Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How I Plot A Novel in 5 Steps

By popular request (ok, 1 person, but they're populace, so that makes it popular, right?) I've put together a step by step process for how I go from "Hey I should write a novel" to "Ok, let's get writing!" Though I managed to get things grouped into steps, what I've really done is labeled and applied order to the phases I go through as I work toward the point where I feel I know enough about a book to start writing. Some parts of my process may seem a bit obsessive, but the most important part of writing fast is knowing as much as you can about what you're writing before you write it, and that means lots and lots of planning.

Planning a novel takes me anywhere from a few days to weeks. Usually I plan while I'm working on other things, like editing, but I've also had whole weeks where I did nothing but put a story together. I should say that I plan far more novels than I actually end up writing. My computer is littered with the cast off husks of half started worlds. I consider this a normal part of the process. If you do it right, planning is where you uncover all the things that are wrong with that idea you thought was so amazing last week. Sometimes these faults are workable, other times it's better to just move on. Even so, it's way better to discover a novel isn't as strong as you thought at the planning stage instead of 3 chapters in. Not every idea deserves to be a novel.

Well, enough of that. You came to see how I plan novels. So, best as I can articulate something that changes for every book, here is my general process. I really hope everyone finds something useful they can take away to help organize and speed up their own writing system.

Disclaimer: Unlike my other posts, which I think will work for anyone, parts of this method are personal and might not be right for your books. Feel free to cut, expand, or add steps to my process where ever you feel you should.

Step 0: Decide what book to write!
This is one of those decisions that seems obvious but can get you into a lot of trouble if you don't give it the respect it deserves. When you sit down to write a book, you are embarking upon a very large project. As such, the first question you should be asking yourself is "Is this actually the story I want to spend my time on?" You don't need to have the plot or characters set up at this stage, but you do need a certainty that the book idea floating in your head is something that will not only interest you for the time it takes to write, edit, and polish a manuscript, but will, once finished, do whatever it is you want your book to do (i.e., get an agent, please your editor, sell fantastically, etc.). Your time is precious, don't waste it on a project you're not excited about or doesn't work toward your goals.

While not actually part of the planning process, this step is really, really important. Don't skip it, and try a couple of projects on for size before settling down. Remember, you can always switch projects later, but invested time can never be recovered, so do yourself a favor and think things through before you spend weeks working on a world you're not actually interested in writing about.

Step 1: Get Down What You Already Know
Now that I've decided what novel I want to write, the first thing I do is write down everything I already know about the book. These are usually the ideas that exploded into my mind and made me want to write the story in the first place. Sometimes it's a character or situation, sometimes it's a magical system or a setting. Whatever it is, I write it down quickly and efficiently. I don't bother with details and I don't force myself to write past the initial flash of interest. This is just getting down the rough idea of what excites me the most about this book, what makes it special.

I use this step to codify and organize what I already know about my world, characters, and plot, which is usually very little. But, by putting this very little down, I have laid a basic framework and can now see the holes I need to fill in before any actual writing can begin.

Step 2: Lay Down The Basics
This is the part of the process where I figure out the bare bones of the three pillars of story - characters, plot, and setting. You know, that High School English stuff. Since I use Scrivener to write (amazing program), I just make a folder for each of these topics and throw everything remotely related underneath, but you don't have to do that. So long as you can keep your notes straight, any system will do.

Now, what bare bones am I talking about? Here's my list:

For Characters, I need: The Main Characters (usually 2-4), the Antagonists (usually at least 2), and the Power Players (as many as needed). The numbers are very subjective and change from book to book, but you get the idea. MCs and Antagonists are self explanatory, but Power Players are the people in the story who are not for the MCs or against them, but are never-the-less very important to the setting. These are the people who move and shake in the world. Think Etmon Banage in my Eli Monpress books or Dumbledore in Harry Potter. You know, the BIG names.
Now, I'm not doing detailed character sheets yet, I'm just getting down the basics - names, what they want, and the general sense I have of them as a character. Physical descriptions and histories come later. All I care about right now is how this person relates to the story. I've had character sheets that were nothing but a name and a one line description at this stage of things, and that's perfectly fine.

For Plot, I need: The end and the beginning, in that order. Figuring out the end of a book is my number 1 priority. After I've got my start point and my end point, I set down the major twists/scenes/climaxes I've already thought up. I don't worry about how all these thinks link together, or even if the events are in the right order.
This is also the point where I determine if this book is a stand alone novel or part of a series, and if it is a series, then I work out the end of the larger meta plot and where this current book's plot fits into the larger scheme.
Finally, I write a sort of manifesto about the kind of story I am trying to tell. Is this primarily an adventure story, a rebellion story, a love story? An adventure story can have a love plot and a love story can be an adventure, but it's important I decide early which story is going to be the primary tale. After all, a love story places the dramatic emphasis on different scenes than an adventure story does. The tone is different as well, so I need to know for sure right from the beginning what kind of story I'm writing as this decision will influence the style of the novel right from page one.

For Setting, I need: The magical system, if there is one. The basic political system. Where does this book take place and how does that relate to the rest of the world? What kind of a culture is this? What's the level of technology? Who has power in this world and why? How did the world get to its current state and why? If I'm writing a fantasy I'll do creation stories and work out the pantheon, for SciFi I figure out how humans got into space. This step changes wildly from book to book. I basically just write until I feel I've got a firm hold on what kind of world the action takes place in (though, again, I don't sweat the details yet).

This is the most important part: What we're doing here is the purest form of world building, and it should be enormously fun. If you are not having fun putting your world, characters, and plot together, you need to seriously reconsider if this is the book you should be writing.

Step 3: Filling In The Holes
By the time I move on to step 3, I've got all the basics down. I know how my novel starts and ends plus a few big scenes, I know who's in it and where it's taking place. Now comes the nitty gritty of making everything work together.

When I reach this step, the first thing I start filling in is the plot. Now, a book is way too huge to plot all at once, so rather than trying to just write out a plot, I break things down into small chunks. Thanks to the work I've already done, I know the story's beginning, so that's usually where I start. I go to the beginning, look at my world and my characters's motivations, and ask "what happens next?" And then I write that down. Once it's down, I ask again, and so bit by bit the plot fills in.

Of course, I always get stuck. Sometimes I just don't know what comes next. When this happens, I usually jump further down the line, either straight to the ending (which I already worked out, clever me!) or to one of the big scenes I was excited about. When I get to the big scenes, a battle, say, I look at my world and my characters and ask "how did this happen?" And then I go backwards until I either reach the place where I got stuck the first time or I get stuck again.

Sometimes, though, I get really stuck. Like, I have no idea how two scenes are connected, or how I can possibly get from the middle of the book to the end. When this happens it's very tempting to think the plot is completely borked, but here's a trade secret: there's no such thing as an unfixable plot. Often, you don't even have to figure out a clever solution, you just need to discover why something isn't working and the solution will simply appear. One of the earliest lessons I learned about writing was that, if I was stuck, it was because I didn't know something. When a plot won't move forward, it's because there's something you don't know. Figure out what that is and you can unstick even the most stubborn plot.

So, when I get seriously stuck, I let the plot go and start working out other things. This is where I fill out those character sheets you find on line. I work out the detailed history of my world and spend time with my characters, try to figure out what they're thinking. If that still isn't enough to get me moving again, I set down in ludicrous detail what's going on in the world at the moment where the plot is stuck. I especially map out exactly what the villains are doing, that alone is often enough to snap the plot back into place.

Learn from my Fail - Never get so wrapped up in pinning down particulars that you kill the novel for yourself. Long ago, before I'd actually finished a novel, I was working on a sweeping epic fantasy. Now, I'd read online that a writer should know her world inside and out, so I set to work Building My World (TM). I wrote and wrote and wrote for days, getting down all this absurdly detailed information that had nothing to do with my story, things like the political backdrop of wars that happened five hundred years before the plot and table manners in countries across the sea I was never going to visit. About half way through naming the different dead princes of the Empire that had fallen a thousand years ago, I threw away the novel in disgust. Now, if you like planning out your worlds to that level of detail, go for it, but there's absolutely such a thing as too much planning, and you can make yourself sick of your world before you've even started writing if you're not careful.

I know I've reached the end of step 3 when I can write out my whole plot, start to finish, with no blanks or skipped scenes. By this point, I've also gotten stuck enough that I've written detailed sheets for all my characters and major settings. If I have missed writing out the details for someone or someplace, I'll sometimes go back and fill them in, but not always. Usually, if I didn't need their information while I was writing out the plot, that's a sign that they weren't as important to the story as I thought.

Finally (and this is where things get a little hokey), I know I'm ready to move on to the last part of my planning when the feel of the book becomes tangible. All my books have a unique feel, almost like a taste in my mind that belongs to that book alone. I can't really describe it, but I never move on to the next step until I can feel the book clearly. I guess you could also call it the book's voice. This is about as "feel the muse" as I get.

Step 4: Building a Firm Foundation
This was the point where I used to just go ahead and dive into the novel, but now that I'm writing faster, I've discovered that taking a day to do one extra step of refinement can save you weeks of trouble down the line. At this stage I've got my plot, I know my characters, my world has its history, rules, and feel, so now it's time to start pouring the concrete details that will support my novel through the writing and edits to come.

In this step, I always:
  • Make a timeline. I didn't have time lines for the first 4 Eli novels and OMG did it bite me in the ass. Lesson finally learned, I now make timelines not just for the events of the novel itself, but the history before it as well. I especially make sure to note relative ages and how long everyone's known everyone else. Yes, it's annoying and nitpicky, but timelines have saved my bacon many, many times over, and I very, very much recommend making one. Trust me, you are not nearly as good at keeping track of things in your head as you think you are.
  • Draw a map. Actually, I usually end up doing this back in step 2, but if I don't have a detailed map by now, I'll make one, usually several, of the world at large as well as all my important locations. I also write out short descriptions of each place. This helps me describe things consistently and removes the burden of making this shit up as I go along.
  • Write out who knows what, when. This is usually just a paragraph where I look over the plot and jot down who discovers what when. This is to make sure I don't have Protagonist A making an argument (or worse, a plot decision) using information they wouldn't actually know yet. This is less of a resource and more of a double check on my plot.
  • Make sure I memorize everyone's particulars. I need to know name spelling, physical description, motivations, and relative ages for all my major cast by heart. Can't have anyone's name dropping vowels or eyes changing color, can we?
  • Write out a scene list  This is where I take that plot I wrote out at the end of step three and break it into scenes and chapters. I've talked about what makes a scene before, so, using that criteria, I slice my plot into scenes and list them in a bulleted list. Once I have a list of scenes, I group them into chapters to make a nice little list. In my experience, a chapter usually consists of three scenes, though I've done as few as two and as many as five before. Chapter breaks should also take into account dramatic tension, so I try to take that into accout as well. For example, the first chapter of The Spirit Thief would look like this:
    • Chapter 1
      • Eli charms his way out of prison
      • The king of Mellinor discovers Eli has escaped, is moved to safer quarters
      • Eli and Josef take advantage of the confusion and kidnap the king.
  • Word Count estimation: Now that I've got a rough idea of my chapters, it's time to do an even rougher estimation of how long this book is going to be. I know from personal experience that my chapters tend to run between 5000 and 6000 words long. I don't know why, that's just what feels like a chapter to me, I guess. But this regularity is very handy when it comes time to estimate! By looking at the number of chapters I've cut my scenes into and multiplying that by my average chapter length, I know that a book with 15 chapters will most likely run 75k - 90k words long, or right smack dab in the sweet spot of publishable book length. Of course, this is just an estimation, but doing a check like this is also a really good early warning signal. If, for example, I've lined up all my scenes and found that I have 30 chapters worth of plot, then I know I probably need to cut something to avoid ending up with an 180k unpublishable monster. Trust me, it is SO MUCH EASIER to cut scenes at this stage than to cut them after you've written them. Even if you don't know your average chapter length yet, chances are your chapters won't be shorter than 5k. Counting them up and multiplying to get an idea of how big your book is is a great way to avoid painful cutting later down the line.
  • Do a boredom check. Once I've broken my novel into scenes and chapters (and cut and reworked the plot if the book was too long), it's time for the final and most important plot test: the boredom check. What I do here is I think through my plot, imagining the story in my head as thought it were a movie. There's no sound, no dialogue, I just go through the story scene by scene in my head, testing the story's flow. All the while, I'm on the look out for slow spots. Does the action lag anywhere? Are there any sections I can't visualize or scenes I skip over? If so, I go back to those points and figure out why. See, when you cruise through your plot like this, you're seeing your story with your reader mind and not your writer mind. Your writer mind might consider a scene necessary for plot reasons, but if your reader mind is bored you'll skip right over it and move on to the good stuff. This is BAD. I don't want my readers to be bored by or skip over anything I write. Plus, I don't want to waste my time writing boring crap, no matter how nicely it fits into the plot. This is all part of "be excited about everything you write." If a scene is boring, I rip it out and redo it. Ripping up a finished plot can feel really scary, but just remember: there's always more than one way to solve any problem, and a boring scene can always be replaced by an interesting one, usually by raising the stakes or upping the tension. This step may seem unnecessary, especially since you've been over your plot 10000 times by now, but take thirty minutes and do it anyway. A boredom check is your final defense against having to rewrite stupid scenes later. If you take the time and make sure every scene is golden right from the start, you'll save yourself wasted work and heartache later.

Step 5: Start Writing!
By this point I'm usually chomping at the bit to get writing. I know my world, I know my characters, I know exactly what's going to happen and why, and I know the climax I'm working toward. I know everything I need, all that's left is to put the words down. 

Of course, no matter how well you plan your novel, it's important to remember that no one has all their great ideas at one time. Chances are the plot will change as you write. Characters will mature and deepen, you'll discover plot holes you never thought about, and ideas you thought were amazing will start to look played and stupid. All of this is part of the natural writing process. Never be afraid to let go of your plans and just roll with things. After all, the real purpose of planning is the acquisition of knowledge. If that knowledge inspires you to make a better decision for the book later down the line, then go with it. Never let your planning hold you back.


And that, more or less, is my system, I hope you can find something in there to help you with your own writing process. Again, I can't stress how much planning has improved both my writing and my writing experience. I have never had as much fun writing a book, or had my books come out better, than when I'm working from a plan. If you're the kind of writer who writes by the seat of their pants and is afraid strict planning will ruin the fun of writing for you, my only suggestion is to try it, just once. You might be surprised. 

Again, hope this helps someone. As always, thank you for reading! And if you have your own novel planning process, leave a comment below. I'd love to hear about it!

103 comments: said...

Mrs. Aaron, can you just, like, have my babies?!

This is awesome!! I especially love the advice about the timeline. I'm sure that's something so MANY authors wished they had-- once they're already a good way through writing their novel.

I also extra-appreciated the sample of how you summarize your chapters. You wouldn't think something so simple could help you so much, just bulleting the scenes so easily like that; but you've proven how much it DOES work.

Thank you so much for writing this!! It's great how responsive you are to your fans, and how obviously excited and loving you seem to be about the craft of writing!

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel,

Thank you for revealing your writing secrets to us! Keep up the awesome blog.

I was hoping you would share some insight into editing. I recently finished writing a first draft of a fantasy novel *phew* and now I have a mountain of editing and polishing ahead of me. I'd love to know how you tackle your editing! (Especially when there is no chocolate left in the cupboards to keep us writers motivated!)

Reading back on the earlier chapters of my book, I find myself cringing at the painfully descriptive sentences or realising that a chapter is drowning in information needed to help the novel progress. It can also be difficult to know what to change and what not to change - I'm hesitant to start cutting or modifying it incase I somehow make it worse! Luckily, reading further on, I find I love some of the scenes I've written.... Yay!

I confess, I did virtually no planning when I begun this novel. I just had an idea, ran with it and hoped my imagination would come up with what happened next! But with all your success with planning, I think you may have converted me! :)

Congratulations on your novels, can't wait to read the next books.

Thank you.


Rachel Aaron said...

I'm so glad it helped!!

Rachel Aaron said...

@Theresa I have my own problems with editing that I'm still trying to work out. When I have something intelligent to say on the subject, I'll make a post for sure. Right now, I just sort of beat the novel with my face until it looks right T__T

Anonymous said...

Haha ok no worries. :) thanks a lot anyway much appreciated. Teresa

Daniel R. Marvello said...

This is great stuff, Rachel. The best of the Snowflake Method and the Beat Sheet combined. I'm a plotter myself, but I assure you, I'm busy taking notes! Thank you for sharing.

Jo-Ann said...

I've just discovered your blog and I'm impressed. I'm normally a pantster writer, and this works well for short stories. However, after a string of abandoned novels (writing, not reading) I have decided to change my ways. So I actually copied and pasted your advice into a word document, and I'm using it as a template to write a longer piece.
Thank you for sharing your method.

Rosefighter said...

Thank you for answering my question from the forums! Sorry it took me so long to reply I've been busy trying to keep up with my word count. Thanks this helps out a lot even though I've already started my story.

Fred Ross said...

I might toss in a comment on editing. The first thing I do is put down the manuscript for long enough to forget it. For short stories this might be a week or two, for a novel it's a good month. I send my chapters out as I go to a few friends who like my writing and keep me motivated, and when I start having to ask them to tell me who a character they're commenting on was, I know I'm ready to edit.

Then I go back through reworking scenes and dialogue and structure, not worrying about typos or the like unless my eye happens to fall on them. My prose style is usable almost as is, so this edit is really about at the paragraph to chapter level. Does this scene drag here? Does it rush too fast and lose its rhythm? Do I have no idea what this paragraph was supposed to convey?

Once I've gone back through that way, I then make another run for spelling, grammar--the proper copyediting. At this point I don't worry about larger structure at all. It's fixed. It's not going to change now unless some external force forces it to.

Hope that's useful to someone.

Anonymous said...

I wish this post had existed a couple years ago when I was starting my WIP. I'm just starting a rewrite after writing BY HAND half of my MS and then figuring out that the story I began was so flawed that it needed redoing. So for the last few months I've reworked my plot and world and begun rewriting from page 1. It's been kind of a pain, but my story is better than ever now.

Great post! Definitely one I'll be saving. :)

Luisa Perkins said...

This is really, really great. Thank you SO much.

Michele Lang said...

this is simply wonderful, thank you!

Editing is also a real bugbear for me. I've gotten a lot of help from Holly Lisle and her one-pass revision process (see the below link)

I've refined my revision process over time, and while it takes more than one pass usually to get it right, I'm hoping to use the information in *your* wonderful blog to tighten up my first draft.

Thank you again for a fantastic series of posts :)

Glenda Thompson said...

All I can say is a simple, heartfelt "Thank you" for sharing this hard won knowledge. It has already made a huge difference in the novel I am working on.

Mukund Mohan said...

Great post. Thanks so much for the advice.

Bridget said...

This is so incredibly helpful! I bought Scrivener a little while ago and that alone was a godsend, but this really helps me see what parts of my process have been working against me and how to move forward. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Katie said...

This is just fantastic. My approach to planning anything usually involves throwing down a couple of ideas on a piece of paper, then going for it, accompanied by countless cups of tea. Plotting always seemed to kill my stories but that's because I was going about it the wrong way. If I'd been going through your steps, I would have been having much more fun with the plotting process and I would have been keeping the story alive in my imagination. In fact, the further I read through your post, the more impatient I came because I wanted to be able to put all of your advice into effect straight away!

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your expertise. I'm definitely going to take your advice and see if it will work for me.

Warren Thurston said...

Hello Rachel

To plot my novels I use a story board in dot point form.

Each dot point is a brief description of the action.

I keep the story board as a word document.

Keeping the board as an electronic copy I find makes it easier to rearrange.

Here's an example:

. Roger opens door and sees his room has been trashed.

. Sitting on his bed is a large red bear who's face is covered in honey.

. The bear introduces itself as Anton, then belches.

. Roger screams and runs down the hall to his parents room.

Susan Denney said...

Dear Rachel,
Thanks for sharing all this. It's a lot to process and some of it I've learned the hard way in the five novels I've written! I appreciate it. The next one will be easier.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rachel,
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to help all of us who are floundering.
Barbara Geisler

Leslie said...

Another wonderful article! Thank you so much for sharing your process. You have a lot of wonderful ideas that I know I can take to tweak my own process.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god, I love this post. I write for websites like FictionPress and such, and have to update on a weekly basis. Planning helps me move the story forward, so I don't get stuck and disappoint readers.

I already tried this method on a new story I've been working on and got excellent feedback. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Rachel! This was an awesome insight to read.

Heath Quinn said...

Thanks so much for the excellent advice. I've started using Scrivener because of your recommendation, and am now reworking a novel I've been trying to get past Chapter 3, with the new work based on your methods. I have a better feel for what I'm doing, as a result, and I can see why I've been stuck for so long - little previous planning resulted in my feeling overwhelmed with a sense that the story had escaped my control.

Dazza said...

Brilliant post, has given me a lot to think about. I have too many ideas cluttering up my brain, so I need to get them away from there quickly. BTW thankyou for posting the first chapters of your books, they are great, can't wait for the ones I've ordered to turn up from Amazon.

@Vilite246 IsMyScreenName I tend to read widely, watch TV, and just listen to the world around me. Right now I am in the middle of creating a Fantasy story based on an overheard conversation, something they said lit up that idea net in my mind.

Sheryl Gwyther said...

Dear Rachel, I found this a fascinating and very useful post. I started restructuring my children's novel a week ago - finally realised it's where the problems lay.
Wish I'd worked that out months ago! Your words have given me much encouragement though. Thanks! :)

Anonymous said...

This is actually exactly how I planned mine...just researching after the fact to see what other people do. I'm only 20k into writing it though so we'll see where that goes! :P.

online casino said...

every day life is gorgeous blog page free online casino

Unknown said...

Play for real money and win big on the best UK online casino games sites.
online casino
australian online casino
free online casino

Anonymous said...

Rachel Aaron, you are THE MAN!

Rebecca K said...

Thanks Rachel!
This is great. I took some notes to provide myself with some "ongoing guidance" and printed them out in bold then stuck them onto the bulletin board above my desk. Let ye be reminded, self!
I think your direct, no BS approach boils it down, and it is easy for us to apply to whatever type of writing we are undertaking.
Thanks again!
To geek out, Write On!

Yoni said...

Hi Rachel,

May I ask whether you use Scrivener for windows or mac? I understand that it's not as good for windows.

Anonymous said...

I love ur article and i love sucking my own penis

Anonymous said...

Wow I think this is the best guide for writing a plot I've ever read! Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a brilliant blog post. I did my degree in Scriptwriting and planning a book is SO different.

I had no idea on approximate book length, chapter length or anythinG. Now I have managed to do a breakdown so its much easier to work out a scene by scene. Very very helpful, thank you.

Unknown said...


Thank you so very much for sharing these insights and points.

In addition to the planning aspect, I truly appreciate and am excited by the solution for "unsticking" when you hit a stubborn place in the plot.

Thanks again!


Unknown said...

Melissa Foster actually pointed to this blog post in one of her comments in Fostering Success, and I had to laugh when I clicked over here. I already have 2000 to 10,000, and it has helped me TREMENDOUSLY in writing the sequel to Finding My Escape! So thank you!

martind43 said...

Hi Rachel,
Excellent article, has helped me kick start a few projects that have been stalled, literally for years. I was determined, or rather just hopeful, to get them moving, and have read lots of articles and few books to that end, but yours has been the best and most clear.
I was a “seat of the pants” writer, and consequently when I got stuck, stuff just got abandoned after a while. Upside of that though, is I have lots of material to reformat or recycle as the case may be.
However, doing an outline or plan, which in the past I have dismissed as “manufacturing” or “artificial” in some way, means when the time comes to “press the button” and write, it will be “mostly” all there. Even in the few days since I first came across your article (and others), seeing the plot take shape in front of my eyes spurs me on, and changed my perception. I’m enjoying writing again.
However, I am setting time limits for each stage, as I know my outline does not need to be perfect.
Just glad to be hitting the road again, as it were.

Unknown said...

Well said. I had no timeline for my first novel, so it ended up spanning 25 years and became a trilogy. My fourth novel I decided would span one month, and my chapter outline was day by day what would happen, with one act for each week. Much easier to outline and write.

I like your boredom check. When I find a boring scene, I either completely rethink it, or summarize in narrative and move on. But I need to make it a regular part of my process.

- Paul

WhichWriterWitch said...

I've read a couple of your blogs on writing and love what I am hearing. I bought the book 2k to 10k and will be devouring it before next month when I attempt the NaNoWriMo. Thank you so much. I've been floundering to long with scenes here and there and no form to put them together.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for doing this! It's helped a lot. :) I usually just go for it, writing novels without any proper planning, but all I've got to show for my years of writing is a ton of short stories and a crapload of unfinished novels. This blog post was very helpful! Thank you! :)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coach Allison said...

Great information! Thank you. I am going to be finally starting my 1st novel this year (or next, actually) and have already done some of the preliminary work you have suggested...good stuff!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I've written six novels, published five, but I was having a bit of trouble starting my next project. It just wasn't as much fun. The problem, I think after seeing your post, is that I have not yet done the level of planning (timelines, character sheets, plot outline) that I had done for the others, thinking that now that I have some experience, I could bypass some of this. Not true! Back to my worksheets.

Anonymous said...

Loved your post! I'm on step three for my urban fantasy novel idea, which I'm hoping will become my first full-length piece of writing.

Scott McPherson said...

It is amazing how differently people can do the same thing. I have written and published two novels. Neither was planned out, outline, time-lined, etc. Yet I like your ideas, because I can see my next books sounding too much alike. Your "boredom check" is a great idea. I am going to try to adopt some of your processes for my fourth novel (#3 is ready for final editing).


Wannee said...

Thanks for writing this. It is really useful for me since now i get stuck with the plot.

Kyra said...

Holy geez. This is just the best thing ever. I am getting through my writing in a way that I have never been able to do before. Thank you so much for that. I really and truly appreciate it. Keep on writing! :)

Unknown said...

This is amazing! It is detailed and wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing this process with us! I have actually used it just now in getting my new project ready - I already started writing it, but having this basic information down is wonderful! :D

Mikaela said...

I shared this post with my followers on WordPress! I hope they enjoy it as much as I did. Thank you so much for posting, it was exceptionally helpful!

A said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A said...

Hi, after having a horrible first introduction day at my University (Second year, Creative Writing and English Literature.) Where in my first module; 'Writing and Editing Fiction', on Monday mornings (Hate Mondays) a rather dull teacher told me in front of the class I use a verb before I start a sentence and I have trouble changing tenses. I just didn't want to write stories any more, ever. I came home today depressed and utterly dejected, crossing out the one thing I actually wanted to accomplish career-wise and started thinking of boring alternatives. While wallowing in self-pity I tried to start a story on MS. Word only to get stuck and be completely put off by doing that 'verb-starting-sentence' thing, and then getting revolted and stuck by the ridiculous intro to my story. I stumbled across your planning/plotting blog and it cheered me up a little. it actually encouraged me to plan, something I always avoided. And I must say this is much easier to grasp than the snowflake method which literaly wanted to make me cry out of its complexity lol.

Anonymous said...

Great blog post! I don’t understand how long it will require me to obtain through all of them!

Unknown said...

holy poop. This has helped me so much in ways that you'll never know. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Anonymous said...

When writing your scene list you talk about slicing the plot into scenes. Am I understanding you correctly when I interpret this as grouping the plot points together into a scene? Or do you mean dividing a plot point down further into several scenes?

Nelou Keramati said...

Dear Rachel,
As a first time novelist I was so relieved (and impressed with myself) to find I had come up with an almost identical system to that of yours! The boredom check was something I hadn't thought of though, so that's going to be a helpful tip when I get to that point in my process.
Wanted to thank you for your thorough outline. I personally have found this process to be incredibly helpful, and indeed fun!
Wish you all the best in your future endeavors!

dsbenson said...

Great post. I'll add a couple of tricks that have really helped me. I use a spreadsheet for my characters and timeline. If you know Excel/Google Spreadsheets it's not hard to set one up. This way, I can spot the relationships between my character ages. I can also check to make sure there aren't too many similar names. Finally, it's really easy to change a character's birth year (for instance) and see all of the spots where the ages will impact other events.

One more thing that's been helpful to me. When writing some specific piece of *important* physical description—a house, an article of clothing, an ornate pipe, a tomb, whatever—I do a Google Image Search and find one that fits the mental model, and download the picture. I use that as a reference. Makes it real for me, and makes it easy to make that thing seem tangible in the text.

Buzzard said...

I would love to read your blog because I am aspiring writer but I can read white text on black background. I will admit that it looks cool but it hurts my eyes and it levels a imprint in my vision for about a half an hour. This is a common problem so it would be kind of you to switch the text and background colors. Thank you so much :)

Buzzard said...

sorry. In my previous comment I meant to write "I Can't read white text on black background" thanks again

Anonymous said...

I wish I found this post sooner... I have all of these awesome ideas but they're not organized. I have difficulties to do it. -.-' I search and search tips online to help but all of them are complicated.

I'm using this one and it seems to work pretty good so far. I just have a question. At step 3, how do you write what will happen? I know but what do you add, a scene, a reason why it's going on. Do you stick to the main character or do you explore the other characters as you write? Right now I'm simply using key words of what happens to have a general idea.

Isotheauthor said...

Thanks a lot Rachel

I have just bumped onto this article at the right time.

I have been planning to write an ethnographic novel but a bigger challenge has been on the time planning and scope setting. I know the beginning and the end- at least how I would like to take off and end, but how to weave the rest of the matter into something interesting has remained a sheer mystery.

I was getting worried that stretching a storyline over a century would probably lead to the 'unpublishable monster' or get drowned in unnecessary scenes. This is just a perfect piece, and a piece of knowledge I wasn't taught anywhere in my creative writing class.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is fantastic!

I've just started my first novel and it's going great. (2 months of planning and writing and almost 6000 words.) I am trying to write a sequel for one of my favorite old books, so I already know some of my characters fairly well. I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who uses a timeline. I think my mom was wondering why I would make it so detailed, but it's helping me from getting stuck.

There have been a couple of times where my main character has just done something that I wasn't expecting. Is that completely crazy or does that happen to other people too? It's like he's come alive in my mind and he reacts to situations in ways that I didn't really plan. :)

On a side note, does anyone know when the copyright of "Indian Drums and Broken Arrows" by Craig Massey ends? I can't find it anywhere. (Yes, I know this book already has a sequel, but I can't find it for a decent price anywhere. Therefore I am writing my own! :) )
Amy Ruth (age 17)

Unknown said...

Most of the fiction stories like novel are really far from the reality but so impressive to read.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article =-)

I also suggest writers read "Stomping Kittens: a first-draft workbook" as I was recommended it and it has done wonders for my writing. It's simple and very easy to understand, and it's improved my writing 1,000% heck, it used to take me nearly a year to finish a novel, but now after reading Stomping Kittens it literally takes me only a few months from start to finish. A least give it a free look-over at Amazon. There's a lot of great info on the free pages they let you see even if you don't buy the book ;-)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful advice -- very useful -- thank you, Rachel!

Unknown said...

Thanks for this excellent Blog post,I've just started writing my novel and I think using your techniques for sure help me in completing my novel.Looking forward to see what else you post in the future.

research paper writing

Unknown said...

Since I was a teenager I do love reading different novels that are interesting.

Brigitte Kirady said...

This advice was incredibly helpful! I've been working on my novel for three years and have recently decided to take on writing full time. Strangely, this is when my writing hit a huge wall. I had all this time to write, but the writer's block was so bad I made next to no progress. I knew my story had huge holes in it, I just didn't know how to fix it.

After reading your posts, mainly this one, I realized I needed to go back to the beginning: Plotting. What a difference!

My writer's block is gone. I've made countless changes to the story and am being more productive than I've been in over a year. Had I done this right from the start, I might have finished my novel a long time ago!

Thank you. And as a result, you've gained a new customer for your books.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the easy advice about writing a novel, I once too believed the lie of having to know my world inside and out. True there's a lot of things you need to know, but if it's irrelevant to the story, no one needs to know. I've had the hardest time over the passed *cough* ten years *cough cough* trying to write my novel, but I won't give up now, I know I have something great, I just need to get it done and I know this will help.

Unknown said...

Harry potter books online free read
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone book online free read
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets book online free read
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban book online free read
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire book online free read
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix book online free read
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince book online free read
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book online free read

Huk Gwai said...

This is so HELPFUL, thank you thank you thank you! As a total pantser I have a way to add a plot. :D

Anonymous said...

Bought and listened to your audiobook on audible. Something about the way to approach this - your passion - works for me and greatly improved my writing. And I have been doing this a long time. You are a writing guru because you don't try to be one. Thanks.

Betsy said...

I am such a pantser when it comes to writing. I'm going to use the ideas you've laid out here! Great information, Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi. If you are a minor in high school... what is the likely hood of the book you are working on ever getting published? Hypothetically speaking, of course. Also, your tips will help so much. I am looking forward to start writing!!!

Anonymous said...

"Pen the Sword: the universal plot skeleton of every story ever told" by Adron J. Smitley is a fantastic book on how to plot your novel. Got it free with kindle unlimited. Blew my mind how easy it makes writing my novels. I highly recommend :-)

Herbert Steib said...

Thanks for this great guidepost. It's helped especially in the beginning, to get structure...

Python Training in Chennai said...

What are the best Python scripts you've ever written?
Actually, there are many scripts and apps I wrote in python for me..... But the most useful thing I've ever written is an Emacs mode, of all things. If you want to more details to contact us:

Anonymous said...

I would like to direct you to this blog of a "Master Plot Formula":

munroe island said...

Thanks For sharing this post. I really enjoy to read this.keep up the good work.

Best resorts in kerala

Tutoring Centre said...

Thank you for your post. This is excellent information. It is amazing and wonderful to visit your site.

Tutoring Cranbourne

elesa said...

If you are willing, I would love to see what one of your timelines look like. I always try to do timelines, but they are always a mess and not very helpful and I just feel like I am doing it wrong. Which makes me feel like a moron. It shouldn't be that hard to write now a list of events in order, but it is.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for such a valuable article, you actually boosted my confidence to write more. Please keep on posting more articles like this. I really like it. Tuition Center in Cranbourne

meldaresearch said...

There are academic nursing writing help companies whose ultimate goal is to provide Help with Nursing Writing Services since they are aware most nursing essay writing service part-time students lack enough time to complete their college custom nursing assignments.

online virtual academy for films said...

types of plot

Kcthakur058@bloggest said...

Thanks for shairng great informational content.
Read my latest technology related blogs
cowboy corgi
does cvs sell stamps

Nayan said...

Thanks for sharing great informational content.

Canada visum online

canada visum online

voiceartist goldcoast said...

Thanks for sharing this blog. Looking forward to read more.

Michael DeBruin said...

My wish right now is that God should continue to bless Dr Emu for his good works towards the life of those people who are heart broken. My name is Michael DeBruin and I am from the USA, it's been a while since my lover's attitude changed from being the caring type she has been to me, but later turned out not to be caring at all. But not long, I later discovered that my lover was having an affair with someone else. and also she told me she doesn't need me after all we pass through then a friend told me about a spell caster. that with the spell I will get back my woman, I took his cell number then called him and also what's-app him which he reply to me and I did some sacrifices to the spell man and he bought the items for me which he used for the sacrifices and later called me that before 48 hours my love will come back to me and now we are more in love with each other than ever. you can reach him on WhatsApp +2347012841542 or reach him via mail ; , my lover returned back and broke up with the other guy she was having a relationship with... Thank you Dr Emu.



Writing Coach (Zeeshan Khan) said...

Rachel, good day.

Every writer, in my opinion, should know and use these terms when writing. Your writing skills, as well as the way you present your sentences, are outstanding. Now I'm intrigued as to where you get your great writing content ideas. For the time being, may I proceed in the same manner as you?

Lastly, Man, you've written a fantastic article. Continue to do a great job. WRITING TIPS

Armand Mullins said...

Very infromative artilce, thanks to author. I advice you to post this thoughts in Instagram so that many interested people can see it. And you can always buy instagram followers to increase their number.

Yawar baba said...

Thanks a lot dear

Jinog said...

You may want to get fit not mater in which life stage you are, but the problem is we don't find enough time to do effort. I was also the same but then I read the Paul Giamatti Weight Loss and David Goggins Weight Loss.

I do agree on to have a treatment for a good looking teeth.
Anthony Davis Teeth Before & After
Andy Samberg Teeth Gap

Anonymous said...

You may want to get fit not mater in which life stage you are, but the problem is we don't find enough time to do effort. I was also the same but then I read the

Kathryn Dennis Weight Loss,
Jenny Doan Weight Loss
Retta Weight Loss
Miranda May Weight Loss
Action Bronson Weight Loss

You may also like to read:
Chrissy Metz Weight Loss
Whitney Way Thore Weight Loss
Wolfgang Van Halen Weight Loss
Chelsea Houska Weight Loss
Kirsten Vangsness Weight Loss

Anonymous said...

sublime text crack

Albert Clifes said...

Glad to read this informative and helpful post, it shares lots of information about novel writing software with us.
save the cat writes a novel software

Amit Import said...

Get Vietnam Customs Data; Grow Your Export Import Trade in Customs & 100+ Countries. Connect With 100% Verified Buyers, and Suppliers. Visit our website for more import, export and shipment data.
Vietnam Customs Data

Anonymous said...

Glad to found wonderful website. Looking for more.

Crystal Heart Necklace

Mike Grants said...

Paul Giamatti Weight Loss

Mike Grants said...

Amazing website, Love it. Great work done. Nice website. Love it. This is really nice.

Paul Giamatti Weight Loss

buy instagram likes said...

Thank you for sharing this information; you're doing a terrific job. Moreover, Sociocosmos can raise public awareness of your company, brand, or self. Here, you may purchase social media marketing services for a low cost. See our specials! Mega Secure checkout and quick delivery.

purchasing USA Instagram Followers and Likes.

Fitwithiit said...

CIRCUIT TRAINING VS HIIT Great Post. I really like it


Blogs said...

"I found this article quite insightful! Data science is a fascinating field. For those seeking academic assistance, consider Management Assignment Help Online from Do My Assignment. They offer valuable support for students. Keep up the good work!"

Blogs said...

I appreciate the insightful content you've shared. Programming Assignment Help Online from Assignment Help Pro can be a valuable resource for students seeking assistance with their coding tasks. It's great to have such support available.

Blogs said...

"Great article! Combining Gale in Context Elementary with National Geographic Kids is a brilliant idea. It offers valuable insights to young minds. For those seeking Programming Assignment Help Online, Assignment Help Pro is a reliable choice. They provide excellent programming Assignment Help Online. Check them out!"