Hello, again! Last week, I talked about how to plan a novel and some of the things to keep in mind. I did this with a focus on characters and settings used already, so a sequel or series but I got some good responses from it and even more questions so I thought I’d do a follow up – even though this stuff is probably what you should know first, if you want to write the first in a series or a standalone novel/story.

How do you plan a novel?

There are a number of ways to plan a novel (or script, poem or other writing project) and I don’t know them all. There are also different pieces of software you can use too but I just stick to bullet lists, and I’ll come back to that shortly. Some people use diagrams, storyboards, audio notes and any number of methods to plan a project. There’s no reason it has be a digital plan either. Get your notebook out and write it the old fashioned way. Get all your ideas down, put them in order and you have a structure to work from.

Warning; some people may tell you they don’t plan but most of the time this is wrong, they just don’t realise that their plan is their plan. Notes can be a plan too and if you keep a plan in your head, it’s still a plan. I’d tried writing without one and it didn’t work very well. Also, trying to write from a mental plan caused me so many problems because I couldn’t remember what I was meant to be doing and when to make sense.

The one thing I’d advise you to remember is that a plan does not mean everything is set in stone. You can make changes.

Giving myself the freedom to change

An example of a plan I use
An example of a plan I use

This is one thing that always bothered me about planning when I was younger was that I thought plans had to be followed to the letter – if you wanted to change anything then you had to go back through the ENTIRE plan. I’m sure some people do that, and enjoy it, but it was far too restrictive for me. I wanted a bit of freedom to adapt, change and grow as my stories did – as I did as a writer and as a person.

So, that led to my preferred method, and it goes in stages:

  • Stage one – Create a list of about bullet points that I want to happen throughout the novel, usually one per chapter but sometimes more, or sometimes less
  • Stage two – Create a separate list of subplots that can be included in the main narrative
  • Stage three – Expand on this list by creating five or six bullet points that fill out each chapter
  • Stage four – Write each chapter by expanding on each bullet point, almost like connect the dots. This is the best time to involve sub-plots, narrative and character development

This means I have the backbone of my story straight away, as well as subplots to choose from (although sometimes I come up with more during the writing) and I have the freedom to be creative when I’m writing around these points. The image is just an example of a plan I might use – the real thing would probably be a bit more fleshed out so I had more to work with when it came to writing but you get the idea from that.

Finding out what works for you

Knowing a fair number of writers, I can tell you that there is no set way to plan a novel, story, script or poem. You need to find a way that works for you and then adapt it to make sure it does everything you need and actually encourages you to write.

You can gather ten, twenty, thirty or any number of writers and we’ll tell you our own ways of planning our projects. In fact, do that. Ask as many as you can and then choose what sounds best to you. Some people like strict plans that can act as the base for the writing while I prefer to have a bit more freedom, as I’ve pointed out.

There’s no right or wrong, just what works best for you. Now, go, young (or old) writer – go plan that book and then write it!

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