Posted in Writing

A simple guide to planning a novel – Part 6

In Part 5 of my Simple guide to planning a novel, we completed the last of the key plot points. Now, in this final stage we will explore the acts of the book in detail, and fill in the chapter gaps.

Planning a novel - the final stage

It is important to note a few things as we begin this final stage.

  • Planning does not need to be exact. We may find as we fill in the chapters that the key plot points shift forwards or backwards a little. This is fine. They definitely don’t need to sit at exactly 25, 50 & 75%. They do need to be reasonably well distributed though, if you want to have balance and pace to the book.
  • We don’t need to fill in notes against every single chapter. I go for about 60-80% of chapters with notes against them. There are a couple of reasons for this.

– Ideas continue to arrive while you are writing, and pre-filling every chapter leaves no space.

– Sometimes the notes you have against a chapter will cover more than one chapter, so this also needs some space.

Filling in the gaps…

So far we have identified our hook and inciting incident, and chopped our story up into segments using the key plot points. We have also noted our closure chapter, and the chapter or chapters to support our epic ending. Now, it’s time to fill in most of the gaps. The book is split into four sections; each has a purpose and is nestled between our previously identified key plot points.

The acts of a story

The First Act in detail – 1st quarter 0-25% 

Because the inciting incident can shift, it can make pinning down the purpose of the first half of the book a little tricky. But in summary, Act 1 includes an introduction to the question or hook and the stakes. It may also contain some early reaction to the inciting incident, or, be concluded by the inciting incident.

Some tips for the chapters in the first act:

I am going to provide more detail on the first act. The main reason for this is that the first act includes all the set up and introductions, and forms the foundations for the rest of the book. As with all things, if the foundations are not right the rest will ultimately struggle to deliver.

The first Act begins with the Hook / question, which takes our protagonist out of their routine and introduces the stakes. This happens in the first chapter.

The first act is concluded by the arrival of the 1st plot point, which occurs around the 25% point.

In between the hook and the 1st plot point, we need to cover a lot of detail. Explore your story notes, character timelines, and summary, and look for the events and activities that will deliver the following.

  1. Introduce our protagonist, including their characteristic moment (The very first time we see them).
  2. Introduce our world or location.
  3. Introduce our antagonist or antagonistic force.
  4. Introduce the supporting characters.
  5. Introduce the stakes – why should our reader care?
  6. Consider our inciting incident and its best location.
  7. Consider other key events that further deepen the reader knowledge of the world, the characters, and the stakes.

Write your ideas against the chapters in the first quarter of the book. You may find that as you slot the notes in you need to shuffle the chapters around.

Phew, that’s quite a lot! In addition:

  • If you are introducing a large number of characters, space some of their introductions out or you will fry your poor reader’s brain with too many names and personalities all at once.
  • Ensure you have introduced the stakes – Why should the reader care about our protagonist? What will our protagonist lose or risk losing when the conflict of the later key plot points occurs?
  • Ensure you show the characters reaction to the hook/ question and related changes.
  • Introduce any skills your characters call on in later scenes. We don’t want to surprise our reader at the end of the novel with our protagonist suddenly using a skill we have told them nothing previously about! So if they use something later be sure to introduce it now.

Write any additional ideas roughly against the chapters in the first quarter of the book.

Note: if you use any points from your notes or character timelines, remember to tick them off.

The Third Act in detail – 4th Quarter 75-100%

I know this is the wrong order, but after completing the first act, the final act is the next easiest to tackle. You have already filled in the last and penultimate chapters (epic ending). This leaves around 10ish chapters (depending on your chapter count) following on from the last major plot point (75% marker) to fill in.

This final act should:

  • Be action / tension / emotion packed (not necessarily all 3 but at least one).
  • Contain a sequence of reasonably significant events that drives our protagonist towards their ultimate goal.

Explore your story notes, character timelines, and summary, and look for the events and activities that will include the following.

  1. Any events that need to happen after your third plot point.
  2. Any events that take the stakes to an extreme level.
  3. Show the protagonist’s reaction to the third plot point and ensure that it colours this quarter of the book
  4. If you find anything happening here that requires an earlier event or action, jump back and note it down.

Write your ideas against the chapters in the final quarter of the book. You may find that as you slot the notes in you need to shuffle the chapters around.

Note: if you use any points from your notes or character timelines, remember to tick them off.

The Second Act Part 1 – 2nd Quarter 25-50%

The 1st and 2nd plot points bracket this quarter of the book. It should show our protagonist reeling still from the events of the first act. It explores the protagonist’s reaction, or continuing reaction, to the change that came at the first plot point (and the inciting incident if this was earlier).

During the second quarter the protagonist will acknowledge their call to action, but may not wholeheartedly embrace it, or may embrace it with only limited success.

Explore your story notes, character timelines, and summary, and look for the events and activities that will include the following.

  1. Any events that need to happen between the 1st and 2nd plot points.
  2. Any events that deepen the initial stakes.
  3. Show the protagonists reaction to the 1st plot point and the inciting incident, and ensure that it colours this quarter of the book.
  4. Show how the protagonist comes to terms with what happened in the first act and how it changes them.
  5. If you find anything happening here that requires an earlier event or action, jump back and note it down.

Write your ideas against the chapters in the second quarter of the book. You may find that as you slot the notes in you need to shuffle the chapters around.

Note: if you use any points from your notes or character timelines, remember to tick them off.

The Second Act Part 2 – 3rd Quarter 50-75% 

The 2nd and 3rd plot points bracket this quarter of the book. It should show our protagonist taking control after the events of the first half of the book. This part of the novel shows the protagonists reaction, or continuing reaction, to the change that came at the mid-point.

From the mid-point our protagonist stops reacting and starts acting. In other words they are no longer a passenger to the events. Whatever has happened during the first half of the book, something now triggers then to own the issue.

Explore your story notes, character timelines, and summary, and look for the events and activities that will include the following.

  1. Any events that need to happen between the 2nd and 3rd plot points.
  2. Any events that deepen the stakes to a higher level.
  3. Show the protagonist’s reaction to the mid-point, and ensure that it colours this quarter of the book.
  4. Show how the protagonist comes to terms with what happened in the first half of the book, and how it changes them.
  5. If you find anything happening here that requires an earlier event or action, jump back and note it down.

Write your ideas against the chapters in the third quarter of the book. You may find that as you slot the notes in you need to shuffle the chapters around.

Note: if you use any points from your notes or character timelines, remember to tick them off.

Revise, but not too much

By the time you have explored all the sections of the book you should have ticked off everything on your timelines and character notes, and have probably identified a few more thing you had never considered before.  You have probably shuffled some of the chapters forward and backwards. There will almost certainly be some gaps.

As a final close to the planning, read through the chapter notes you have jotted against the plan and see if anything else pops out.

Once you have completed this you are ready to get on with the good stuff—writing your novel.

I hope you have enjoyed this series, and if you have any suggestions or feedback it would be most welcome.

Happy writing🙂

A simple guide to planning a novel part 1 – Pre-work and character timelines

A simple guide to planning a novel part 2 – Word count and creating a framework 

A simple guide to planning a novel part 3 – The beginning and the end

A simple guide to planning a novel part 4 – The inciting incident

A simple guide to planning a novel part 5 – The key events in a book

Author:

I am an English expat living in Australia for the last 10 years. During the day I manage a process excellence team, and my spare time is devoted to writing. Avid reader of scifi, fantasy, and psychology. I am passionate about alternative health.

10 thoughts on “A simple guide to planning a novel – Part 6

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s