#Writing a Novel: Planning

jim writing

A little while ago I wrote a blog post about preparing to write a novel. Those of us who write generally approach writing either as a plotter or a pantster. Plotters like to plan out their novel before they write, while pantsters prefer to sit down and just get writing, without a plan – writing by the seat of their pants.

I’m a plotter. I like to plan my novels out. I don’t always end up following the plan, but I like to kind of know where I’m going. And I find that planning helps me to get into the writing – it’s not quite so scary if I have an outline for a chapter, or for a scene. I feel like I’m just filling in the blanks then rather than starting from scratch.

If you, like me, are a plotter, then you might find these tips helpful.

  • Have a title in mind. It doesn’t have to be set in stone, but can just be a general idea. One of the characters in my WIP is the painter Eugene Delacroix. The working title is ‘Chiaroscuro’, which in art is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark. I might not keep it, but the meaning seems relevant to the storyline, and I like the sound of the word. Having a title also makes me feel somehow that the novel is more real.
  • Consider your genre. For me that’s a bit difficult, because I have three different centuries and three different storylines in my WIP. But I know it’s sort of historical drama, has a contemporary twist and is definitely not a romance. So I know vaguely where to place it and know that I need to bear in mind the conventions of those genres.
  • Point of view. Whose story is this? My WIP is from three POV’s. You don’t have to stick to this, but you should decide what point of view you are writing from before you start.
  • Identify your main characters. With historical novels especially, this helps to focus your research. My main characters are a young art student (modern day), a 19th century artist’s model and a concubine living in Assyria in the 7th century BC. Lots of research then.
  • Identify the story arc of your main characters. Where are they at the beginning, middle and end of your novel? What has happened to make them change/develop?
  • Jot down a (very) loose outline of the plot. The tip above will help with this. In fact, these two points could be done in reverse – it really doesn’t matter.

Once I’ve done these things, I focus on research. The things I learn when researching often change the plot or the actions of a character. So my plan develops as I’m researching. I then go back to my rough outline and start to flesh it out. I find that as I’m doing this, the story grows in my mind. I then outline a chapter by chapter plan, which again I then develop further, until I have an outline for each chapter in the novel, from the first to the last.


Having such a detailed plan seems to make the actual writing so much easier. If I’m struggling with a scene or a chapter, I can just move forward. I can write the last chapter first, or halfway through if I want. It doesn’t matter. And if things change halfway through and the ending no longer works, then that’s fine too – the plan can change. It’s about flexibility. The plan is a safety net, a comfort blanket almost, but that doesn’t mean it has to be rigorously adhered to.

This is just what works for me. You’ll find lots of articles online and in writing books that suggest other ways of planning. Try them. Try my way if you want. Find out what works best for you.



  1. The “Frozen” reference is perfect. So funny – I find having an outline helps a lot too, though. Just makes me feel organized in a very un-organized process 🙂 Thanks for the tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s funny I’d never heard about this panster or planner thing before today. I went to a local author/illustrator expo and the term was mentioned there. It has helped me crystalise why I’ve had some trouble writing my longer book. I am more of a panster but feel the need to be a planner for the book and am struggling to nut that out. After taking part in the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, I realised that planning would help and having those set topics to write. Now, I just need a bit more time and to really get moving!
    Many thanks. A very useful post, which I have printed out by the way! xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article, Alison. Fantastic overview of the two main ways writers develop novels.
    I’m a (loose) planner. I have a story arc, but I’m flexible. I feel more driven by my characters than by my plan or plot, so the novel grows with the characters instead of the plot arc, most of the time! The final outcome is often not at all what I had ‘planned’ originally, and that’s what makes it so exciting.

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  4. A very good article, Alison. I started out as a ‘Pantser’ but ended up becoming so confused with where things were going that I had to start a plot line to keep me on track. It worked. However, I do find that there are times when the characters act in unexpected ways. They have even changed their names along the way a couple of times. I have some idea of where I’m going with this, but nothing is set in stone, it seems, when writing a novel. There are surprises around every corner, adn at this point, it bears very little resemblence to where it started. I feel a few re-writes are around the corner. Thanks for the article. Karen xx

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  5. Meticulous blog, Alison. and so thought provoking. I started off as a pantster and took an age writing and re-writing, structuring and re-structuring my first two novels before I got them out there. Now as I veer towards crime, I’ve become more of a planner, though sometimes my characters take over and convince me to re-plan.

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  6. I’m a bit of both, I plan ahead but I let the story take different turns, too, as I go. Planning it beforehand helps with not getting stuck I think. As for titles… I’m really bad at coming up with a title. I had a lose idea when I started my book but it’s changed since then and is something completely different now.

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    1. Agree that a plan helps when you get a bit stuck.Titles can be a bit tricky. perhaps get one of your beta readers, or your editor to help with one. For my first book I wrote down a few ideas, and my daughter helped pick the one she thought was best 🙂


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