Write Your Novel: The Art of the Outline

with Aatif Rashid


Structure your way into story.

In this eight-week class, you’ll learn how to build a detailed outline of your novel, including creating a well-rounded protagonist, plotting out the story beats, and developing the overarching themes, as well as how to craft a strong opening twenty pages. Whether you’re currently working on a novel or are planning to start a new project, this class will help you structure your ideas into a coherent plan and help you refine your opening chapters into something polished and compelling.

Through weekly assignments, you’ll develop your outlines based around different story elements, including character, setting, plot, and theme, as well as work on writing and editing your opening pages. You’ll also read and discuss a full length novel over the course of the class to help understand craft techniques, such as conflict and tension, scene length and pacing, and prose style and rhythm.

This class is open to writers of all levels. You’ll receive feedback from your instructor and your fellow students on your outlines and opening pages. By the end of the class, you’ll have a detailed and coherent outline to help you continue writing, as well as a polished opening twenty pages.

Learning and Writing Goals

Learning Goals

  • Learn to build well-rounded protagonists.
  • Learn to develop atmospheric, complex settings.
  • Learn the traditional three-act novel structure.
  • Learn how to integrate themes into a narrative.
  • Learn to write a chapter-by-chapter and scene-by-scene outline.

Writing Goals

  • Write an outline that includes a description of the protagonist, a description of the setting, the overarching themes, and a detailed chapter-by-chapter and scene-by-scene outline.
  • Write and edit the opening twenty pages into a polished, compelling beginning.

Zoom Schedule

Mondays, 7-9 pm EST

Zoom sessions will include a lecture on the weekly lesson, a discussion of the weekly reading assignment, and discussions of the previous week’s assignments.

Weekly Syllabus

WEEK ONE: Conflict and Story

In this first class, we’ll discuss what makes a compelling story and why conflict is essential to a good novel. We’ll also discuss the broader benefits of outlining.

Assignment: Begin your outline by identifying the primary conflicts and your protagonist’s motivations.

WEEK TWO: Character and Point of View

In this class, we’ll discuss characters, including protagonists, antagonists, and supporting characters. We’ll also discuss how to choose a point of view for your story.

Assignment: Develop your characters by creating biographical details, inner conflicts, and complex motivations.


We’ll discuss the traditional three-act plot structure as well as other experimental structures.

Assignment: Begin developing the basic plot elements of your novel and refining the overall structure.

WEEK FOUR: Setting

We’ll discuss setting, atmosphere, and mood and why a sense of place is essential to a good novel.

Assignment: Identify the key settings of your novel and develop detailed descriptions of each.

WEEK FIVE: The First Five Pages

We’ll discuss how writers open their novels and what makes a strong hook.

Assignment: Write or refine the opening pages of your novel to be as compelling as possible based on your previous assignments.

WEEK SIX: Chapters and Scenes

We’ll discuss what makes a good chapter and the basic elements of a scene.

Assignment: Continue developing your outlining by creating a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, and eventually a scene-by-scene outline.


We’ll discuss how to decide on the overarching thematic elements of your novel and how to work these into the primarily narratives.

Assignment: Identify the themes of your novel and integrate them into your outline.


We’ll discuss how to write the outline ending to a novel and how to bring all the elements together.

Assignment: Complete your outlines and refine your opening pages.

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Aatif Rashid is the author of the novel Portrait of Sebastian Khan (2019, 7.13 Books). His short stories have appeared in The Massachusetts Review, MetaphorosisArcturusBarrelhouse, Triangle House Review, X-R-A-YMaudlin House, and The Ex-Puritan, as well as the anthologies New Moons: Contemporary Writing by North American Muslims (2021, Red Hen Press) and Made in L.A. Volume 4 (2022, Resonant Earth Publishing). He’s also published nonfiction in The Los Angeles Review of BooksLit Hub, and Alta and he wrote regularly for The Kenyon Review blog from 2018 to 2021. He teaches creative writing classes through the UCLA Extension Writers program.