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Old April 4th, 2008, 10:38 PM   #1
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Default How to Plan a Novel

How to Plan a Novel


You have an idea, shadows of characters have formed in your imagination, and a world is building and expanding in your head: now all you have to do is combine all of this and make it into a novel. Not so easy is it?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to sitting down and actually turning your ideas into story; but the biggest mistake people make is trying to sit down and write with no prior preparation. Of course, if you’re a beginner you probably won’t know what needs to be done to prepare, but don’t worry, you can find everything you need to know here.
Remember, this article explains how to plan a novel using a story that is somewhat formulated in your head. If you haven’t got that far yet, you might want to find an article on how to get ideas.
Before you even begin planning, you should have a few things established. You should already have some idea of what is going to happen in your novel, where your story will be set and what genre in which it will belong (romance, fantasy, thriller etc.). It’s a good idea to have your characters named before you begin, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. You could just refer to them as ‘Main female’, ‘Main male’ and so on, or even make up substitute names to use in the meantime, until you come up with their permanent ones. If you’re planning in a word processor, you can use the ‘find and replace’ feature to change them later as well.
Make sure you do proper research, if this is needed, before you begin planning. For instance, if you are writing a story taking place during World War Two, and you don’t know anything about it, you might want to brush up on your history facts before you begin. If you’re a beginner, doing allot of research on top of writing an entire novel may be daunting. You can always write little notes into your story, like ‘Insert war conversation here’, and do the research after you’ve finished. You can add in any parts you left out during the editing process.
All of those complications aside, the backbone of your story is very simple – it should have a beginning, a middle and an end. During this time your character(s) should face some sort of conflict, one that he or she will overcome at the end of the story.
A quick example: There is a bunny named Bill. At the beginning of the story he has two best friends who he shares all of his toys with. Then, one day, he decides that he doesn’t want to share his toys anymore. This is when the middle of the story comes about, and where Bill faces his conflict. His friends aren’t happy with this new selfish Bill and don’t want to play with him anymore. At this point, Bill will have some confrontations, some inner conflict, and then, at the end of the story, he sees the error of his ways and he begins sharing his toys again, at which time everything is good again.

Step One: Outlining
Okay, you have an idea for a plot and now you can turn your ideas into a story; but you don’t type out ‘Chapter One’ just yet. The first thing you do is get out a notepad and a pen (or open a Word Processor, if that’s your preference) and start writing. First, write down every event from beginning to end in point form. That’s right, every single event. Don’t worry if you hit a blank, just write whatever comes to mind; you can leave the point empty and come back to it later.
You could write this list one of two ways, depending on your preference or how long you story is. It’s a good idea to number your points, as this will come in handy later.
So, you could write:
1) Story begins, Bill is playing with his toys, when Karen the Kitty takes his favourite aeroplane
2) Bill lets her play with it, but inside he is angry; his friends always take the best toys when they come to his house
3) Bill decides that he isn’t going to share anymore – next time his friends come over, he won’t let them touch any of his things
Or even,
1) Story begins, Bill is playing with his friends; Karen the Kitty takes one of his toys, and he gets mad. He won’t let them play with his toys anymore.

Obviously, the second example isn’t as concise as the first, but if you have a good idea of how the story goes, it will make sense when you refer back to it later.
Don’t worry about dividing your points into chapters just yet. Right now, just concentrate on getting the plot line written down from beginning to end, and you will put them into chapters afterwards. And this brings us to Step Two.

Step Two: Organizing ideas

You may be happy with your point by point list, but it’s best to refine it a little more. One mistake I made during the writing of one of my first novels was not writing down what month each part of the story took place. Good novels are generally descriptive, and your perfect description of a cold winter morning will be somewhat ruined if you can’t remember whether or not it was snowing six months ago. And when exactly was six months ago anyway?
This can easily fixed with a simple structured timeline; I find the best way to do this is to create a chart. Most people may prefer to carry out this step on the computer, in a program where you can create tables, but doing it on paper will work fine as well. In fact, paper may be preferable, as the boxes won’t magically expand allowing you to drone on and on. The idea of this step is to minimalism.
Read your notes from point one onwards. Decide when (in the timeline and in the novel) your events will take place and put them in their correct place on the chart. You don’t have to include every event in your notes (in fact, you shouldn’t, or you will have tables filled with very long and complicated text), the point is to revise and refine, and to identify the main points in your story.
You can make your chart however you like, but it may be hard to figure out on your own. Below is an example which you can duplicate.

You’ll have to use your intuition when filling in your chart; it will largely depend on your story, the length of your chapters, the events that take place in the story, and from whose point of view it is told. You may be tempted to leave out the secondary characters points of view (and you can if you wish), but remember, it’s important for you to know what goes on ‘behind the scenes’.
Bill’s story is told from Bill’s point of view only, but you’ll notice that I included a conversation between Karen and Andrea that Bill never knows about. This is an example of how the secondary character boxes are useful even if the story is never told from their view, as it will give you a good idea of what your secondary characters’ motivations are. Still, remember, you don’t have to include everything written in your chart in your novel; it can be for your reference only.
When it comes to the ‘time’ boxes, you can fill them out however you like. If your story takes place over a year, you can write a month in each box. If your story takes place over years, you can insert years into the boxes (or months and years together, like May, 2001; June, 2001 etc.) If more than one chapter takes place during the same month, that’s okay; for instance you can have ‘September’ written in the boxes for chapters one two and three – or even up to ten if applicable. It all depends on your story.
And remember, as mentioned before, minimalism is the key here. That means that you should write as little as you can in each box. It may seem like a challenge to summarise an entire chapter in one sentence, but it is a good skill to have. Say you want to be published some day: you will have to summarise your entre novel in one paragraph, a paragraph interesting and compelling enough to make the publisher want to fork over their hard earned cash to put it into print.
Think about that; now the chart isn’t so daunting, is it?

Step Three: The moment you’ve been waiting for

Okay, you’ve plotted, outlined, and accumulated a ridiculous amount of information, it’s time for the fun part. That’s right; you’re going to start writing now.
This may seem like a silly thing to say, but don’t abandon your plans now. Have your chart in front of you at all times, and your notes as well, if you like (though you may find you rarely need to look at them – that’s right, after all of that hard work).
One thing to remember is that now you are writing you are going to leave some of the things from your plans out, as well as add things in that you didn’t plan. Let this happen, it’s a natural progression and it’s a good thing. You may, on a whim, decide to write an entirely different ending than you planned once you get there – but that’s when you get there, don’t worry about it yet … unless you want to write your ending now.
Which brings us to my next point: the best thing about being so organised is that you don’t have to write your entire novel in chronological order. This means that whenever you want to write your ending, you can, or if, while writing chapter one, you get an urge to write what you think will be a good part in chapter ten; you can go there, write it, and come back to chapter one without getting confused; or when you get stuck on the action scene in chapter five, you can skip to chapter six and come back to it later.
Of course, some people may find this too confusing, even if they have the most organised plan in the world, and if you’re not comfortable with it, don’t feel that you have to – writing your novel from start to finish is fine, if that is what you prefer.
Once you have finished your novel, you’ll probably want to share it. This can be with friends or family or even an online community – but stop! Don’t unleash your writing on the world just yet. There is one more crucial step to go, which you must follow. Please.

Step Four: Editing

No, this isn’t really related to planning a novel, but seeing as so many writers online seem to skip this step, I feel inclined to include it.
Strangely enough, the first important part of editing is to refrain from editing. It’s very tempting when you finish a page, or even a paragraph, to go back and edit what you wrote. Don’t! If you do this, you’ll never have a finished product to edit. So turn off those annoying, counter-productive squiggly lines (if your word processor has them), start writing, and don’t stop, no matter how many typing errors or grammatically incorrect sentences you drum out.
I suggest setting yourself a time to edit, say every one thousand to two thousand words, or at the end of each chapter (or two to three, if your chapters are very short), and don’t edit at any other time. You may even find that you’re on such a roll when you finish chapter one that you won’t even think to edit until chapter four.
Editing is very important, because grammatically correct, consistent writing with correct spelling can add professionalism to even the most amateur of works; also if you want to upload your novel to a site, or put parts of it up for critique on your favourite community (like notebookinhand.com) the members can concentrate on reviewing your story, not your poor spelling and sentence structure.
Make sure you edit your entire story thoroughly. This means spelling, grammar, punctuation, making sure your storyline and your characters’ personalities are consistent, the whole shebang. I find that printing your novel out and marking your mistakes with a pencil that is the best method. You tend to catch mistakes more easily on paper rather than a computer screen. You will use a tonne of paper and ink on this, I know, but that’s an inevitable part of life if your want to be a writer. Still, if you find that editing on-screen works best for you, then go right ahead. Just make sure it’s for the right reasons, not just to save paper.
Oh, and lastly, please remember, spelling and grammar check is your friend. It’s not just sitting up there in your tool bar to look pretty.

So there you have it, how to plot a novel, plus more. Remember, this article explains techniques that were mostly devised by me, for me, and not every tip will work for everyone. You can feel free to pick and choose among my tips, or even create your own methods of plotting. In fact, I encourage it. It’s all about what works for you.
Thankyou for reading my article, I hope it was helpful, and I wish you the best of luck in your creative pursuits. An exciting journey is ahead of you (and your characters), just remember to never give up, you can do this. Who knows, you might one day become a famous author – and you can give me some money. Just kidding.
..I'm so happy because today I found my friends - they're in my head.
........-Kurt Cobain
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Old April 21st, 2008, 04:03 PM   #2
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Default Re: How to Plan a Novel

I think you need to move out of my head ^_^

I have been wondering about how to plan one, so I can at least help myself more.

Thank you.
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Old February 16th, 2010, 03:02 PM   #3
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Default Re: How to Plan a Novel

Planning your novel should take whatever form works best for you. Some authors swear by outlines, and those writers won't begin writing without one. Start by using tried and true methods when planning your novel, and expand on that to find what works best for you.

Find the big picture. Figuring out what your book is truly about makes all the difference. This seems easy to answer at first, until you try to condense it to 100 words or less. It is, however, the first question you need to ask yourself, then answer on paper.All stories have characters with goals, and those goals are obstructed by other forces, causing conflict. Conflict is the root of your novel. Knowing this will give you an idea of your "Big Picture," the overall plot of your novel.

Answer the Major Dramatic Question. The major dramatic question (or MDQ) is a sort of short-hand way of describing your novel. Determine the single biggest question that your plot poses, and figure out the answer. Remember that the protagonist does not have to "win" for the story to be good. What matters is the character is trying to achieve something.

Chart your course. With rare exceptions, your story will follow this path: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. In your outline, write a description of each of these steps. Your exposition should not take up too much room (and remember it need not all be in the final draft of the novel), as it merely sets the stage for what's to come. The rising action takes up the bulk of the novel and your outline; it's where all the conflict occurs. The climax is the moment when all your elements collide in a cohesive, dramatic way. The falling action usually happens very quickly and wraps up any loose ends. Lastly, the resolution delivers a satisfying--not necessarily "happy"--ending to the novel. Keeping track of these elements as you write should give your first draft a more cohesive, completed feel.

Identify your characters. You will most likely have a protagonist (often, but not always, the good guy) and an antagonist (often, but not always, the bad guy). A more accurate way to say it is that the protagonist is the main character, regardless of his good or bad side. The antagonist is the character who constantly makes the protagonist's life harder (i.e., creates the conflict that is the basis of your story).You may find it helpful to write biographical sketches of these characters. Don't worry too much about their physical description unless it is critical to the story. Focus instead on their goals, desires, dreams, and past life. Creating a character sketch can often reveal plot points or interesting subplots that might have gone unnoticed in a simple outline.

The only rule for outlining your novel is that there are no rules. Your first brainstorming or outlining session is not etched in stone (much to the relief of most writers everywhere). Listen to your novel! Forcing it into a box where it does not belong will result only in lost time and frustration for you. You might find your characters going in a direction you hadn't envisioned in your outline. That's alright. Forcing them to obey your outline is almost always a bad idea.The outline is a tool, not a rule. When writing your first draft, don't be afraid to wander off the path. You can always find your way again with the original outline.
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Old February 28th, 2010, 10:33 AM   #4
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Default Re: How to Plan a Novel

Those sound like good ideas for starters, for sure. But I've never outlined a story, ever. Even if I do outline it, I rarely stick with it. With my current novel, I just started with an idea, and it gradually turned into a literary thriller of sorts. My thought process for one of my subplots went like this during last NaNo: "How about they come home to find a dead body? ... That guy was their friend! ... HE WAS THAT GUY'S GAY LOVER." In any case, yeah, outlines never really "fit" my writing style for fiction. I see them as more useful for SAT essay writing and all that boring crap, at least for me. Everyone has their own methods that work for them, though, so whatever floats your boat.
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Old January 11th, 2011, 04:02 PM   #5
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Was wondering if anyone had anything to add to this?
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Old January 13th, 2011, 12:30 PM   #6
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Default Re: How to Plan a Novel

For me it depends on the idea for a story how I should handle it. Some stories demands that you sit down and think for ages beforehand on plot, characters and facts you have to look up. Other stories just demand that you sit down and do the writing and don't spend ages beating around the bush. (There are many stories where I just sat down with a vague idea about a character or two and a starting point and an end point, and then there was just for me to write on how to get from point A to point Z.)

And the most important thing I have learnt is that no matter how good planning I might have done I am never allowed to be so in love with it that I can't toss it if I either get a better idea or has learnt so much about my characters that the planned plot would go against their character!
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Old January 28th, 2011, 11:35 AM   #7
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Default Re: How to Plan a Novel

Not that I've finished a 'novel' but I've written a 20,000 word story and I started with the characters, trying to make them real in my head. I knew what their relation to each other was, and the plot fell into place from there.
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Old March 18th, 2011, 09:42 PM   #8
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Default Re: How to Plan a Novel

My creative writing course at uni is all about outlinning your 'novels' and stories but I can never properly work like that. Actually, not learnt anything on the course that I wouldn't have from a book I bought, which is depressing
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Old August 24th, 2012, 11:53 AM   #9
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Default Re: How to Plan a Novel

I've never outlined a story... I just get an idea and go with it. Someone could say a phrase and I will run to my computer and start typing away at an idea. I might see someone with a cool scar or pretty eyes and suddenly I have a story. My brain doesn't like the structure of an outline. I attempted to outline one of my books and the whole thing turned out completely different.
I guess I'm a bit weird, but I sort of knew that.
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Old August 24th, 2012, 02:40 PM   #10
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Default Re: How to Plan a Novel

Oh, wow. Zombie thread.

I like to have some sort of goalposts set. I can let my chapter meander as long as it starts at point "A" and ends at point "B." The posts can change position somewhat, but if the story takes a veering right-hander, it's time to reanalyze where it's going.
"There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with matches." Ray Bradbury, "Coda"
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