When it comes to planning a novel, there are a number of approaches that work.
The question is, which one will work for you?
In the work I do, I really focus on helping writers find their thinking style. It’s really powerful if you can find ways to plan your writing that really speak to your brain and feel like the path of least resistance. Writing a novel takes enough energy as it is; you don’t need to be fighting yourself as you do it.
Today I’m going to walk you through three different approaches to planning your novel. Listen for which method sounds the best to you, and try it out.
Approach 1: Plot Planning
Now every novel has a plot, but that doesn’t mean all novels are planned from the point of view of the plot.
Planning from the plot is great for you if you think in scenes.
- Can you visualize the action?
- Do you know what should happen?
- Is a certain place really key for your novel?
Use a plot hill, imagining the growing action, starting from the introduction of the conflict, up through the climactic scene, and then back down to the resolution.
Start putting the scenes you’re imagining onto your plot hill and think about how to arrange them in order based on how the action intensifies. Try a bullet point list, sticky notes, or even note cards.
You might even have a map of your world in mind, which will help you think about where your characters are and where they’re going. That will help you think about where they’ll need to pass through in between, and what they could be doing in those locations.
Approach 2: Character Arc & Motivation Planning
This will be helpful for you if you’re really empathetic — if you’re tuned into how people (and characters) think and feel.
- Do you dream about your characters?
- Do your characters talk to you?
Do a lot of freewriting as your characters. You can become any character and ask, “What do I want? What do I need? What am I afraid of? What are my inner secrets?”
You’re planning what will happen next based on the people you’re writing about and what they need and want.
Try a character mind-map as well. Write down your characters’ names on a blank piece of paper and draw connections among them to show their relationships. Where are the conflicts? Where are the alliances?
Complete short character backgrounds. If you know something is true about one of your characters, jot it down. Maybe you’ll pause in your draft and do some freewriting, then write down what you learned on a character planning sheet.
Approach 3: Behind-the-Scenes Planning
This approach is great for big picture thinkers.
You know what has to happen from the point of view of a puppet master. You can see what has to take place for your story to unfold.
- Do you know where things will end up even from the beginning?
- Can you see the whole picture?
- Do you like the view from 30,000 feet?
Look at where your characters are in their arcs and where they need to get to, and then give them the experiences and obstacles that will progress them in the right direction.
Plan in anchor scenes — the elemental scenes all storied need, like the inciting incident, the rising action, and the climax. If you know your next anchor scene, you can use behind-the-scenes thinking to problem-solve and brainstorm about how your characters could get from “here” to “there.”
Use placeholders! You don’t have to figure out all the details in the moment. Give yourself permission to figure it out later. This means you won’t have to stop writing if you’re not sure how a scene will play out. Just leave a note to yourself, for example, “Make something happen so that they have to go into the woods.”
Want to see what these planning approaches look like for a story? Check out my new book, Recipe for Outlining. You’ll see an actual scene mapped out in these three different ways, plus get all the info about anchor scenes.
When you find your outlining style, you’ll spend less time feeling frustrated and more time in your writing zone. And that feels great no matter what kind of writer you are.