Novel Prep: Plotting Galore!

Nanowrimo is just around the corner and I am READY this year.

This is the first year my November is almost completely clear. I’m no longer a full-time student, my part-time job takes place at night and job-searching-as-a-full-time-job still leaves enough time to seriously sit down and hammer out a novel in a month. (I may actually find the courage to attend a few of the local write-ins!)

Plus, I’ve actually been PLANNING. And not my usual vague “okay these are the main points, now lets pants the rest of this thing,” either. I mean hardcore hours-of-effort planning. I’ve actually married a few different planning methods found from various blogs and articles and, in the process, have managed to discover a TON about my story. Which is huge: I’ve been playing on-and-off with these characters for nearly five years now. Had I ever realized how much Kennedy’s unhappy past affects her current outlook on life? Had I known exactly how loyal Logan is to his family despite years of separation? Had I any clue that Ethel uses excessive baking as a coping mechanism? Nope, nope, and nope again.

So what are these planning methods that made such an impact?

1) Plot Board

Main Idea: Use a display board and stickie notes to plot out events of your story in a highly visual manner. Great for rearranging events as you go!

i used coloured stickies, too! you can never have too many coloured stickies.
i used coloured stickies, too! you can never have too many coloured stickies.

Going Reno has a whole series of posts called A Novel Idea to follow if you want to try your hand at writing a novel in 6 months. While skimming through some of the articles, I came across the Plot Board, which takes the 3 Act format and really really helps with brainstorming and visualizing exactly where important plot points occur in your story.

Those pink stickies I used to describe potential scenes? I based those on the One Page Novel Plot Formula!

2) Now Novel’s Guided Planning

Main Idea: Now Novel takes you step-by-step through the elements of planning your novel with questions that lead you through your central idea, mood, and theme, all the way to character break-downs and plot.

Their dashboard is pretty.
Their dashboard is so pretty. plus, it shows percentage completed! you can never have too many percentages.

Okay, this is one you actually have to sign up and pay for, so I understand if you want to skip it. There are different options depending on how long you take with your planning, and the site allows you to try out the first couple steps before you commit. Since I already had a pretty good idea of what I was doing with my novel, I just paid for a single month and got through all the steps in about two weeks.

Now Novel also gives you the option to get critique on their forums, or even to sign up for a writing mentor, if that’s your jam. AND when you’ve completed as much of the planning steps as you want, you can download the Novel Blueprint to see every step laid out in one handy document!

3) The Snowflake Method

Main Idea: Take your central idea and expand it. Expand it again. And again. And again, until suddenly you’ve got a detailed spreadsheet of scenes and character analysis.

snowflake method laid out in a handy checklist! i love checklists.
snowflake method laid out in a handy checklist! i love checklists.

To round things off, I applied the Snowflake Method to all my brainstorming I’d done so far. If you’re starting this method from scratch, it can take a while (which is totally okay! whatever floats your writing boat!) but thanks to my Plot Board and Now Novel brainstorming, I actually managed to get through the first seven steps in less than a week.

Putting it all together

Obviously I was already combining methods the entire time I worked through the list. The Now Novel planning was based on ideas I’d already come up with on the plot board. The Snowflake Method took both those plans and condensed, re-examined, and re-expanded into a tight, strong plot filled with external AND internal conflict! (Plus, step 7 was basically just the character section of the Now Novel plan, huzzah.)

For easier reference, I printed out every step of the Snowflake as I went along and threw it all into a binder along with the Now Novel Blueprint. Then, for good measure, I printed an extra copy of the 4 Page Synopsis (which actually turned into 6 pages, oops), cut it into the separate acts, and posted it to the Plot Board!

propped up on my desk so i can look up and SEE EVERYTHING.
propped up on my desk so i can look up and SEE EVERYTHING.

And there we have it! I’m currently working on Step 8 of the Snowflake Method, and having the synopsis pinned to my Plot Board makes it super easy to see at a glance and figure out this more precise outline. At the rate I’m going, I’ll be ready with time to spare for November, and hopefully won’t spend half a month trying to figure out how to get my characters out of a post office! (Answer: Don’t put them in a post office to begin with.)

Hope this helps, or gives you some planning ideas to chew on. Any other plotting methods you find helpful? Share them below!

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