In my last Writing Corner post I discussed Planners vs Pantsers so today I’m going to focus on planning. There are so many ways to approach planning a novel. You need to find a process that works for you, but in this post I’ll give you some ideas and tips on what and how to plan.
I’m a planner and do quite a bit of preparation before I’m ready to start writing. How you organise your ideas and plans is up to you. I use Microsoft Office OneNote, but there is other writing and planning software you can use such as Scrivener and Dabble. Do research to find out what’s best for you. You can usually get a free trial too so you can try before you buy. I found Scrivener to be quite daunting, so for now I’m sticking with using OneNote to organise all my notes.
There are five main areas I look at when I approach planning a novel – ideas, research, world building, characters and plot. My ‘Ideas’ tab allows room for splurging ideas and brainstorming my thoughts. I’ll come back to those later and filter them through to my ‘Plot’ tab when I’m ready.
Whatever genre you’re writing, you will inevitably need to do research. Whether that’s into a historical setting, types of weapons or how security cameras work. If you’re writing historical fiction, you’ll need to do a lot of research. But even if you’re writing fantasy, research can help you build your world. I recently wrote a fantasy novel inspired by Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. I did quite a bit of research into the ancient world, and then drew inspiration from that research to build my own world. There’s research you can do in the planning stage and some things you will only need to research as you go.
On the subject of world building, you need to understand your world because setting interacts with plot and character. Your setting (whether that be an invented setting or a historical period) will affect how your characters behave and interact with each other. But there is always room to develop and discover more about your world as you write. If you’re writing fantasy, world building will probably be a big part of your planning. Keep your notes organised into sections (e.g. magic, customs, clothing, religion) so it’s easy to refer back to and find those details when you’re writing.
Characters are an important part of every story. Again, you can discover more about your characters as you write, but it can be useful to understand your central characters. Create character charts and consider age, appearance, family, likes and dislikes, career and education, hobbies, ambitions, personal history etc. Your main character needs an arc, so work out where they start and how the events of the book shape them. You can also think about your protagonist’s relationships with other characters.
How much you plan your novel’s plot and structure depends how much planning you want to do. You might like to work from a rough outline or a really detailed one. If you have at least a basic structure in mind of where you want your book to start and the journey the character goes on to reach the end, then that’s a great start. I usually create a chapter plan before I start writing, so I have an idea of what will happen in each chapter. I find that helps me keep on track and not go off on tangents while I’m writing. For some chapters I just have one line describing what will happen in that chapter, then work out the details when I come to write it. For other chapters I already have the scene clearly in mind and have more detailed notes. But even if you have a chapter plan, there’s nothing to stop you from changing your mind as you write and new ideas form.
I do extensive planning before I start writing. That might not work for everyone. But I’ve found the more I have planned out, the more likely I am to stick with a story and finish that novel. I’ve also found that spending more time planning the structure of my novel will hopefully save me time in the editing process, as fixing structural problems can be quite a time consuming part of editing.
I’ll discuss some of the elements mentioned here in more detail (e.g. world building) in future Writing Corner posts.
Do you plan your novels before you write? How do you approach the planning process? I’d love to hear what other techniques writers use, so share your thoughts with me in the comments!