How to Plan a Novel

Why I’m sharing my 5-step process for planning a novel…

So, if you know me already you will be aware that every year I take on the task of NaNoWriMo to write a 50k word novel in the month of November. This is my playground – the testing of an idea that I usually have earlier in the year, to see if the plot has merit or my characters aren’t flawed enough. I love it; but I would never attempt to do it from scratch. Now, I always rely on a sketched out plan to guide me through.

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Only once have I truly ‘pantsed’ it – with the challenge of my spy thriller novel, written on a dare from my writing group. For that one, I had about 1,500 words to start me off, written as an exercise for a genre we wouldn’t typically write. That 1,500 word opening had thugs wearing only trench coats shooting at a character I had no backstory for! As it turned out, not planning was both stressful and exhilarating, but it didn’t make for a good manuscript in the end. So, despite finishing it up and being quite charmed by the whole thing, I put it aside and it’s now filed away…perhaps it will get it’s outing one day, perhaps not.

For all my other novels, I always have at least a road-map that guides my direction of travel. I plan the opening concept – the ‘what if’ that the story hangs on. I do a bit of work on my main characters; what they want and how they aren’t going to get it without a challenge of some kind. And, most of the time I have a vague imagining of when and where all this takes place and how these might add to the atmosphere of the novel.

In fact, I’ve realised I follow a simple 5-step formula that allows me to build a great outline for my story, whilst also allowing me the freedom to explore the novel’s breadth and detail when I write.

This means I am never intimated by the blank page.

Every writing session I know exactly what I need to get onto the page. I understand my character motivations, and that I need to get them from point A to point B. Sometimes I don’t know how…but that’s part of the fun of writing the first draft I think. So, I don’t constrain myself with too much planning; just enough to ensure the shape of the story is compelling enough for 90k words.

When I was first starting out, what I wouldn’t have done for such a simple strategy! It took me three years to finish my first manuscript – because my story was off, then my characters weren’t right, and finally when I did write ‘The End’ I was almost so bored of working on it I had to put it away for a few months.

Now I write a new novel every year. Not all of them will make it to the agenting stage – so far I’ve only submitted three out of eight. But, when I do get that publishing deal I’ll certainly not be intimated by the thought of writing new books, year after year after year. I love planning and writing them far too much.

The 5-day Plan Your Novel Challenge!

PYN Challenge tileYet, because I know how much I struggled in the early days of my novel-writing, I’ve decided to share my process. That’s why I’m doing the 5-day Plan Your Novel Challenge at the end of the month as part of my coaching offer for The Write Catalyst.

From 26-30 June I will guide you though the process of finding and refining your novel’s idea, character, and time and location. Plus, there’ll be a trouble-shooting workshop on the final day so we can tackle any stumbling blocks you might come across along the way. 

If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, or have tried before and given up; this challenge is for you! And, because I want to make sure that as many people as possible follow their dreams, it’s a FREE resource.
No cost except your email address, participation, and a promise to yourself that 2020 is the year that you will write that book!

Want in? All you have to do is sign up here: The Write Catalyst 5-day Plan Your Novel Challenge

See you in the challenge, I hope!


  • Copy of logo 3Do you already have a part-written manuscript, but struggle to keep up the momentum?
  • Perhaps you’ve run out of plot, or aren’t sure how to fix what you now realising are glaring errors in your story?
  • Or worse, have you simply lost your writing mojo altogether?

As The Write Catalyst, I can help! 
With a decade’s experience of writing novels; I’m familiar with lots of the issues and challenges that writers face when attempting to get that story on the page.
Why not book in a free virtual cuppa with me, and let’s talk it out. 
Book in here!


 

 

Final NaNoWriMo Preparations, otherwise known as ‘Don’t Panic’!

It’s almost here. Later this week is when we all start worrying about our word counts and comparing it to other people’s. In an effort to calm the impending storm that begins on November 1st, here are a selection of final tips that should help you ready yourself for the big challenge. 

First, let’s consider practicalities: 

Housekeeping
cleanDo as much as much of it as you can, now. Clean your room, stock the fridge and empty the wash basket. Cook extra as part of every meal so you can freeze the leftovers later. For whole month these are the things that will be left neglected as you strain to squeeze out as many words as you can per day. So, give yourself a head start and begin the month of November with a tidy house, fully stocked kitchen and a few emergency meals already prepared. 

Stock up on Snacks
Linked with the tip above, ensure that you have some (healthy) snacks to get you through some of the slumps you will encounter throughout November. Snacks that are edible whilst typing are the best kind. And, if you want something like chocolate M&M’s – make it a rule that you can only eat one for every sentence you type, If you’re not writing, you’re not allowed the treat. 

Get a Reward Buddy
If food is going to play a part in your rewards system (like earning that chocolate bar for when you hit 5,000 words) make sure you have someone onside who will only let you have it once you’ve actually reached that target. In other words, no cheating. This is important for any reward you might put in place. If it’s something you’ve earned there is nothing more satisfying that having someone else present it to you in an official mark of celebration. 

Once you’ve got these in place, here are a few things you can work on to help with the writing come Thursday:

Character Objective
Make sure you know what your main characters want more than anything in the world. Then spend the whole of November taking it away from them. If you understand your character’s main motivation (what they want and why they want it) it is much easier to create plot twists and, eventually, give them their happy ending. Even better, it can help you inject conflict into every scene – especially if you have an antagonist whose objective runs counter to your protagonist’s. 

Shape your first line
onceuponatimeWe all know how important first lines are in novels. Sometimes it can make the difference between whether I read a book or not. So, if you’re chomping at the bit to get started, work on crafting the best opening line you can. Where will you begin? Which character will appear immediately and what will they be doing? How will you hook a reader in just one sentence? Once November begins, you’ll have the perfect start.

Figure out your ending
This can either be taken literally, or figuratively. You might need to know exactly how your novel is going to end in order to be able to work your way towards this from your very first line. If you know this, then you will automatically start placing things into the story to ensure that this ending is possible.

However, if you’re a pantster and have no idea where you might end up (which is part of the fun) think about how you might want a reader to feel at the end of your novel. Do you want a happy ending or would you prefer something more bitter-sweet? Do you want your readers to feel excited and pumped up by the end, or calm and contemplative? Hopefully, this will help you determine the mood of what you’re trying to achieve. 

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So those are my final few tips to prepare for the challenge of 50,000 words in just 30 days. If you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo and want to buddy up – please add me on the site. My username is Cat_Lumb.

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Good luck to everyone taking part. But, remember – whatever happens, you’re bound to end up with more words in November that you would have a written without the NaNoWriMo push: so be proud of any progress you make, even if you don’t manage the 50k goal.

Writing that dreaded Synopsis

I think putting together a synopsis for a novel is one of the most challenging aspects of writing for ‘new’ writers. I am certainly finding it very difficult. How am I expected to sum up a story that it has already taken me around 90,000 words to tell in only a page or two?

There are numerous methods and techniques out in the either of the web that can help you write a synopsis, and most of these are centred around the various basic story structures that should come together to form a novel.

The basics of a good story...

The basics of a good story…

Here are a few that I’ve been finding useful*:

  • If you need to be taken through every step – maybe because you aren’t clear on your plot, or like to be thorough – try How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel by Glen C. Strathy. This is a Seven Step Programme that will help you identify all of the key points for both the emotional aspects and main arc of your plot
  • If you feel that you have a good grasp of your story and characters, Synopsis Writing Made Easy by James Scott Bell might be better for you. This is a good paragraph by paragraph guide to synopsis writing that starts out with the premise of your novel in just one sentence!
  • I also really like How to Write a One-Page Synopsis, written by Amanda Patterson. This is a great, quick reference to the synopsis writing process – providing you know your main plot points.
  • Finally, I had an excellent recommendation from a friend – actually, my new critique partner, – who has been struggling with a synopsis herself recently. She suggested I check out Dan Wells’ Seven Point Story Structure, recommended by the Self Publishing Toolkit. Not only do they offer worksheets to get you started, but Dan also has some awesome videos on YouTube (Part 1/5 here).
    Having read my friend’s brilliant synopsis yesterday this technique most definitely works.

* It should be noted that if you’re writing a synopsis for querying always check the submission guidelines to see what the agent/publisher expects. 

The biggest issue I have is that my novel doesn’t conform to the standard story structure. The story does – but the novel itself does not. Whilst I have my main story arc (written in 3rd person) between this there are three instances of 1st person story flashbacks from different characters – all of which also have their own story structure included.

Therefore, as it stands, I officially have four stories in one. Writing a standard synopsis, therefore, doesn’t really sum up my novel as a whole. In order to get around this, I’m going to have to play around a little longer with different techniques and see what works best. I suppose I can take solace in the fact that at least it’s not as complex as Cloud Atlas – for which I discovered this basic synopsis.

Once I’ve got a version I’m happy with I’ll be sharing my new synopsis here so you can see how I got on. In the meantime, if you’re interested in the plot of my novel, check out my current ‘book blurb’ on my Novel’s Page.

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Have you struggled writing a synopsis, or did you breeze though it? Any tips or links would be gratefully received via comments. Or, alternatively, Tweet something for my attention @CatLumb


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One thought on “How do you ‘make’ time to write?”

  1. Very well written. We usually spend time without management. Prioritising things are important when it comes to time, because it never waits for anyone. Thanks for sharing thoughts ❤️

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