Up until recently, I’d never successfully planned a novel before.
I’d tried the infamous NaNoWriMo, and failed (but it was still good!), and I’d even attempted to plan a novel, but never got very far through the actual writing of the novel.
I have since learned the secrets of planning a novel.
The magic is in the details.
So I got detailed with it.
Why is it important to plan?
Honestly, I could have shown you my pile of unfinished novels ideas as a perfect testament to why it’s important to plan. Because, if you are like me, not planning means not finishing.
I’ve tried. The first book I started writing when I was about 14 was completely made up as I went along. I had literally no idea what was coming next.
This might sound exciting to you. I promise you it wasn’t.
What it resulted in is a messy collection of notebooks with no real story or interesting characters. And an unfinished book. (or several. Young Ellie had hopes of writing an entire series this way.)
I’ve tried writing a novel since then, of course.
I did do a little better when I was doing all my planning for NaNoWriMo. Or, at least, I thought I did.
I lost momentum 6 days in and, although I blamed it on a back injury, I now know for a fact that I would have still stopped writing a few days after that because I hadn’t *really* planned it.
When you *really* plan a novel, not only do you know what is coming next in terms of the main story, but it gives you the space to create a good, interesting, worthwhile story.
It also helps you to lay the foundations for interesting characters that people will want to read, as characters are the most important thing that keeps readers invested and makes them want to continue reading your work.
And from all that, it will bring out the very best possible version of your story that you can create.
When you have planned your story, you can clearly see the peaks and troughs of the story—that’s good! A story needs peaks and troughs. But there needs to be balance.
You are building the rollercoaster for your readers to ride—make sure it’s got ups and downs, not just a steep hill descending into chaos.
Or, equally, you don’t just want things to keep getting better and better for your writer as they ascend, because we need to see them SUFFER. Torturing characters makes for a good read.
So what is the best way to start planning your novel?
Become BFFs with your characters
As I mentioned, characters are so important that they can either make or break a story.
People won’t want to continue reading a book about characters that they are not interested in—you need them to care what happens to them.
(Don’t base them on your friends and have them act out stuff in the book that you wish would happen in real life, like a certain 14 year old writer did…)
Having said that, I have heard people say they continued reading a bad story because they needed to know what happens to the characters.
So what you need to do is build your characters up into believable, three dimensional people and get to know them really, really well.
Sit them down and ask them all the inappropriate questions!
I am kidding, there are many, many more questions that you can ask them that are appropriate. There are the basics, like where they grew up and what their favourite past time.
But if you spend the time to really get to know them, there are many benefits—not only will they be more interesting, encouraging readers to read on, but they will also be much easier to write.
Think of it this way—imagine your best friend. You know them pretty well, you’ve been through some stuff together. Now, imagine how well you could predict their reaction to an unusual situation compared to how well you could predict the reaction of a stranger on the street.
See what I’m saying?
Write a basic plot
The first step is to make a rough plan. Just bullet point what the basics of what happens. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to list the main key points of the story.
You might find that your plot fits into a particular story structure, which mine did.
Once I had the bullet points down on the page, it felt like I had an actual story for the first time ever. It was there, on the page, waiting to be written. Don’t underestimate the power of that feeling.
Once you have the basic plot down, you will know what you do and don’t need to research more before you begin.
For instance, I am currently working on a light sci-fi/dystopian novel. I have some leeway in terms of creative licence, but there are certain things that I want to be believable, and so will be basing them on real life. This means that I need to understand them thoroughly in real life contexts first.
I am also taking a map of Nottingham and updating to how I would like it to be in 100 years time. Which sounds easy—I could just make it up, right? But again, I need to know where everything is, and ensure that once it is complete, it logistically makes sense.
I have tried writing before researching before, and I found that I kept getting held up every few sentences because I was worrying too much about getting stuff wrong.
If you don’t wanna get caught up like that, make sure you research all that needs researching.
Refine your plot
Whilst I was working on the rough plot, and researching my list of subjects, I found that my story was growing in my head. This made me happy, but it meant that it was time for more DETAILS.
Those magical, magical details.
Now, plotting your novel is a sliding scale.
Some people find that planning every little detail is the way to go—they know what happens in every second of every scene in every chapter before they start writing. They know all the plots, subplots, twists and turns, and need to know that before they start.
That’s a good way of doing things!
Some people find that too much, and just need to know perhaps a barebones outline of what is to happen, so that they can make sure it’s coherent before starting to write. They know that person A sleeps with person B, but they haven’t yet planned out every little saucy details of the run up to that, for instance.
That is also a good way of doing things!
Honestly, you need to find a way that works for you.
I tried my hand and planning every scene, which is a lot more than I’d done before, and it really did help me exponentially.
Once I started working out the story scene by scene, and really picturing what happens, I found my brain was developing the story more and more. And that is always a good thing!
I would say that if you’ve never done it before, try and go for as much detail as possible. That way, when you come to writing it, you know exactly what you need to write.
Stick to your plan
It’s overwhelming, sometimes, knowing how many words you have to write and how hard it’s going to be to dedicate yourself to all that writing.
I know I’ve struggled with this in the past.
But taking the time to plan out my novel has given me the inspiration I needed to actually finish it.
I ‘m going to dedicate myself to this, because I know how happy it’ll make me to finish writing a full novel.
And you can do that, too.
This post was originally published on The Writing Society.