Plotting a Novel for Newbies (Part One)

I initially thought I would just pants my novel. I tend to be a pantser when it comes to short stories, even the ones that are longer than 4000 words.  It’s becoming apparent that, if I want to remember all the ideas, I’m going to need to do some plotting.

I have learned a few things in a short amount of time, and I’m sure I will learn more. So in case anyone is reading this who has never plotted a story before and wants to see me stumble my way blindly through the wreckage of my first draft, here is part one of my “Novel Plotting for Newbies”. (Note: This is obviously based on my writing process* and may not apply to you. There is no one true way of writing a novel. Be highly suspicious of one true ways).

  • Actually, you don’t have to plot the entire novel in one sitting. Who knew?
  • Don’t expect to have all the answers when you start plotting. Building your story takes time. It doesn’t make you a fraud to have no idea what your villain actually looks like when you are 7000 words into the story. Nor is it a problem that at this point, you can’t actually visualise what the climax of the story looks like. Patience!
  • Character-building: allow yourself to just sit and dwell on each important character. Imagine what they look like, what has shaped them into the person they are. If no answers come, don’t force it. Be open to inspiration. Remember to write down the stuff that works. Your character back stories take time. If you sit and try to force it out (“Character X likes pina coladas and dancing in the rain”) you will end up with shoddy, generic characters you can’t relate to.
  • There will be holes. That’s ok. You’re plotting a novel, not designing a spacecraft. Make a note of holes and come back to them after you’ve composted them for a bit.
  • Write while you’re plotting. Yes. Really. It would be easy to waste all your time plotting and never actually get to the actual writing. If you start writing you will come up with ideas for your plot. It will keep the story fresh, and you can always go back and rewrite sections that deviate from where your plotting takes you. It’s a first draft, remember?

So when I have any more a-ha! moments I’ll come back. There may be a part two. Or, I might have completely exhausted my newbie novel-plotting repertoire.  Either way I’ll be sure to share more frustrations and joys as a newbie novel plotter.


*It’s highly probable that what I’m doing is a combination of pantsing and plotting. But, for the moment, it works for me.


2 thoughts on “Plotting a Novel for Newbies (Part One)

  1. I think every writer finds their own path to completing a novel. I used “First Draft in 30 Days” to help structure the plot of my novel, develop characters and now have the first third of it written. It’s very similar to what you’ve done.
    I find it hard to understand the process of writing a novel without having thought about character and possible plot points; I need to know the ending. However, I know some writers simply write and let it happen. I’ve done it in short pieces, but I recognise that what I’ve written fits in with the character/plot/purpose/theme etc.
    It’s what works for me.
    Adam B @revhappiness

    • I think with my life circumstances it would be way too easy for me to put off writing, if I was to think that I needed to know all the answers right from the start. I was under the misapprehension that I should know absolutely everything before I start. But then I realised in doing that it means I will probably never start. In my plotting I’ve discovered holes, and written “come back and add in this stuff”. It’s the idea that you must be a walking encyclopedia about your novel before you even set finger to keyboard that I think stops people from even starting. Every writer finds their own path, sure, but the idea here is to share how I’m finding my way, because it may help other newbie writers who find the idea of a perfectly plotted outline intimidating. I have some plot points in mind, and some characters fully developed, but others are sketchier. I’m surely not the only writer who writes like this ;). As I said in my disclaimer, this it what I’m doing and people need to find their own way, but that’s no reason for me to share stuff I’ve discovered that might help other people.

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