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.