How to

Recently, I’ve been publishing tips which are quite abstract (e.g. Write For Money, Keep Up With The Times). This post is a lot more focused and aims to give purely practical advice on how to plan a novel. I didn’t actually get this information from the how-to book in the featured image (I’m relying on my own experience such as it is), but I thought it would be worthwhile showing you what other resources are out there.

Step 1: Flying among the clouds

The heading is a bit fanciful, but at this stage that’s exactly where your mind should be. You need to let your imagination run wild and unchecked. Come up with an idea for a story, decide who its main characters are and how you want it to end. Chances are that if you’re reading this post, you’ve already finished this step. If not, then generate your concept soon. NaNoWriMo is just around the corner!

Step 2: Planning by part

Historical novels are often divided into four parts. I don’t know who decided this should happen or how many parts there should be, that’s just the way it’s done. You might not be a historical novelist, but you should still divide your book in this way while planning it. It’s easy to delete the “Part x” header when the draft is finished.

Some authors like to generate a detailed breakdown of each individual chapter from start to finish before they even dream of putting pen to paper. There is an obvious drawback to this method. What happens if the story changes? It’s likely that your characters will rebel every once in a while and do something you never expected them to be capable of at the start.

On the other hand, walking into a story blind can lead to the dreaded writer’s block. This seems to crop up where a sub-plot is successfully concluded and any sense of where the novel is going next melts away.

Planning in a very basic outline what happens in each part (e.g. 4 short paragraphs total) can help to maintain focus and keep your ideas flowing. At the same time, it’s nowhere near to over-planning and versatile enough to cope with unexpected, eureka-moment developments.

Step 3: Piecemeal planning

Authors who like to plan each minute detail in advance must be running a cold sweat by now. The idea that you could rely on 4 short paragraphs for the whole novel, I must be mad! Don’t worry, there’s one more stage left.

What I’ve been searching for is a way to construct a guiding skeleton for a novel without it being too rigid or slipshod. You don’t want to be constrained and you want to know where each chapter is heading. Well, we can use Stage 2 to help us.

I’ve already said that you should plan all 4 parts in brief at the outset. Now, before writing each part, plan what will happen in the intervening chapters. In this way you’ll be planning each part as you come to it. That allows enough breathing room to redraw the novel’s road-map if there’s a drastic change in part 1, but you still know exactly where you’re trying to go for the next few chapters.

Have a look at the graphic below:

Novel plan process

If you think this flowchart will be helpful, feel free to download or share it. I’d be over-valuing my MS Paint skills if I thought they were worth a copyright notice.

Let me know in the comments if any of this was useful. Do you have any writing tips to share?


My books:

25 thoughts on “Tip #20: Planning Your Novel In 3 Steps (for NaNoWriMo)

  1. I enjoy how you hit crucial spots in the writing process. I’m an inspiring young author who is trying to publish a novel, but looking at your tips it will help someone in the process of honing their skills. Keep up the hard work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never done it before but I think I will this November.
      However, I’m in a good position going in because I’m about halfway through a novel right now. Otherwise I’d feel the pressure trying to finish in a month!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much! This post actually helps a lot… I’d gotten as far as step one, but wasn’t sure where to go next. I’m usually a planner, but this late in the game I was seriously considering “pantsing it” this year. This flow will be a nice compromise, and planning the novel in parts will hopefully help me avoid the sagging middle. Thanks!


  3. ‘It’s likely that your characters will rebel every once in a while’ Every once in a while??!? Mine go around with pitchforks and scythes baying for my blood! So, yes, a very useful post. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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