Do you want to write a novel? The first place to start is with a plan. Whether you have a vague idea of the characters, or have been developing the novel inside your head for years, I would always recommend starting with a plan.
Some authors do not plan at all and others have a plan with size of a novella, with detailed character bios and every scene mapped out. My planning is more on the lighter side to begin with, because I know my ideas will change when I start my book, but if a detailed plan works for you, go for it.
Where to Start?
The end may be the best way to start. I normally always know the ending of a book before I write so I jot this down in a notebook and then list every idea I have about the book in no particular order. These can be vague plot ideas to small, specific scenes. For each of my books, this list has varied in length, sometimes it is just an A5 page, other times it has been tens of pages of ideas that I have been writing down over months while writing other novels.
Afterwards, I organise my ideas into categories. If you’re writing a book from multiple points of view, write a list of all your ideas and background information for each character. Normally I have separate lists of ideas for all my plots and subplots. These can be as detailed as you like.
Once I have more structured lists I then sequence my ideas into chronological order (or order of appearance in your book if you are writing in different time zones). For the events that take place at the start of the book, I tend to spend more time working out a clear sequence. For ideas that I want to write later in the book, my sequencing is less strict as I can go back to it when I have a better idea of what I want to happen.
Lastly, I write a more thorough plan of the first couple of chapters. At this point, you should be good to open a word document and begin writing your novel.
Ran out of Ideas?
It’s okay to have gaps in your plan. I have begun a novel with only the first-half and the end planned, for the third quarter of the book I had no idea what was going to happen. For most of my books the subplots are minimally developed and I know some characters need more scenes and purpose.
Keep Planning Throughout
You don’t need to stick to your plan. If you want to take your book in a completely different direction, you decide to kill off a character or maybe you have become so attached to a character, you can’t kill them, then that’s okay. It’s your book. You should keep adapting your plan. It’s fine to change your mind, but get it down on paper and think about how it will affect the other events in your book and plan accordingly. This will prevent you having to rewrite your book later down the line and help you if you have to take time away from your writing.
At the half-way point, plan again. For all seven novels I have written, I have always had to re-plan about half way. At this point the plots tend to be becoming more complex and the story starts to differ significantly from the original plan. You will also have many more ideas than what you had when you started writing. The last book I wrote was my longest so far and when I was about half way through the first draft I needed to structure my ideas properly. To do this I gave each strand of the plot a different colour and I wrote a list on sticky tabs of all the events connected to that strand, as shown below.
Once I had a list of every scene I wanted to happen until the end of the book, I drew up a two month calendar as I believed that was the amount of time the rest of my book would take place in. For some novels, you are best creating an hourly or weekly diary or one that could expand years.
I then spent several hours working out where each of the events would fit in my calendar and the best structure for the rest of the book. This is what I came up with. Using the sticky tabs helped because I could move them, add others and delete them if I changed my mind as I continued with my writing.
I would not have been able to come up with a plan that detailed before I started the novel, but I would recommend this method if you need to set out a clear direction for your novel, no matter what stage of the first draft you are at. For me, this just happens to be about half way. I know some authors do this before they write or you could do it a few chapters in when you have a better feel for the plot and characters.
There is no write and wrong way to plan a book. Don’t worry about not having every scene thought through, but I would advise on at least having a few pages of scribbles in a notebook to get you going, otherwise you will give yourself much more work to do when it comes to editing.