred to as a helper character, and it can come in the form of a love interest, nemesis, mentor, family member, friend, or other! Beat #8 : Fun and Games (20% to 50%) In this long sequence of multiple scenes or chapters is where we see the hero in their new “upside down” world of Act 2. They’re either generally loving it or hating it. Succeeding or floundering. We want to see the hero pursuing that goal you set up at the Break into 2, so this is where you show the hero either making strides to achieve that goal or struggling to achieve that goal. This beat is also called the “promise of the premise” because it’s the section of the story that represents the “hook” of the novel, in other words, (why the reader picked up the novel in the first place). Beat #9: Midpoint (50%) This is literally the middle of the novel where the Fun and Games culminates in either a “false victory” (the hero has thus far been succeeding and/or has achieved their goal) or a “false defeat” (the hero has thus far been floundering and/or has lost their goal). But something else should happen here to raise the stakes and push the hero forward, ultimately toward real change. (Plot twists, time clocks, ramp-ups of the love story are popular choices.) Beat #10: Bad Guys Close In (50% to 75%) If the Midpoint was a false victory, this section of the story will generally be a downward path where things get progressively worse for the hero. If the Midpoint was a false defeat, this section will generally be an upward path where things seem to get progressively better for the hero. But regardless of path, the hero’s deep-rooted flaws (or internal bad guys) are closing in. After the Midpoint, the hero typically has either a new or modified goal to pursue throughout this beat. Beat #11: All Is Lost (75%) This moment is the lowest point of the novel. It’s an action beat where something happens to the hero that, combined with their internal bad guys, pushes the hero to rock bottom. There’s typically a “whiff of death” during this beat, meaning something dies here (either literally or metaphorically) to symbolize the “death of the old hero” and upcoming “rebirth of a transformed hero” Beat #12: Dark Night of the Soul (75% to 80%) This is another reaction beat where the hero takes time to process everything that’s happened thus far. The hero should be worse off than at the start of the novel. This feels like the darkest hour for the hero, but it’s just darkness before the dawn, or the moment right before the hero finds a solution to their problems, but also finally learn their theme or life lesson. Beat #13: The Break Into 3 (80%) The “aha!” moment. This is where the hero realizes what they must do to not only fix the problems created in Act 2, but more important, fix themself and be “reborn” as an improved version of themselves. The character arc is nearly complete. Beat #14: The Finale (80% to 99%) Now in Act 3, the hero must prove that they really have learned the theme and have transformed. To do that we, show them enacting the plan they came up with in the Break Into 3. Bad guys are destroyed, flaws are conquered, lovers are reunited. Not only is the hero’s world saved, but it’s a better place than it was before. Beat #15: Final Image (99% to 100%) A mirror to the Opening Image, this is the “after” snapshot of who the hero is after going through this epic and satisfying transformation. In this final beat we show a visual representation of the hero’s life after this exciting journey has changed them for the better.

So, there you have it. The 15 beats or plot points that make up almost all successful stories EVER told! Apply this blueprint or outline to your own novel and you’re sure to have a dynamic plot with effective pacing, worthy stakes, and a compelling character arc. Everything you could ever want in a novel!

Want examples of all these beats in action?

Download my free Save the Cat! Starter Kit PDF which comes a handy, printable list of ALL of these 15 beats  plus 3 full-length beat sheets (or plot analyses), showing you how the beats appear in some popular bestselling novels.

And If you want to dive deeper into these 15 beats and the Save the Cat! Method, be sure to check out my book, SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL , available wherever books are sold, or my Save the Cat! Online Novel Writing course , available in the Writing Mastery Academy.

Happy Writing and Plotting!



Discover the secret storytelling code behind every bestselling novel.

Sign up today to receive a FREE Starter Kit including an introduction to the 15 beats, 3 Beat Sheets of popular novels , and a blank Beat Sheet for your own novel.

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How to Write a Novel: 14 Steps to Become a Bestseller

POSTED ON Jan 9, 2024

Scott Allan

Written by Scott Allan

Wondering how to write a novel?  Learning how to write a novel is a dream for many people. But only a handful of could-be-published-authors succeed in writing, publishing, and selling a book. The compulsion to write is powerful, and for most serious authors, they must get those stories out and into the hands of readers who need them.

This is where you come in. The world needs your novel. 

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Learning how to write a book is hard work, and it takes more than a dream to make it happen. You must be willing to put in work every day to turn that dream into a reality.

How do I begin writing a novel , you ask? In this post, I’m going to dive into just that. You will learn how to write a novel from first idea to finished product.

The 14 steps for writing a novel are:

1. understand what a novel is.

If you want to learn how to write a novel, the first step is understanding what a novel is. A novel is a work of fiction told through narrative prose focusing on characters, action (or drama), and a plot with a certain degree of realism. A novel is structured with a set of master scenes, at least two pivotal complications (also known as inciting incidents ), and the ultimate climax that blows everything off its hinges. You will have several types of characters , major and minor characters, interacting through dialogue and action to drive the plot forward with relentless speed.

The main difference between a novel vs. novella is the length. The amount of words in a novel depends on the particular book genre you write, but most books on range from 60,000 to 90,000 words on average. 

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Novellas are between 10,000 to 40,000 words in length. For example, Ernest Hemingway’s classic novella The Old Man and the Sea is just 27,000 words, whereas Stephen King’s longest novel, The Stand , weighs in at just under 473,000 words (after he trimmed 500 pages!).  For a break down of how many words in a novel by genre, check out How Many Words in a Novel? Exact Word Counts Per Genre . Now that you know what a novel is, it’s time to determine the type of novelist you might be.

2. Decide what type of novelist you are

On top of knowing how to write a novel, you need to understand how to become an author , and what type of writer you are! Knowing if you are a plotter or a pantser will influence your entire writing style , so we want to nail this from the start. If you still aren't feeling confident in your writing style after reading this post, you can check out some writing websites for inspiration.

The Plotter

A plotter is someone who spends a great deal of time before writing the book. They know how to write a book outline for their novel complete with master scenes, pivot points, and character profiles . A plotter writes out every detail down to the smallest scene with a clear direction of how the book will begin…and how it must end. A detailed plotter generally won’t start writing until all of these details are worked out.

J.K. Rowling , worldwide bestselling author of the Harry Potter books, is a known plotter. Other known plotters are John Grisham ( The Firm , The Pelican Brief ) and James Patterson . So, what is a pantser? A pantser is…the opposite of a plotter.

The Pantser

In short, the term pantser means “writing by the seat of your pants.” You start with a seed of an idea and a few notes. You have a loose outline and some scenes but other than that, you begin writing your story. Well-known pantsers are Stephen King , Margaret Atwood , and David Morrell ( First Blood ). So, depending on the type of writer you are, this would influence how much time and energy you spend on drafting out an outline , storyboarding or scene creation, and character development .

Plotter and Pantser in Combination

You might not be a detailed plotter or a seat-of-the-pants pantser, but maybe you fall somewhere in between. Most writers do.  My style is to come up with the overall story, the main characters , several master scenes, and the beginning or opening scene. I have a brief outline and a tentative title. I start writing to get momentum moving forward. The story could take a number of directions, and the only way I can find out is by writing the story.

Momentum is key when it comes to writing. If you can see just beyond the outline, your imagination will fire up when you put fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper).

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3. Start with a novel idea 

Of course, every novel starts with a book idea . Maybe you have a thousand different story ideas in your head or written down somewhere, but to move forward with writing novels, you need to commit to one. 

So, what’s the big picture of your novel? Try to write your novel idea in one sentence. 

It can be something broad, like: Tragic teen love affair that ends in suicide. 

Or, it can be something a bit more specific, almost like a writing prompt : Two teens, from rival families, fall in love and in a shocking twist of events, choose to die together rather than live apart.  Whatever your novel idea is, write it down and keep it at the forefront of your mind – even if all the details or concepts aren’t known yet. 

Tips for picking your best book idea:

  • It must interest you. You’re writing 60k+ words of this novel so if you lose interest, you’ll stop writing. 
  • You have knowledge of this kind of book and the subject matter in it. If you write sci-fi, you must have read sci-fi a lot. Romance? You’re reading love stories every waking moment. Your passion for the book idea comes out of your passion for learning about telling this kind of story.
  • Test your idea. Talk about it and tell people 
  • Define the conflict . Can you identify the main conflict?

4. Read books in your genre

Stephen King said: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” 

Writers must read as much as they write. 

For one, it helps improve the story structure of your book. By reading and paying attention to the structure of the books you like, when it comes time to writing novels of your own, this will come very naturally. This is true regardless if you are learning how to write nonfiction , fiction, or a memoir. Reading good writing helps you to become a better writer. You need to read the authors writing in your genre to show you how it is done. If horror is a genre you want to master, you’d better start with Clive Barker or Edgar Allan Poe . Thinking of writing sci-fi? Pick up the books by Arthur C. Clarke ( 2010 ) or Frank Herbert ( Dune ). If you want to practice writing technique, try copyinv passages out of your favorite books. Just read and type. This gets you into the habit of writing (even if it isn’t your material) and is training for the writing to come in your own book.

This technique works when you’re stuck in writing, too. Or you have a fear of writing (what we refer to as writer’s block ). So whenever you are struggling to move forward, grab a book from your shelf, open to your favorite scene, and start typing it out. Just don’t publish it!

5. Set up a productive writing space

When learning how to write a novel, you should ask yourself if your environment is the best place for writing.

Is it clean or cluttered? Can you focus or is your room filled with distractions? Are you alone or do you have friends, roommates and family members surrounding you? Is your space creative or chaotic? In my experience, if you live in chaos (ex: noise, distractions, beeps, a loud TV) you’re setting yourself up for failure. You won’t get far with writing before you’re doing something else. Over the years, I have learned to recognize what works and what doesn’t when it comes to preparing myself for pounding out words.

Here are a few ideas to boost author productivity and make your writer’s space something you can actually get writing done in.

  • Display your favorite author photos. Find at least twenty photos of authors you want to emulate. Print these out if you can and place them around your room.  An alternative idea is to use the photos as screensavers or a desktop screen. You can change the photo every day if you like. There is nothing like writing and having your favorite author looking back at you as if to say, “Come on, you’ve got this!”
  • Hang up a yearly calendar. Your book will get written faster if you writing goals for each day and week. The best way to manage this is by scheduling your time on a calendar. Schedule every hour that you commit to your author’s business. What gets scheduled, gets done .
  • Get a writing surface and chair. There are two types of desks and you should consider setting up your writing area with access to both. The first is the standing desk, which helps you avoid the unhealthy practice of sitting down for long periods. For sitting, you want a chair that is comfortable but not too comfortable. You can balance your online time between sitting and standing. For example, when I have a three-hour writing session, I do 50/50.
  • Create a clutter-free environment. If there is any factor that will slow you down or kill your motivation, it is a room full of clutter. If your room looks like this, it can have a serious impact on your emotional state. I believe that what you see around you occupies a space in your mind. Unfinished business is unconsciously recorded in your mind and this leads to clutter both physical and mental. Go for a simple workplace that makes you feel relaxed. A great book I recommend for this is the 10-Minute Declutter: The Stress-Free Habit for Simplifying Your Home by S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport. 

6. Mindmap your novel and research different ideas

You have the idea for your book, but the next step in learning how to write a novel is researching.  For instance, I’m writing a story where the protagonist become involved in an international scandal that takes them from the U.S. to Europe, from London to Paris to Athens. They are pursued by a hit-squad of assassins with a lot of sophisticated weapons. At the end of the book, the protagonists escape via a submarine from Russia, only to be pursued by another submarine that ends in a big battle 3,000 meters underneath the ocean.

But wait a minute… I’ve never been to Europe. And I’ve never handled “sophisticated weapons” that shoot real bullets. Submarines? I’ve read about them in Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October . How do I write a book that requires so much know-how? Research is a necessary part of your book when you learn how to write a novel. It must be believable. This is true regardless if it is a reverse harem story, sci-fi space epic, or underwater action-adventure.

The details must be right.

First, start by writing down all the ideas you have. Set a timer and start writing – don't worry about fact or accuracy. This is your time to mindmap.

Then, circle the ideas you like best and decide what the next steps are to create a believable and entertaining story.

You might need to talk to people with first-hand experiences taking place in your book. There could be technical details involving planes, subs, trains, guns, missiles, or robots. Geographical details might include street names, shops on those streets, or knowing what a particular street corner looks like even if you’ve never been there. Fortunately, we have the internet. Most of these things mentioned can be found within minutes. The challenge is in not getting bogged down in endless information and too many details. 

An interesting fact: When Tom Clancy’s first novel, The Hunt for Red October , was published, one former Soviet-watching intelligence officer made an accusation that “ Clancy must have had inside information from U.S. intelligence personnel who intercept Soviet communications.” How else could someone know so much?  “That’s a lot of crap,” Clancy replied. In fact, his basic sources were hundreds of books like The World’s Missile Systems , Guide to the Soviet Navy and C ombat Fleets of the World . Clancy also learned a lot from a war game called “Harpoon,” which the Navy used as an instruction manual for ROTC cadets.

Additional tips for your novel research process 

  • Visit your local library
  • Conduct interviews with real people
  • Gather data and info from “reliable resources” on the Internet
  • Watch YouTube videos
  • Read books in your genre (mentioned previously)
  • Refer to Atlases and World Almanacs to confirm geography and cultural facts

Keep it simple and to the point. Give readers what they need to know and no more. The best books use research to drive the story.

7. Establish a writing schedule

Before setting myself up with a schedule, I usually wrote when I felt inspired…and that wasn’t very often.

As prolific author William Faulkner has said: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes at nine every morning.” So there you have it. There isn’t any magic or secret formula. You learn how to write a novel by writing every day no matter what the day throws at you.

The single biggest reason people don’t get a book written is lack of commitment to the writing process, and not the book itself. A book writing coach can inspire accountability during this process and help you stick to a routine. But how do you establish a writing routine , you ask? Well, some writers would say:

  • Show up at your desk like any other job. 
  • Take five minutes to review your story notes.
  • Be clear on what you’re writing.
  • Type the first word.
  • Type the second word.
  • Continue typing for 30-45 minutes.

When I get asked the best way to write, whether you're learning how to write a novel or a nonfiction book, these are the steps I teach writers.

Of course, different authors have different writing routines:

  • Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4 a.m. and works for five to six hours
  • W.H. Auden would rise at 6 a.m. and work hard from 7:00 to 11:30 when his mind was sharpest.
  • Stephen King sits down to write every morning from 8:00 to 8:30.

Whatever routine you decide to follow, remember that the focus is on preparing to write. The routine you implement will be your method for building a successful career as an author .

Create a writing routine that works for you. What time will you be writing novels each day? How many words will you target each writing session?

8. Get clear on the premise or theme of your novel

Setting up everything to write is great. You made it this far! But to learn how to write a novel, you need an actual story to write. And, at the heart of every story, is an overall premise or theme. A premise is your novel’s “big idea” or “big picture view.” So the question is, “What is your story’s premise? ” Write out the idea for your book in 40-50 words. I gave you a couple of samples here. This is your pitch and it has to be good. This nugget has to fire you up so you show up to write every day. 

Here are a few examples of story premises: 

Example One : A group of Navy Seals are sent on a black-ops mission to investigate the discovery of a United States submarine that vanished over 30 years ago. After discovery, the SEAL team is infected one-by-one with a deadly virus that has found its way into the abandoned ship 2000 meters beneath the surface…

Example Two : A couple of paleontologists and mathematician are among a select group chosen to tour an island theme park populated by dinosaurs created from prehistoric DNA. While the park's mastermind assures everyone that the facility is safe, they find out otherwise when the predators break free and go on the hunt.

Example Three : A young farm girl and her dog are whisked away to a magical land by a tornado, only to come face to face with a wicked witch that has vowed revenge for the death of her sister. The girl meets several friends along the way and together they journey to the land of Oz to find the wizard that can send her back home…

Did you recognize any of those story premises? 

9. Create and map out your characters

Your characters help tell your story, and play a huge role in guiding readers through your storyline. 

It’s time to create your character profile , and since each story has main characters and minor characters, we’ll walk you through this process. 

Knowing how to build life-like characters is a huge step in knowing how to write a novel successfully.

No matter which type of character you are creating for your novel, it’s important to make them believable. Think of the type of person your character is, and make them as realistic as possible. 

Initial questions to consider when you create a character are:

  • What motivates them?
  • What is their character name ?
  • What are their flaws?
  • What is their purpose?
  • What do they look like?
  • What’s their personality type?

Create a protagonist/main character

Every story needs a hero or heroine. But your main character doesn’t always start out as a hero. One day, he or she may be an ordinary citizen and suddenly forced into a situation where they must take action or suffer the consequences.

Your protagonist must be…

  • Challenged throughout the novel. There will be a series of scenes described as incidents or pivot scenes when everything is changed when the hero will be challenged to act in a way that pushes them out of their comfort zone.
  • Realistic and believable. They have a weakness and character flaws that makes them vulnerable.
  • In pursuit of a goal. By the end of the novel, this goal must be achieved.
  • Changed for the better. By the end, your main character will become a better person after winning against impossible odds.

Create a character portfolio for your main character. This includes personality type, physical features, recognizable habits, profession, and background. You don’t have to go into an extensive background check for the sketch. Save this for the actual writing of the story.

The conflict arises when your main hero’s goals and motivation conflict with everyone else, especially the antagonist villain. Your story will be crafted around this conflict, leading to the inevitable defeat of the villain, sometimes at the great sacrifice made by the hero.

You can use this to map out your character’s adversary, too.

Create an antagonist

Writing the villain , the bad guy, the character who is out to stop your hero/protagonist is a tough job. Both characters have similar goals—to overcome the other in hopes of winning the big game, whatever that may be.

The antagonist is motivated by something they absolutely must have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it. This goal is revealed right away in the novel and becomes the driving force behind the novel’s pacing.

As with the protagonist, your villain’s motivation has to be so strong, they are willing to do anything, go to any distance, to achieve it.

This results in a massive, edge-of-your-seat climax. 

The essence of your novel can best be described as your protagonists’ world clashing with the antagonist. Both characters try to bring balance to this world by overthrowing the other. If you learn how to write a novel with this goal in mind, you will be on track to write a gripping novel with scene-after-scene built on conflict.

Sketch out your minor characters

These are the characters that drop in and out of a novel, or they appear for a brief moment to deliver a message, play a part in the protagonist’s journey, but their appearance is brief. If you are a pantser, you might just drop these characters in as you write as I do, based on a moment of imagination. For a plotter, your minor character might have a few lines buried inside your outline. Learning how to write a novel requires making a list of your minor characters that will appear throughout the book. You don’t have to go into any lengthy descriptions. Keep details brief and remember: If your character isn’t engaged in the story, they shouldn’t be there.

10. Draft Your Five Key Milestones

You have your characters mapped out. But now you need scenes for them to carry out the story. The next step in how to write a novel is to carve out the scenes and plot the events in your story.

In fiction, most novels follow the “Five Key Milestones Approach.” There could be dozens of scenes in your book, but the critical scenes are the events that turn everything around.

The Five Key Milestones are: 

  • The Opening Scene/Setup

The Inciting Incident

  • The Pivotal Complication
  • The 2nd Pivotal Complication

The majority of novels, TV shows and movies (depending on genre) follow this formula. Your readers are trained to expect this kind of pattern. So, we must deliver to satisfy their expectations. Let's explain each milestone a bit further:

Opening Scene/Setup

The opening scene is telling readers the kind of story to expect. You must connect your reader to your character. You can show off a strength, reveal a weakness, or share an in-character insight. Each of these gives the reader a hook into the character, helping them to understand why they should follow along.

Here are the steps to create an opening scene:

  • Step One: Create a compelling first paragraph
  • Step Two : Introduce your main character
  • Step Three : Foreshadow the conflict
  • Step Four : Elicit emotion
  • Step Five : Leave the chapter on a cliffhanger (to keep them reading)

You also need to acclimate the reader to the setting. What is the setting of a story? Simply put, it is the climate and environment in which your characters are living.

In Fantasy and Sci-fi, you're building entire worlds and new social constructs. In historical fiction, you're taking the reader back into the moments of World War II, the Roman Empire, or whatever time period.

Ideally, you do this on the cover, with the book description, and the categories and keywords you choose. But, you'll also need to make sure that the first couple of chapters give the reader a clear picture of where this story takes place. Remember to show and not tell .

A decision is made or action is taken that changes everything. There is no going back after this happens. This is the event that sets the chase up or pushes the main character onto a path they have no choice but to take. This is known as 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 afterward will return your hero’s world back to normal.

When this happens, it is full speed ahead and stays that way until the climax. The inciting incident is the doorway they walk through and can never return until things return to normal. That doesn’t happen until the end of the novel after the climax. But by then, your hero has changed and might decide she never wants to return back to the way things were.

Pivotal Complication: The First Slap

The first slap is the moment in our story when everything that our hero has gained is lost in one swift action. Your hero is brought down to nothing. All gains are lost, and your hero’s situation has never been bleaker. Readers need to squirm during this scene. Make your readers uncomfortable, and you will be distilling the storytelling down to perfect science.

Pivotal Complication: The Second Slap

If the first slap wasn’t enough, the second slap has to be worse. Just when your readers think your hero has a chance, you take most of that hope away, save for a sliver. In the second slap, we are setting up for the climax, which means that the hero needs to have an escape route. There should be some hope remaining. It is the “last chance”, the “only chance” for survival. If it fails, all is lost…

The Climactic Scene: “All Hell Breaks Loose”

No scene in your novel is as important as your climax. Everything that has happened up to now has been building towards this climactic chaos. The reader must be so engaged with the climax that by the time they put down the book (or turn off the eReader) they are sweating bullets…and already searching for your next book on Amazon.

11. Write your rough draft

Now that you have all the groundwork prepared for learning how to write a novel, it’s time to actually start writing your rough draft .

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All the prepping you’ve done until this point means you are set up for success! You know what your novel is about, you’ve researched the idea, and you have your characters, plot, and overall storyline mapped out. 

It’s time to start writing the story that lives inside you! You can ask yourself the questions below to make sure you have everything prepped up to this point and you can also use a book template to speed up the process. But this is ultimately about you taking time each day to write.

  • I have determined my writing schedule.
  • My writing space is optimized and free of clutter or distractions.
  • I have selected a few books in my genre to use as inspiration for my writing.
  • I know what genre and subgenre I'm writing for and what type of fiction author I am.
  • I researched the heavy details of my book.
  • I understand the basics of writing a novel and have outlined my story.
  • I have crafted at least three master scenes for my novel.
  • I have sketched out my protagonist and antagonist profiles.
  • I have a list of minor characters to include.
  • I am clear on the Earth-shattering climax.
  • I am committed to writing now and editing later!

One thing the selfpublishing.com coaches always tell our authors is to just focus on writing. The editing will come later. As you'll see in the next step…

12. Self-edit your novel 

Once your rough draft or manuscript is written, it’s time for the editing process. There are multiple different types of editing we recommend each fiction novel undergo.

But you will start with a solid self-edit of your book before sending it to a professional editor. 

Self-editing will take your book to the next level. It will also challenge you as a writer. The material you have spent the past three months [or three years?] working on is ready to be brutally shredded. But we know this is okay. What is coming out through the other side will be a much cleaner, enjoyable read.

The first draft is the foundation of the book. The editing involves working with the real structure. 

Steps for self-editing any novel

  • Verbally read through to find any glaring errors. 
  • Find areas where depth can be added to the story. 
  • Identify any missing details or inconsistencies.
  • Catch any repetition.
  • Watch for showing vs. telling. 
  • Avoid passive voice.
  • Do a spell check and grammar check. 
  • Don’t over edit.
  • Make sure there is a logical flow and order. 
  • Eliminate any fluff or unnecessary words. 

For some of these steps, you can use AI to help you edit your book . It's an excellent tool to catch typos and syntax errors that you may overlook!

Once you’ve done a thorough self-edit, it’s time to hand your book off to a professional editor to really trim away the fat and get your novel publish-ready!

During the editing stage, you may realize you still need to work through your fears and doubts as an author. You may second-guess some scenes or worry about omitting too much. This is why it's important to work with a very skilled editor and book coach during this phase. These people will be your support system and will keep your readers' – and your book's – best interests in mind.

13. Revise your novel

Real writing is about rewriting. The rewrite (or revision) is the stage when your book really starts to take shape. Learning how to write a novel is just as much revising than it is actually writing.

Now that your rough draft is written and has undergone a series of edits, it is time to rewrite your book using the feedback you’ve received.

When it comes to rewriting, we don’t want this to take forever. In the old days, writers would spend a year or more rewriting their books. But that was before they had any tools, computers, or the internet.

Your editor is probably the first person that will see your manuscript. They will (and should) give you the no-holds-barred truth about what needs to be fixed. This can be hard to take if you are sensitive to criticism, and many people are. 

So what do you do if you get your manuscript back and it has more red marks on it than white space?

Simple. You take it as constructive feedback and get to work. Maybe that isn’t the answer you wanted to hear, but there are two choices. You can question the corrections your editor has made, and in some cases, challenge them. Or, you can work through your manuscript line by line, accepting the corrections as you move through the book, making additions here and there.

Remember: Your editor isn't out to get you. They are there to help you learn how to write a novel better. Catching errors or story inconsistencies now is better than having readers catch them after they have paid for your book.

When it comes time to work through your editing, stick with your editor’s suggestions. Run through the book page-by-page, paragraph-by-paragraph, and line-by-line. Read it as if you are reading it for the first time.

Then, make the corrections and rewrite any sections based on their advice.

You may also want to get alpha and beta readers to read your novel at this point in the journey. These people will read through your current manuscript through the lense of your ideal reader. And their initial feedback could be invaluable when making touch editing decisions!

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14. Plan your novel launch

Last on my list of how to write a novel is preparing your book for publishing. If you are self-publishing your first novel, this stage can be a bit overwhelming, and you will likely want to reach out to experts for help.

Because learning how to write a novel is pointless if you can't actually get your book out into the world!

A successful book launch can require a lot of components you might not think of, such as:

  • Learning how to get an ISBN number
  • Creating a book launch website
  • Hosting a book launch party
  • Email/social media marketing
  • Determining the correct Amazon KDP tags

Luckily for you, helping authors self-publish their books is what we do around here.

If you've read this guide on writing a novel and think you'd rather embark on this journey with some support, our team is here to help. Just reach out to one of our talented book writing specialists to talk about your novel idea today!

writing a novel template


The proven path from blank page to 10,000 copies sold

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Home » Book Template: 6 Best Book Templates

Book Template: 6 Best Book Templates

Book Template: 6 Best Book Templates

Become a Certified HR Manager

Table of contents.

Writing a book is an incredibly rewarding experience, albeit a daunting one. New writers working on the first draft of their book need all the help they can get, and one promising route is to utilize a creative book writing template. 

Luckily, there are tons of resources available on the internet that can help make the writing process much easier. However, when it comes to templates, it can be difficult (especially for first-time writers) to find the perfect one for their writing style. 

Therefore, in this article, I’ll detail the 6 best book templates that you can use to outline your ideas, streamline your writing process, and focus on your story.

Let’s jump right in.

What is a Book Writing Template?

Simply put, a book writing template is a pre-built structure in which you can add words to create a literary work.

It’s essentially a format that has certain qualities that are suitable for specific genres of literature.

For example, a novel and a nonfiction essay are structured differently and have different stages of progression. Both these genres have templates that suit several types of each literary piece.

A nonfiction essay template will help structure the content to how an ideal nonfiction book should be, and keep it from looking and reading like a novel.

Currently, we have book writing templates for almost every literary genre, including fiction, nonfiction, reviews, scripts, poetry, etc. Each of these templates follow a different structure, however, the best templates have some characteristics in common.

Characteristics of the Best Book Writing Template

Regardless of genre, every book writing template has some details that set it apart from the rest.

However, the best writing templates have the following characteristics in common:

  • Comprehensive structure


Let’s take a look at each characteristic individually.

Comprehensive Structure

If you study some of the best works of literature in history, you’ll find that they all cover the story completely and give you all the fine plot details at specific times as the story progresses.

Sure, sometimes the plot may have some holes, but the structure will always be detailed and include every aspect of the writing process.

This means that a great book writing template has sections for:

  • Subject Research
  • Brainstorming
  • Setting sketches
  • Character sketches
  • Plot/chapter outline

Other than poetry, and some specialized genres such as short opinion reviews, every book writing template has some combination of these elements.

A rigid structure can make every book sound the same in terms of how the story progresses.

The same plot lines, the same buildup, and the same climax can become boring, especially for avid readers.

The best book writing templates have the same structure, but added room for customizability to suit unique writing styles.

For example, if I’m new to the world of  growth marketing  and picked up a book on it, I would like a chapter or two to be dedicated to an analogy that explains each concept in a relatable manner before moving on to the next part of the narrative.

Breaking up the flow of the book to provide an analogy would be considered adding to the narrative. A good template should allow authors to do that while still keeping the flow intact.

Many book writing templates are very detailed and contain a ton of nuanced elements that define the genre that they belong to.

However, a template should not be too complex. It should not have so many different structural elements that the author spends time and effort trying to understand the template instead of writing the story.

That’s literally the opposite of what a book writing template is for.

Furthermore, complex templates usually become too incoherent for people to read and end up losing readers at some point in the book.

The best templates should have a consistent flow and their sections should be in the order of appearance and importance.

It’s already difficult to write a book, and it’s the job of the template to make sure the complexity doesn’t transfer to the reader.

The 6 Best Examples of an Effective Book Writing Template

Both new and experienced writers often use templates to streamline the writing process and create an engaging narrative.

However, because of this, there are too many templates to choose from in every genre.

Additionally, it’s difficult for new writers to determine which templates will benefit their first book.

The following are templates that I’ve found to be the best in their respective categories. Most of these can be used with word and/or pdf processing software. 

Furthermore, if you really want to keep your thought process organized and the writing process flowing, all of these templates are available in Squibler , a writing software made specifically for book writers. 

1. The 30-Chapter Novel Template

The 30-Chapter Novel template is a perfect starting point for most first-time fiction writers. 

The name of the templates comes from the ideal length of a novel in contemporary fiction, although it’s not a limiting rule and you can have a story longer or shorter than that. 

The template is very helpful for writers with a developing story, as each chapter has an individual section that helps the story progress. 

The sections contain prompts and pointers that help you develop each chapter and maintain the perfect novel pacing. Additionally, they make sure the story progresses according to contemporary novel story arc standards.

It essentially creates a structural roadmap for your novel. 

The template works very well as a platform, too.

If you have already written enough content to compile into a book, you can simply copy and paste it into the template, and adjust each section into its appropriate place.

To start writing with the 30-Chapter Novel template, click here .

2. The Snowflake Template

The Snowflake template (also called the Snowflake Method) is a writing guide that helps you create very engaging and intriguing stories.

The template develops content that starts out easy to understand, and gradually increases in complexity. It’s a concept that was developed to help readers grasp the story at first and hold their attention as the plot thickens.

The Snowflake method works with both fiction and nonfiction works. 

Because the structure remains the same for both genres, authors can write both without worrying about how to progress the narrative. 

Furthermore, the template is great for writers who like to develop their story as they write. It lets you start with virtually a single sentence, and gradually think of and add plot details.

To learn how to write with the Snowflake template, click  here .

3. The Crimson Writing Template

Crimson is a template that has a very traditional novel structure and favors a classical approach to writing.

This template is tailor-made for works of fiction, especially classic fiction. However, it can also work with contemporary fiction that wants to create a more intimate reading experience.

Crimson has an efficient and simple page layout that doesn’t break a long manuscript into too many sections. Instead, it optimizes manuscripts according to classic layouts.

Because of its structure, it works best for fiction that grips the reader and keeps their attention on the page, despite the length of the paragraphs. For this reason, the author has to put in some work adapting the manuscript to the template.

To buy the Crimson Template, click  here .

4. The Three-Act Story Template

This template is basically a structure that most classical and modern works of fiction have used. It’s a basic story arc that has different plot elements for the three acts (beginning, middle, end).

The following are the plot elements for each act:

  • Opening scene
  • Inciting incident
  • Call to action
  • Rising action
  • The disaster
  • Turning point
  • The resolve
  • Resolution/denouncement

This is a clearly defined writing template that’s great for anyone who wants to write a book, but has yet to start brainstorming.

If you’re looking to start writing fiction, this template can be an effective guide to structure your story on.

5. The Basic Fantasy Template

This template is for complete beginners who want to start writing fiction in the fantasy genre.

The fantasy template uses a mix of both classic and modern structural elements to create a story with an optimal pace, character arc, plot timing, and reader engagement.

Fantasy fiction is different from other genres such as romance and mystery. This is due to its more traditional buildup and story progression. The three-act story template is the most common baseline for fantasy, though there have been some exceptions recently.

The template asks questions and prompts the writer to develop thoughts on vital story elements as they continue writing. Additionally, each chapter is set up with guidelines for the writer to help them along.

To start writing on the Fantasy template, click  here .

6. The World-Building Template

The world-building template is also centered on fantasy, however, it’s more of a story builder than a structure.

It uses what’s called the Leviathan Method, which is a series of ‘ steps ’ that define your fictional world.

There are a total of 52 steps, each with a question that’s related to the plot setting, character research, and various other elements that make the foundation of your story.

Using the Leviathan method, the world-building template asks certain world-specific questions that help you create a fictional world for your characters to inhabit. While you still have to come up with all the details yourself, the template asks the right questions at the right stage.

This reduces the time it would normally take for you to build your story world. Plus, it shows you which elements you need to come up with first to create the most cohesive version of your fictional world.

To download the Leviathan World-Building template for Scrivener, click  here .

How to Choose the Right Book Writing Template

Writing styles have evolved a lot over the years. Today, there are more genres of literature than there were even 20 years ago.

More literature genres result in more writing templates.

This is good for writers who had a story in mind but didn’t know what type of audience to write a story for. On the other hand, it could be a problem for new writers who could have trouble choosing which template to use as a foundation for their story.

Here are some factors to consider when choosing a book outline template for your story.


The best writing templates are easy to understand and use as a structure.

They are very well-defined according to the writing genre and accommodate a number of writing styles within that genre.

These templates should also be compatible with multiple devices (Amazon Kindle, smartphone, laptop, etc.) and screen sizes.

Clearly Defined Theme

Most templates are already made according to categories of literature. However, some general templates can be too ambiguous for newer writers to follow.

An example of this are some fiction templates. Sci-Fi fiction is different from high-fantasy, which in turn, is different from true-to-life romance.  

The best template should be designed according to a particular theme that stems from several genres of literature. Having such a template will optimize the content for readers of that genre.

Appropriate Tone and Voice

There’s a difference between the tone of the story and the voice in which it’s being told.

The best template should build upon a tone that serves the type of book it’s based on. It should also feature a voice that resonates with readers of that particular genre.

Such a template will ensure that the author’s tone stays consistent throughout the writing process and that they know how to voice the plot and characters.

Planning Assistance

While planning and note-taking are largely for the writer to manage, a little help with the process can make it a lot easier to come up with a great story.

The best templates help writers plan out their stories by having sections and prompts for vital aspects of the planning stage.

These templates map out the story precisely by making you take note of all the elements you’ll need further details on.

The Biggest Practical Benefits of a Book Writing Template

Most of the advantages of having a book writing template on your side stem from how they assist writers via a pre-built story structure.  

However, there are some benefits that don’t seem too major until you actually start writing a new book.

To shed some light on how templates actually help writers, here are some of their practical benefits.

Streamlined Editing Process

A template will make it much easier to edit your written material, regardless of the word count and overall book size.

Since the content will already be written according to the ideal structure, it’ll enable the editor(s) to concentrate on the trope, holes in the story, main character inconsistencies, etc. instead of fixing the layout in a word document.

Easier Publishing

Publishers prefer certain genres of literature to be written according to a certain aesthetic.

Since most digital templates are regularly updated, they will already have the content written exactly how publishers prefer it.

In case you’re self-publishing your own book, a template will help cut back on the time-to-publishing.

Faster Writing

Your time-to-publishing can vary a lot depending on your book layout.

The structure and layout are actually more important than your typing speed when it comes to completion time.

Templates essentially give you a roadmap to add content to. This cuts down a lot on the total time to completion for a book, letting you meet any deadlines. 

Better Aesthetics

Contrary to the age-old adage, a lot of readers judge literature by the book cover! 

From the book title and table of contents to the cover design and title page design, the aesthetics of a book matter a lot to readers.

Templates help develop a much better-looking book design, with visual elements that complement the genre. 

Using a Book Writing Template in 2024

Creative writing is one of the most fun artistic ventures you can undertake.

As someone who has written on various topics, I understand the thrill that comes with completing a well thought out and written piece. 

Using a book writing template and writing assistance software such as  Squibler  can make it much easier and faster for you to get that thrill. 

Additionally, you’ll have an amazing written piece of work to your credit. 

Now, pick up your preferred writing medium, get your template ready, and start writing!

writing a novel template

Related Posts

12 Best Novel Outline Templates to Structure Your Story

Published in Book Writing


writing a novel template

How to outline a novel (template plus 7 checks)

Deciding how to outline a novel (or whether to outline at all) is a personal process for each author. This sample book outline plus 7 checks and insights will help you outline with purpose:

  • Post author By Jordan
  • No Comments on How to outline a novel (template plus 7 checks)

writing a novel template

Novel outlining: Pros, Cons, and Pitfalls

Outlining novels: Pros and cons Should I outline a novel? ‘Pantsing’ pitfalls

Sample Novel Outline

Sample book outline, how to outline a novel while avoiding cons:.

1. Have a broad yet specific story idea 2. Have core ideas of characters to expand 3. Know crucial details of plot 4. Research or understand your novel’s setting 5. Have an idea of who will narrate 6. Keep asking interesting questions 7. Alternate planning with drafting

Outlining novels: Pros and cons

Before we examine a sample book outline and discuss it in detail, let’s examine what authors and editors say about the value of outlining. Some authors (Stephen King among them) profess to be ‘pantsers’ (referring to writing ‘by the seat of your pants’). In his writing manual On Writing , King compares writing to excavating around a fossil (the hard kernel of an idea) to discover more of its story.

I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. Stephen King, On Writing (2000), p. 163.

The idea that a story outline could be restrictive is plausible (though it’s unclear why – to King – planning is not an act of ‘real creation’).

Editor and publishing strategist Jane Friedman gives a less absolute view on whether or not to outline a novel before drafting:

My advice about planning your novel is this: do whatever will give you the confidence you need to get started. If diving right in works for you, that’s awesome. If you need an elaborate outline, write an elaborate outline. Jane Friedman, ‘To Outline or Not to Outline your Novel’.

Key points ‘for’ and ‘against’ outlining books:

Should I outline a novel?

Pros of outlining:

  • Helps you get started
  • Fosters confidence in your writing process and progress
  • Guides expansive elaboration

Cons of creating an outline:

  • May decrease spontaneity
  • Involves plotting which isn’t how ‘real’ life unfolds (sometimes without linear direction or obvious meaning), according to Stephen King
  • Potentially limits a process of discovery ( according to NY Book Editors )

It is wonderful when we have a rush of spontaneous ideas and write as though in a fever dream.

Creating this way doesn’t work for everyone, though, the same way a fixed approach to outlining doesn’t work for everyone. This is why we made our story outlining tools more flexible, to suit the many different starting points of writing a novel .

‘Pantsing’ pitfalls

Spontaneous creativity, what King calls ‘real creation’, may lead to its own issues, such as:

  • Lack of cohesion (fragments created in flashes of inspiration failing to weave together in a coherent story)
  • Writer’s block: What happens when the muse doesn’t come when bidden, spontaneity evaporates or ideas for what comes next dry up?

How to plan a novel - Jane Friedman quote - do whatever gives confidence

To Contents

How to outline a novel (and avoid King’s cons)

See this novel outline template, then read 7 checks for how to outline without losing spontaneity or creativity:

In deciding how to outline a novel, there are many categories of information you could include, in varying degrees of detail. To begin, your central idea or story premise, which you can see in the sample book outline page below, along with simple ideas for character details:

How to outline a novel - sample book outline

Here’s how to outline a novel with confidence. To become a better book writer , check that you:

1. Have a broad yet specific story idea

Find a story premise or idea you’re excited to explore further. It could be:

  • An idea combining three topics you find interesting (for the above sample book outline, the topics were ‘art’, ‘tradition’ and ‘family relationships’)
  • An anecdote someone once told you about an interesting event or act that you transform into your own fiction
  • A ‘high concept’ (for example, ‘what if a new planet were discovered where there were abundant resources and there was a global race to claim/colonize it?’)

Look again at the sample story idea in the novel outline above:

Peter finds a hideous painting of a fish in a pawn shop, gifting it to his sister as a joke for her birthday. The family regifting of the painting becomes a tradition, yet evolves into more than a prank as it seems to hold strange powers.
  • Specific: Particular people, events, actions and/or settings are implied
  • Broad or expansive: It leaves room to explore and imagine the different family members, the way the gift of the painting transforms and changes (what role the painting plays, what the ‘strange powers’ hinted at are)
  • Full of implied change: Change is the lifeblood of stories . The impact of a small act changes (the painting becoming more central to the family’s lives and traditions). The original intent of Peter’s gesture (a prank) could spin out in all kinds of directions

Find your central idea

Brainstorm a central idea, build character profiles and more using easy writing tools.

Now Novel write a book

2. Have core ideas of characters to expand

By Stephen King’s definition, ‘plotting’ (making choices about what will happen in a story before writing the scene itself) stifles spontaneity. When you brainstorm characters, however, there is spontaneity in this process itself . You pull phrases out of thin air, as you do when writing a scene. Writing novel ideas for characters gets creativity flowing.

In learning how to outline a novel , it’s important to remember that all these decisions are also provisional, open to change.

You can add in character ideas or take them out. Casually add in new scene outlines and chapter summaries, too (remember to update your outline afterwards, to keep the ‘bird’s eye view’ of your growing story up-to-date).

The character overview summary of Peter Newcombe (the protagonist for the sample book outline above) and his sister, Jenna:

How to outline a novel: Character summaries in Now Novel's outlining dashboard

Because our central idea was broad yet specific (mentioning a male protagonist and his sister), these are two characters we have plenty of room to expand upon. This makes it easier to have spontaneous fun creating, finding conflicts, happier scenes and other moments within the parameters we’ve set.

3. Know crucial details of plot

Stephen King and many others may balk at plotting a novel outline in advance. An outline is not every bend in the road, every footprint captured in poured, set concrete. The drafting process is often like the ducks that walk over said concrete. Chaotic. Surprising. Often, infuriating.

Learning how to outline a novel so that this process is less chaotic does not necessarily stop the good kind of surprise. Within broad yet specific parameters, there are still many ways things could go. Ways the story could begin (or end). Find key details of plot (plot points) that are already decided to expand upon.

For the sample book outline above, we know:

  • A brother plays a prank on his sister
  • Their family incorporates said prank (the gifting of an ugly painting for a birthday) into their traditions

Within these two ideas or plot points, there are many questions to ask; scenes to imagine. You might make a list of possible scene ideas like this:

  • Peter finds a painting in local pawn shop ‘Tat for Tits’
  • He haggles with the shopkeeper who tries to pretend the painting is by Renoir (it definitely isn’t)
  • He tries to disguise the painting when he wraps it so his sister will have no idea what it is

4. Research or understand your novel’s setting

In discussions about how to outline a novel, there’s often an extreme focus on plot. The truth is every element of a story – plot, character, place, structure – is something you may explore a little before you’ve written the first line of your story. They’re all intertwined, too. Knowing your story’s setting, its ‘where’ and ‘when’ , is helpful. If Peter and Jenna in our sample book outline are living in 1940s Boston, Massachussets, for example, this will yield a very different field of plot (or story) constraints and possibilities than if they’re living in 1980s Durban, South Africa.

If you were setting your story in 1940s Boston, for example, there would be local events to add to your outline.

For example, you might note that the Cocoanut Grove Fire (the deadliest nightclub fire, claiming 492 lives) happened in 1942.

Understanding key historical moments (whether your story is set in our ‘real’ world or an invented one) will help you think further about the external forces that shape people’s experiences and perceptions.

5. Have an idea of who will narrate

When you outline a novel, think about who is going to tell the story.

As you can see in the character overview summaries from the Now Novel dashboard above, there are notes on the story having at least three planned narrators:

  • The story’s protagonist, Peter
  • His spicier sister, Jenna
  • An unusual narrator – the painting that is the object underlying the inciting incident, which, in this outline example will share it’s own strange perspective as a sort of closing or epilogue to the story

Write down who you’d like to make the main narrator of your story.

List reasons why they’d make a good narrator. For the painting, for example, you could say:

  • It’s an unexpected narrator, which will add an element of surprise/mystery
  • Hanging in the different family members’ homes will give it private insights the main narrators don’t necessarily have about each others’ lives and secrets

6. Keep asking interesting questions

As you continue to outline your novel, keep asking interesting questions. Note your ideas.

For example, in the process of writing this, the haggling pawn shop owner who argues his rubbish paintings are actually Renoir originals came to mind. Why?

Because the question came up: ‘What happens in the scene where Peter finds the painting?’ Or, ‘How does Peter find and acquire the painting?’

Once you’ve learned how to outline a novel, it’s easier to know what questions to ask to find fun new characters and situations quickly.

This is easier than grasping at patchy ideas when you’re in the middle of a ‘spontaneous’ scene.

7. Alternate planning with drafting

Returning to Stephen King and NY Editors’ objections to outlining, how do you avoid stifling spontaneity and avoid what NY Editors call a book ‘dead on arrival’?

The answer is simple: Adapt outlining to your needs and the degree of detail and structure you need to get going.

A central idea and a character profile or two may be enough. Or you may want to draft a scene or two, then dive back into profiling a new character so that you can picture them clearly during their first introduction.

Learn how to outline a novel in easy, prompted steps and discover why Now Novel is frequently reviewed as a five-star novel planning website .

Now Novel 5-star user review on outlining 25 chapters within weeks

Related Posts:

  • Using a novel outline template: 5 tips for story prep
  • How do you write an outline for a novel? 7 easy steps
  • How to write a plot outline: 7 plotting techniques
  • Tags outlining a novel

writing a novel template

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

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Using Book Templates: Advantages & Disadvantages

What is a book template.

There are two different types of book templates: story templates and layout templates .

A story template, or plot template, is essentially an outline for your book. Freytag’s pyramid (sometimes called a plot pyramid) is easily the most famous story template: Exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement.

A book layout template, or manuscript template, includes all the formatting and styles that affect the way your book looks on the page. There are layout templates for formatting your manuscript in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Adobe InDesign, Pages, and pretty much any other word processor you might use.

Many self-publishing platforms like Lulu , IngramSpark , and BookBaby also include ready-to-use layout templates. These also help you format your book’s front matter, which includes the copyright and title pages, book dedication , introduction, prologue, etc.

Do you have to use a book template?

No. Many writers don’t use them, but it doesn’t necessarily hurt to use either one. In this post, we’ll examine the pros and cons of using templates for your writing and book design.

Story and plot templates

Story templates operate a lot like outlines. Book outlines can help you keep the overall plot structure and subplots organized and can help you break through writer’s block. 

There are an endless number of ways to outline your novel and manage your storylines. Here is a list of our favorites . 

Should you use a story template?

Where to find a story template.

There are plenty of software options to help you outline your book. Some of the most popular are:

  • LivingWriter

Book layout templates

Book layout templates are ideal for people who aren’t natural designers. However, they can limit your creative vision for the project.

Should you use a layout template?

Where to find a book layout template.

You can find both manuscript and layout templates downloadable online. Some writing software comes with preloaded templates. StoryShare and Ulysses will help you format the interior of your book, and sites like Lulu and Canva have templates you can use to design the outside of your book.

If you don’t want to bother with tinkering with a layout template yourself, you can find book designers on platforms like Fiverr , Reedsy , or Upwork . Want to try designing the cover on your own? Check out our guide to creating a best-selling book cover .

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writing a novel template

Create a form in Word that users can complete or print

In Word, you can create a form that others can fill out and save or print.  To do this, you will start with baseline content in a document, potentially via a form template.  Then you can add content controls for elements such as check boxes, text boxes, date pickers, and drop-down lists. Optionally, these content controls can be linked to database information.  Following are the recommended action steps in sequence.  

Show the Developer tab

In Word, be sure you have the Developer tab displayed in the ribbon.  (See how here:  Show the developer tab .)

Open a template or a blank document on which to base the form

You can start with a template or just start from scratch with a blank document.

Start with a form template

Go to File > New .

In the  Search for online templates  field, type  Forms or the kind of form you want. Then press Enter .

In the displayed results, right-click any item, then select  Create. 

Start with a blank document 

Select Blank document .

Add content to the form

Go to the  Developer  tab Controls section where you can choose controls to add to your document or form. Hover over any icon therein to see what control type it represents. The various control types are described below. You can set properties on a control once it has been inserted.

To delete a content control, right-click it, then select Remove content control  in the pop-up menu. 

Note:  You can print a form that was created via content controls. However, the boxes around the content controls will not print.

Insert a text control

The rich text content control enables users to format text (e.g., bold, italic) and type multiple paragraphs. To limit these capabilities, use the plain text content control . 

Click or tap where you want to insert the control.

Rich text control button

To learn about setting specific properties on these controls, see Set or change properties for content controls .

Insert a picture control

A picture control is most often used for templates, but you can also add a picture control to a form.

Picture control button

Insert a building block control

Use a building block control  when you want users to choose a specific block of text. These are helpful when you need to add different boilerplate text depending on the document's specific purpose. You can create rich text content controls for each version of the boilerplate text, and then use a building block control as the container for the rich text content controls.

building block gallery control

Select Developer and content controls for the building block.

Developer tab showing content controls

Insert a combo box or a drop-down list

In a combo box, users can select from a list of choices that you provide or they can type in their own information. In a drop-down list, users can only select from the list of choices.

combo box button

Select the content control, and then select Properties .

To create a list of choices, select Add under Drop-Down List Properties .

Type a choice in Display Name , such as Yes , No , or Maybe .

Repeat this step until all of the choices are in the drop-down list.

Fill in any other properties that you want.

Note:  If you select the Contents cannot be edited check box, users won’t be able to click a choice.

Insert a date picker

Click or tap where you want to insert the date picker control.

Date picker button

Insert a check box

Click or tap where you want to insert the check box control.

Check box button

Use the legacy form controls

Legacy form controls are for compatibility with older versions of Word and consist of legacy form and Active X controls.

Click or tap where you want to insert a legacy control.

Legacy control button

Select the Legacy Form control or Active X Control that you want to include.

Set or change properties for content controls

Each content control has properties that you can set or change. For example, the Date Picker control offers options for the format you want to use to display the date.

Select the content control that you want to change.

Go to Developer > Properties .

Controls Properties  button

Change the properties that you want.

Add protection to a form

If you want to limit how much others can edit or format a form, use the Restrict Editing command:

Open the form that you want to lock or protect.

Select Developer > Restrict Editing .

Restrict editing button

After selecting restrictions, select Yes, Start Enforcing Protection .

Restrict editing panel

Advanced Tip:

If you want to protect only parts of the document, separate the document into sections and only protect the sections you want.

To do this, choose Select Sections in the Restrict Editing panel. For more info on sections, see Insert a section break .

Sections selector on Resrict sections panel

If the developer tab isn't displayed in the ribbon, see Show the Developer tab .

Open a template or use a blank document

To create a form in Word that others can fill out, start with a template or document and add content controls. Content controls include things like check boxes, text boxes, and drop-down lists. If you’re familiar with databases, these content controls can even be linked to data.

Go to File > New from Template .

New from template option

In Search, type form .

Double-click the template you want to use.

Select File > Save As , and pick a location to save the form.

In Save As , type a file name and then select Save .

Start with a blank document

Go to File > New Document .

New document option

Go to File > Save As .

Go to Developer , and then choose the controls that you want to add to the document or form. To remove a content control, select the control and press Delete. You can set Options on controls once inserted. From Options, you can add entry and exit macros to run when users interact with the controls, as well as list items for combo boxes, .

Adding content controls to your form

In the document, click or tap where you want to add a content control.

On Developer , select Text Box , Check Box , or Combo Box .

Developer tab with content controls

To set specific properties for the control, select Options , and set .

Repeat steps 1 through 3 for each control that you want to add.

Set options

Options let you set common settings, as well as control specific settings. Select a control and then select Options to set up or make changes.

Set common properties.

Select Macro to Run on lets you choose a recorded or custom macro to run on Entry or Exit from the field.

Bookmark Set a unique name or bookmark for each control.

Calculate on exit This forces Word to run or refresh any calculations, such as total price when the user exits the field.

Add Help Text Give hints or instructions for each field.

OK Saves settings and exits the panel.

Cancel Forgets changes and exits the panel.

Set specific properties for a Text box

Type Select form Regular text, Number, Date, Current Date, Current Time, or Calculation.

Default text sets optional instructional text that's displayed in the text box before the user types in the field. Set Text box enabled to allow the user to enter text into the field.

Maximum length sets the length of text that a user can enter. The default is Unlimited .

Text format can set whether text automatically formats to Uppercase , Lowercase , First capital, or Title case .

Text box enabled Lets the user enter text into a field. If there is default text, user text replaces it.

Set specific properties for a Check box .

Default Value Choose between Not checked or checked as default.

Checkbox size Set a size Exactly or Auto to change size as needed.

Check box enabled Lets the user check or clear the text box.

Set specific properties for a Combo box

Drop-down item Type in strings for the list box items. Press + or Enter to add an item to the list.

Items in drop-down list Shows your current list. Select an item and use the up or down arrows to change the order, Press - to remove a selected item.

Drop-down enabled Lets the user open the combo box and make selections.

Protect the form

Go to Developer > Protect Form .

Protect form button on the Developer tab

Note:  To unprotect the form and continue editing, select Protect Form again.

Save and close the form.

Test the form (optional)

If you want, you can test the form before you distribute it.

Protect the form.

Reopen the form, fill it out as the user would, and then save a copy.

Creating fillable forms isn’t available in Word for the web.

You can create the form with the desktop version of Word with the instructions in Create a fillable form .

When you save the document and reopen it in Word for the web, you’ll see the changes you made.


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  1. Simple classic novel writing template for Word

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