A simple guide to planning a novel – Part 1

I am going to confess something right off—I hate planning. I hate it with a passion. I find it boring. So, if I want to plan a novel I need to make it super easy, and when I say super easy, I mean idiot proof.

My Simple guide to planning a novel will be a series coming out every Wednesday. Today we are looking at the tools needed, pre-work, and Stage 1 – Brainstorming. I will be using Star Wars to provide plot point explanations, and these examples will be obvious even for those who haven’t seen the movie. If you haven’t seen Star Wars (why haven’t you seen it?), I will also be using examples from Toy Story.

My advice in using this guide is not to over-think every stage. For example, if you don’t have a complete character profile you can move forward anyway. You do need some of the character profile, though.

You will find that as you develop each stage you gain insights into previous stages and previous ideas. It’s okay to dive back and add extra details to any stage at any point. The more passes you make, and the more you progress, the greater detail you will see. And it doesn’t have to be perfect before you can start writing, I go for the 80/20 rule. If it’s mostly complete just jump on in and the last few missing pieces will pop up as you write.

Q: What are the planning stages?

A: Pre-work + 5 stages

We will follow the series of steps shown below. The Key plot points will take the most time and effort, but these are also the most important parts so it is worth investing this time. Today we are covering pre-work and brainstorming.

Planning a novel - Part 1

Q: How long does it take?

A: About a day

I have just planned my third book using this technique, which is based on a number of blog posts, articles, pod-casts, books, and planning guides I have read over the years, along with the experience gained in planning my first two books. It took me about a day in total excluding the pre-work and character profiles. Since it was the third book in a series I already had a good idea about what I wanted to achieve, and of course knew most of the characters. However, my original outline was still extremely sketchy, but with about 6 hours effort I had a great set of chapter summaries, was comfortable that I had not backed myself into any plot corners, and had all my key plot points covered.

Q: What tools do I need?

A: This is a generic planning approach and can use anything from a dedicated writing tool such as Scrivener, word, excel or good old pen and paper.

If you are using the manual approach then coloured pens and post-it notes can be a great help, but otherwise plain old paper and pen will do.

Now, without further ado, here is my Simple guide to planning a novel.

Pre-work

As with most things, you need to do a little pre-work before you leap into planning a book. The pre-work involves developing your story concept, along with a rough idea of what the story is about. A summary will do. Then we can move onto brainstorming our plot. Things to identify in the pre-work stage include:

  • What sort of dramatic situation is your story about? You may be surprised to discover there are only so many types of plot. Want some ideas, check out this great post with examples. 36 Plots and Mad Max
  • Who is your story about? When we get an idea for a story we usually have a character in mind for our protagonist, and we usually have back story ideas about them too.
  • Who is your story antagonist, or antagonistic force? Whether it is a person, a force of nature, an animal, a disease or something else doesn’t matter, there just needs to be something or someone who provides the counterbalance to our protagonist and delivers a source of conflict.
  • Our characters never live in a vacuum, so you also need an idea for the setting or location, and ideas for supporting characters as well.

Phew, that is quite a lot of pre-work! But, all of this will help you when you come to start the real planning and we begin to explore our character timelines.

Step 1 – Character timelines via brainstorming.

To explore character timelines, you need a book start and the book end…even if you change these as part of the planning and /or writing process. You have to start somewhere, and you have to put a boundary around your story.

This boundary will be used now when we explore our character timelines.

  1. First, list all the main characters, and all your supporting characters. If something other than a person is acting as an antagonist then list this as well.

2. For each write up a little bio. Here is a great list of questions you can use to explore your characters. How to create a character profile. You don’t necessarily need to fill in everything, especially for minor characters, but everything you do note down will increase your character depth.

3. Naming characters in my humble opinion is a nightmare, and I change the names constantly!  Some people use a generic name to start with such as ‘Best friend’, ‘guy in bar’, ‘Mr X’ and then let the name pop up later. Personally I just get on with naming them and change them later if need be. For more help see. Character names – decisions, decisions!

4. For each character now jot down any and all plot points or events that happen to them in between your story start and your story end. The main character(s) are easiest so start with these first. Don’t worry if you think there may be gaps, it will all get filled in later. And you often find that bullet-pointing one character generates ideas against another, which is great!

Don’t worry about the order of the events. If you have a order that’s a bonus and certainly use it, but otherwise just let the thoughts and ideas pour out.

Don’t allow any subconscious constraints to influence the brainstorming. Don’t worry if it will be an actual plot point or a sub-point. Your ideas here may become chapters, a few sentences or even multiple chapters, the most important part is simply to write them all down.

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

A simple guide to planning a novel part 6 – Filling in the chapter notes

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Binge writing, Fast drafting & NaNoWriMo #amwriting #NaNoWriMo #writer

So it’s that time of year again where writers all over the world enrol for the National Novel Writing Month.

If you haven’t given it a go, it’s simply a month were you challenge yourself to write 50K of words. Whether it is a 50K novel or 50k towards a novel, doesn’t really matter. You sign up, you commit, and all you need to do at the end of the month is paste your 50k into the site to receive your certificate.

If you’re interested in learning more you can check out their site here.

https://nanowrimo.org


If you are looking for a little help preparing, here is a great article I came across a few days ago. Some great tips on getting your draft out whether you are taking part in NaNoWriMo or not.

What I Learned From Binge-Writing Nine Bad Novels


And if you are looking for a few tips on fast drafting…

Six Secrets to Drafting a Novel – Fast!

If you want to get your novel DRAFT out FAST, here are my top six tips to help you on your way.

  1. Planning. I am the original anti-planner. I hate the constrictive, creativity stifling, and passion killing thought of planning…but…a little planning goes a long way. You don’t need to go crazy and have every single scene detailed before you start, but you do need a skeleton.

Deviating from said skeleton is all part of drafting; so don’t let yourself feel in anyway constrained just because you have a plan. There is no doubt about it though; planning works, and the upfront investment will make writers block and endless story syndrome a thing of the past.

2. Don’t Edit. And when I say don’t edit, I mean DON’T EDIT AT ALL. Sorry shouting and all that, and I am really shouting at myself because I am the world’s worst edit-as-I-go-er. It’s the perfectionist in me peeking out again, better get a whip and a chair to that little monster!

It’s soooo hard not to edit, because the moment you read it, it looks like crap, and you immediately think you are a terrible writer, and that chapter will never work. STOP. It will work just fine…when you edit, which is LATER. So, no peeking, not even a little peek, let it go and move on to the next chapter.

3. Don’t think just write. What? Ok, it’s maybe more…don’t think too much.

Even with a plan, and knowing what the chapter is going to be about, and having a house completely free of interruptions, and your favorite music on, and a coffee at your side…you sit there and your head is blank. The endless procrastination kicks in, you check Facebook, Twitter, you read the news, make a cup of coffee…again. You write a few words and then delete them, and then a few more…and delete them. Sound familiar?

That’s because you’re actually thinking too hard. Yep I know, that sounds like reverse logic because how can you think too hard. It’s not a myth; I do it all the time. It’s not writers block either; so don’t panic. It’s more like…temporary amnesia about what that keyboard thing is for. Either you can’t start writing at all or when you do write you have an overwhelming urge to hit delete.

This is where the stop-thinking bit is really important. Just start the scene, even if you know it’s crap, even if you know you are going to delete the whole first paragraph, because something amazing happens once you get past a few sentences without hitting delete…it all starts pouring out and you remember that there is a connection between the brain and the keyboard, its calling fingers, and wow, they work!

4. Killing the people who interrupt you. Yes, I know it’s not practical, and hiding a body is so hard, but hey sometimes it’s got to be done. Just kidding, you can’t really kill the people who interrupt you, but you can think about it in glorious detail!

Interruptions are a fact of life, and they only interrupt you because they love you so much…or they want to be fed, or they can’t find that . I find meditation, and practicing breathing techniques really works…yes I’m just kidding about that too…nothing works, either get a lock for your door and fit soundproofing so you can’t hear them screaming at you, or just build a bridge and move on.

5. You are going to chop out some the work you write. Gasp! No! Yep, it’s going to happen. Remember in point 2 where I said don’t worry if it looks like crap it will all work out fine in the end? I lied. Some sentences, paragraphs, and yes, even whole scenes will meet a fate worse than death, discarded for ever to your clipping folder where you retain them in the misguided hope they will be reused or reinserted later. They won’t be, but it’s Okay to keep them, I do.

Now, you may be wondering how knowing that a scene may later be chopped is going to help you write quickly because now you are feeling pretty depressed and not at all motivated to write quickly, but here’s the catch, would you rather spend ages over-editing a scene, or procrastinating writing it, and then delete it? Nope, I certainly wouldn’t.

I have lost count of the number of beautifully written sentences or scenes that simply had to go. Sometimes you just need to get the whole story done before you can be truly objective enough to see what needs to stay and what needs to go, and the less time you spend getting to this stage, the better.

6. Use word count targets. Love ’em or loath ’em, word count targets work, especially when you are drafting. Goal setting is written about, talked about, and well established as the single most important part of achieving ‘stuff’. If your goal is to write a book, you need to give yourself targets on the way to keep motivated.

Didn’t hit your target today? So what, there are plenty of days where you don’t make as much progress as you wanted too, and some days you make no progress at all. Celebrate the good days, and move on past the bad days, and remember that any words written at all is a step closer to completion! (Unless you end up deleting it as I mentioned in point 4…but we are not going to think about that during the draft)

I have been writing long enough to know roughly what I can write in a day, or an evening if it’s a work day, so I build my daily count around that. I LOVE seeing how I am progressing. Scrivener has this little happy ‘bong’ and a popup telling you well done when you hit your daily target. I LOVE that. I also love hitting book milestones like the quarter point, the half way, the three quarter, the finish, the editing…I break absolutely everything up into little micro targets, and this provides an amazing sense of movement and progress.

Writing a book takes FOREVER, so keeping the motivation up and sense of achievement high will get that draft finished in super fast time.

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

In Part 3 of My Simple guide to planning a novel, we explored the beginning and the end of the story, including the opening hook / question, the closure chapter, and the epic ending.

The inciting incident

Today we will see an overview of the book structure, which we will explore in more detail next week, and then we will identify our inciting incident.

Book structure

Books are broken up into 3 Acts, the 2nd Act being the longest and spanning the middle 50% of the book.

The acts of a story

What are the key plot points, and what exactly is an inciting incident

The key plot points (1st, 2nd, 3rd) bring change, and the subsequent chapters (quarters of the book), that follow, are all about our characters reaction to this change.

You need a significant EVENT.

You need a CHANGE catalyst.

You probably have a number of events already identified against each character’s timeline in Part 1, and you are probably wondering how you decide which ones are the key plot points, and which are just other key events.

The secret lies in the characters reaction to the event. Think of these 3 key plot points as triggers that colour the subsequent quarter of the book, which is all about the character’s reaction to the event.

We will explore the 3 key plot points in more detail next week, but for now it is important to just be aware of them as it will help in the next section when we look at the inciting incident.

What is the Inciting Incident?

The inciting incident is the very first Key plot point. Definition: It is the point of the plot that begins the conflict. It is the event that catalyzes the protagonist to go into motion and to take action.

The inciting incident can occur:

  • right at the very start as part of the hook /question
  • as late as the 1st plot point
  • anywhere in between

Note: If the inciting incident occurs before the 25% mark, you still need another EVENT at the 1st plot point in the book.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to illustrate the inciting incident in the story.

Star WarsStar Wars: The star wars inciting incident happens right at the end of the first act, and is the first plot point. Let’s look at the lead up to the inciting incident.

The escaped droids are found wandering around the desert by a band of dubious traders. Luke’s uncle buys them, not knowing where they came from. One droid escapes in the night, and Luke fearing his uncles wrath, pursues it. The droid is following the Princesses orders and searching for ‘Old Ben’, a former Jedi Knight. Luke finds the droid and meets Old Ben, where he hears the message from the Princess and her desperate plea for help.

Let’s explore this: Luke doesn’t want to get involved in the Princesses problems, besides he’s awful busy tending to the harvest at his uncles farm! But when the Empire tracks the droids to his beloved Uncle and Aunt, Luke races back home to find they are dead (inciting incident EVENT), killed by the Empire.

A little more detail: A whole heap of events are happening here, but the theme throughout the first quarter of the story is Luke’s awareness of something untoward happening. He knows there’s a war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, but he is not yet directly involved, even when he hears the Princesses message and Old Ben urges him to help, he still refuses. But the death of his Aunt and Uncle brings the catalyst for change. This happens right at the very end of the first act, when Luke vows (CHANGE) to go with Old Ben and help the Princess

Toy Story Toy Story: The Toy Story inciting incident happens immediately after the hook. It’s Andy’s birthday and the toys are all worried about being replaced by a new toy that may be much cooler. They are also about to move house, which adds to their sense of unease. When Andy runs into his room and pushes Woody off his bed to make room for his new toy: Buzz Lightyear, their fears are realised.

They know right off that things will never be the same!

Let’s explore this: Unlike Star Wars, where the entire first act leads to the inciting incident, Toy story neatly chops the first act in half with the arrival of the dreaded new toy (inciting incident EVENT). The second half of the first act is then dedicated to Woody’s reaction (CHANGE) jealousy which soon becomes a deepening sense of his own failure. After all, Woody can’t fly.

Now the Toy Story first plot point: Woody is gripped by his jealousy and is fearful that he no longer has a place in Andy’s world. Woody sets a trap (1st plot point EVENT) for Buzz – to eliminate the competition.  Buzz falls from the window. The other Toys are now angry (CHANGE) about Woody’s behaviour.

Hopefully this exploration of the first Act will provide you with some clues when you come to look at your own novel.

Step 1. Find your own inciting event

Remember: You are looking for first significant event that brings irrevocable change and calls your protagonist to action.

  • Review your hook / question in chapter 1. Is this the inciting incident?
  • If not, explore your story notes, character timelines, and summary, and see if you can identify the inciting event
  • Finally, decide where this inciting incident should sit, whether it is part of your first chapter, your 1st plot point or somewhere in-between.
  • Write this down against the selected chapter in your framework.
  • For all major plot points (including your inciting incident) we want to record in our framework the EVENT and the resulting CHANGE

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

In Part 5, we will be covering the remaining key plot points.

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 5 – The key events in a book

A simple guide to planning a novel part 6 – Filling in the chapter notes (scheduled 7-Jan-2016)

A simple guide to planning a novel – Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2 of My simple guide to planning a novel, we completed some pre-work, explored our character timelines, and created a framework to pin our plot points on to.

The beginning and the end

 

Today we are going to explore in detail at some of the key plot points, including:

  • The hook / question
  • The conclusion
  • The epic ending

Q: How what order will we fill in our chapters?

A: NOT in chronological order…because that would be normal, and normal is known to stifle creativity. Instead, we are going to jump about, just a little.

The more we jump about the timeline the more we will encourage our brain to make lateral connections. Keep a stack of post it notes or a blank pad next to you. If anything pops-up scribble it down. Don’t worry about where or how it fits, just scribble, and if you have any relevant details, such as A must happen before B, note this down, too.

Occasionally, you do note ideas down that are later discarded, and that’s Okay too.

What are these key plot points? and why do we need them?

Books need ‘stuff’ to happen at certain points to avoid our reader getting bored. You know when you are reading a book that does this badly because you start to sense something should be happening and you get bored and switch off.

Note: This can happen at any of the key plot points. We have all been conditioned by years of reading to expect something to change at certain points, and when it doesn’t we notice it, perhaps not consciously, but certainly subconsciously.

This pacing is even more notable with films. You can set your watch by key plot points! (Please don’t try this it will spoil the fun!)

All plot points bring change. Life is not the same after, and the subsequent chapters are all about our characters reaction to the event.

We will go on to explain this in more detail as we go through. But…

Important: EVENT causes CHANGE and REACTION

Before we start, it may be worth taking time for a little quiet reading of everything you have jotted down so far. This includes: all the character timelines, character profiles, location ideas, the overview of the plot, and what you consider to be the start and end points, and anything else you may have relevant to the novel.

Now, let’s look at this first set of key plot points in a little more detail…

Step 1. The Question / Hook – chapter 1

This is the moment that introduces our book and hooks our reader. You know the kind of thing, there’s a murder, or a new kid comes into town. (Think Da Vinci Code and the murder) Whatever this event is, it brings change and it poses a question that will not yet be answered.

I am all for scene setting, but you really need to get on with the hook fairly promptly.

Note: The hook / question  must be part of the story i.e. relevant to the entire thread of the book. There is no value in creating a dramatic event just for action sake. If it doesn’t impact the overall story, the reader will just feel cheated.

In summary, the hook presents the reader with a question. Such as, What is going to happen next? How will the characters react?

Chapter 1 can also:

  • introduce our character(s)
  • introduce our location / book setting

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Star WarsExample Star Wars: In the very first scene in Star Wars we see a space ship being boarded forcibly by another. We understand there are two sides in conflict and we see a beautiful lady, one we don’t know yet, hide a message on a droid, right before she is captured and taken prisoner. A droid that flees the ship in an escape pod…

Let’s explore this: Right off we are intrigued. Who is the beautiful lady? What did she record in the message? Where is the droid going? Why was she taken prisoner?

Wow, thats a lot of questions and we don’t even know who she is yet!

Toy StoryExample Toy Story: The toys are worried that on Andy’s birthday that a new / cooler toy will come along and replace them.

Let’s explore this: What will Andy receive for his birthday? Will the new toy become Andy’s favourite? How will this impact his current toys?

This is a good solid hook, we can see the stakes, sense the tension, and are intrigued to find out what Andy will receive for his birthday, and more importantly, how the old toys will react.

Hopefully these examples will help you to identify your own question / hook from your notes and character timelines. The hook always needs to happen in chapter one, so take the time now to note some details about your question / hook event against chapter 1. A few bullet points or a few sentences should be enough, but if you have more…go for it.

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

Step 2. Closure – the last chapter.

This is where you say good bye to your characters and wrap up all the lose ends.

Important things to consider now:

  • who will be part of this scene? Note the characters you want (or think you want) to include
  • where will this take place?
  • what is the key message theme you want to leave in your readers mind?

Its Okay to leave this chapter a little sketchy when you start, and you may want to just note these questions down against the chapter if you don’t have answers now. You will find ideas pop up constantly throughout the planning or even when writing the book, so keep coming back to this final section of the framework at any point in the writing process, and fill it in as you go.

Star WarsExample Star Wars: In Star Wars this is the medal ceremony. Our heroes have defeated (if not destroyed) the evil Empire and halted it’s plans. In this scene we see all our main characters, smart and shining in their best dress uniform, receiving a medal for their bravery. The crowd cheers and everyone is smiling.

It’s totally cheesy, but it totally works!

Toy StoryExample Toy Story: This is one of those circular stories that takes us back to the original hook / question, but we now explore it through the characters changed mindset.

It’s Christmas, and new toys are about to arrive. Woody, has lived through, and come to terms with, the arrival of a rival toy-Buzz Lightyear, and further become this rivals friend. In the closing scene, Woody now teases Buzz, with his own fears from the book hook.

Woody To Buzz about the arrival of the new toys: “You’re not worried, are you?”

Hopefully, these examples may have give you ideas about your own closure scene, but if not, just keep this as a background thought and return to it later as your story unfolds.

Step 3. Epic Ending – penultimate chapter(s)

This is the big battle, the big confrontation, the final countdown, where the bad guy gets caught, the lovers fall in love…the epic ending.

Star WarsExample Star Wars: The epic ending of star wars covers several scenes, and like Toy Story stretches over much of the final Act (last quarter of the book). They know it’s a long shot. Our protagonist, Luke Skywalker, must take the final shot to destroy the Empire’s death star – a powerful weapon that is seconds away from destroying the rebel base (the good guys). In the lead up to this, his squadron has already failed several attempts, but now it is up to Luke, who must trust his inner instincts and embrace his powers known as the force to win through and save the day.

Let’s explore this: This plot point brings culmination to everything the story is about—defeating the evil Empire. It is worth noting that although Star Wars is the first part of a trilogy, we still have a complete story with all the plot points, including it’s own epic ending.

Toy StoryExample Toy Story: There are two climaxes at the end of Toy Story which fill the last quarter of the book. Firstly, defeating / escaping the evil Sid. Secondly, returning to Andy. We will explore this in more detail during the Act Analysis later on. The epic ending is really the culmination of all the above, and would be the scene where Woody lights Buzz’s rocket, and Buzz flys with Woody back to Andy’s house.

The toys are once more home and safe!

Conclusion

The ending should be the easiest part of the book. It brings together all the plot points and character growth and wraps it all up over the final quarter of the book. If exploring your character timeline does not yield ideas, I would continue with the rest of the plot points (covered in the next post) and then come back to the ending.

It is worth noting, that if you are really struggling with the ending, even after exploring the other plot points, it may be the story is not one that will ultimately work. That’s Okay too. Sometimes when we plan we find out that the ideas we had were not strong enough to make a whole story, and it is much better to find this out now than after writing half a book.

Generally, this doesn’t happen often. If you have enough of an idea to come up with interesting characters, and you have some good change points, the ending will become obvious.

Now, check back through your notes and character timelines and take anything and everything you think belongs in the epic ending, and, as many of the prior chapters as you can. Break it up into scenes (person, location, event) and work backwards from your final chapter / scene.

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

In Part 4, we will look at the critical part of the book known as the inciting incident...

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 4 – The inciting incident

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

A simple guide to planning a novel part 6 – Filling in the chapter notes (scheduled 7-Jan-2016)

A Simple guide to planning a novel – Part 2

In the first instalment of my Simple guide to planning a novel, we completed some pre-work and explored our character timelines. For each character we should have a rough list of events.

I should probably start part 2 with another confession, creating a framework is incredibly dull, and there is even a little maths! Think of it as a necessary evil, and something we just need to get through before we can enjoy being creative again. So, stick with it. I promise next week will be much more fun.

Planning a novel - creating a framework

The framework holds the building blocks of our story, which we will later pin all our events from the character timelines on to, and for this we need two important counts:

  • word count for the novel
  • word count for the chapters

Step 1 – Novel Word Count

Word counts for books are not necessarily cast in stone, but it is worth being aware of the typical word count for novels in your genre, so at least if you break the rule you know you are breaking the rule.

Not sure what your word count should be? Check these links out here:

Step 2 – Chapter Word Count 

If you have written a novel before then you will have an idea of your usual chapter length. Typically Chapters are between 1.5 and 5k and contain 1 or more scenes.

A Scene is a unit of action that takes place in one location and should move the story forward or reveal a character.  What’s a Scene? (And What’s a Chapter?)

“Scenes in novels rarely need to be longer than 1000-1500 words. If yours goes on pages & pages, do some cutting” ~ Curtis Brown Literary Agency.

Side note on chapter lengths: I have seen many discussions on chapter length, but this really is a personal preference. Some, like long chapters (think epic fantasy). Some, like short snappy chapters with only one scene (think commercial fiction). Then, assume this rule is broken all the time! It all depends on the genre and the writer’s style. Longer chapters can slow down the story, shorter chapters with lots of cliff hanger endings can speed it up.

My own scenes generally come out at around 1.5k. Most of my chapters have one scene, but they occasionally contain two, making my average chapter length about 2K.

Step 3 – Create a framework for the plan

To create our framework we simply list down all the chapter numbers based on our novel word count and our average chapter word count. Don’t worry if this is a bit of a guess, this is just a rough framework. Think of it as a giant book concertina, as long as we pin things on in roughly the right order, it can easily expand or contract later.

My example: 

I write Scifi, average word count 90k, but no more than 110k.

I take an even 100k target length (allowing for 10k of chop during editing).

I write an average 2k per chapter

100k/ 2k = 50 Chapters 

Now we just write those down.

Q: What tools do I need to create my framework.

A: Scrivener has a chalk board option for planning which allows you to create ‘post-it’ like notes in your size choice. You can recreate exactly the same thing on a white board, chalk board, pin board, or a few sheets of paper. I use scrivener for 90% of my writing process, but I find early planning easier on a piece of paper with post-it notes, I think partly because you can see more of the plan on a piece of paper than you can on a computer screen, but also because there is something comforting about the tactile aspect of shuffling the scene post-it’s about on a board or piece of paper.

Note: Assume you will be shuffling chapters about!

Vladimir Nabokov, author of LolitaPale Fire, and Ada, was very particular about his writing instruments. He composed all his works on index cards, which he kept in slim boxes. This odd method enabled him to write scenes non-sequentially and re-order the cards any time he wanted.

Below is a screen shot from Scrivener

Note you can colour code chapters / scenes in Scrivener in the same way you can on paper using coloured post-it notes. I find this really useful as I use multiple POV and you can see how the story flows between the characters. Colour could also help with location for example, or any other useful categorisation your chapter may benefit from.

Scrivener Planning board

Step 4 – Note the key plot points

This is the final stage before we leap into the good stuff and start exploring the details of what these key plot points are.

Against each of the chapters add the following information

  1. Write – ‘question/hook’ against chapter 1 (Always chapter 1)
  2. Write – ‘closure’ against your last chapter (In my example chapter 50)
  3. Write – ‘epic ending’ – against your penultimate chapter(s) (In my example chapter 49) Note: The epic ending can often stretch over a several chapters – some stretch over the entire last quarter of the book!
  4. At the 1st quarter chapter point write – ‘1st Plot point’ (In my example chapter 13)
  5. At the 2nd quarter chapter write – ‘2nd plot point’ (In my example chapter 25)
  6. At the 3rd quarter chapter write – ‘3rd plot point’ (In my example chapter 38)

Perfect! Now we are ready to start filling out our plan!

In Part 3 we will begin exploring these key plot points, with examples from Toy Story and Star Wars to illustrate.

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

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

A simple guide to planning a novel part 6 – Filling in the chapter notes (Scheduled 7-Jan-2016)