How To Plot Your Story
Ready to write your bestselling novel? Here's a few tips about plotting it out...
Writing a novel is no easy process, particularly if you haven’t worked on a full-length book before. The prospect of churning out over 80,000 words, not to mention getting them into some sort of logical order, is terrifying. However, it can be done… with the right approach!
Over the course of 15 years, I’ve written several full-length books. It took me 13 years to finally produce something that was accepted for publication, which illustrates just how difficult it is to create a credible novel. During that time, I suspect I’ve made every mistake in the book. Hopefully, by sharing these with you, plus a few tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way, your road to publication will be far smoother.
Common Novel Writing Mistakes
- Starting… with no clear idea of an end. Nothing’s more exciting than coming up with a truly radical story idea. If you’re anything like me, the urge to race to the computer and start typing is almost irresistible. However, if you have no idea where the story is going, you might struggle. Some people actively prefer letting their novel unravel organically, but writing without any form of planning is a risky business, in my opinion.
- Not getting to know your characters. There’s nothing worse than a flat, boring character. The only way to bring them to life is to get to know them first. Some writers like to draw sketches, to help them visualise their characters. Others like to get inside their heads and find out what makes them tick. Whatever works for you, do it. Just make sure you’ve got a good grip on who they really are. Remember, they need motivation too – something that drives them through your story.
- Not understanding the structure of a plot. Plenty of novels break the roles of plot structure, and that’s fine. However, it’s a good idea to know the rules first, then muck around with them later. This website has some good information on narrative arcs and basic plots.
- Not honing your skills beforehand. Sadly, no-one is born a great writer. Authors who enjoy success at a very young age are few and far between (I can think of just two off the top of my head). Most of us have to practice writing every day for years until we’re good to go. See it as a long (fun) journey, not a means to an end. After all, you want to deliver something amazing to your readers, not something rubbish!
How to Plot Your Book – Tips and Tricks
There are no hard-and-fast rules as to how you plot your book, and it largely depends on how you like to operate as an author. However, here are a few techniques I find useful, which may be of use to you.
Always carry a notepad.
I find (rather annoyingly) that my best ideas always come when I’m away from my computer. That’s why I carry a pad and pen everywhere, to jot them down when I have a moment of inspiration. I’ve even considered investing in a waterproof wipe-clean pad, as many of my most creative concepts arrive when I’m in the shower. (Why does that happen? Why?!)
Prepare a basic outline.
At the very least, it’s a wise idea to plot out a general summary of the key events in your book. You might find it easiest to do this in a linear fashion, for example, using a Word document. I personally use a piece of A3 paper, which I pin on the wall behind me. I tend to lay it out as a spider diagram, which grows as I develop more sub-plots etc.
Talk it through with others.
Some writers hate sharing their work with others, for whatever reason. I used to be the same (bashfulness, mainly), then realised just how valuable the feedback was. My husband is masterful at spotting whopping great plot-holes in my ideas – which saves me a lot of heartache further down the line. Best to catch the errors early, or suffer the consequences.
Have a writing buddy.
If you know someone else who’s a writer, buddy up with them and share plot ideas. You’ll probably find that they’ll offer a fresh perspective, not to mention some interesting ideas too. If you don’t know any fellow writers, consider joining a writing group. They’re great fun – and the perfect way to meet like-minded people.
Use a writing app.
I don’t personally use any writing apps, though I’ve heard there are some great ones out there. Evernote is particularly recommended as a good way to collate your ideas (and it’s free to download), and Freemind is useful for mind-mapping.
Don’t be too rigid.
Stories inevitably mutate as they grow – and if you try to stick to a plot too strictly, you might kill this natural (and beautiful) creative process. If one of your characters is gagging to do something surprising, let them! Who knows, it might take your story in an entirely new, exciting direction.
Don’t get bogged down.
Some people like to plot every last detail of their book before they start writing, but I think this is a risky strategy. Not only can it kill the creative vibe, it also allows procrastination to flourish. It’s worryingly easy to tell yourself that you just need to change a few more details in the plot than actually get stuck in writing the damned book.