Independence Day is tomorrow, so I had today off.
And while I have so many things I could be working on that probably need my attention, such as my nonexistent ceiling fan and my novel, I have decided to write a blog post for all of you.
It’s not procrastination in the slightest. Not even a little bit.
So, yeah #blessed. You’re welcome.
I’ve been asked by a couple people recently how I go about writing my novels – where do I get my ideas? Do I write chapters at a time? Do I plan ahead or just write? So on and so forth.
I’m currently writing one and brainstorming a couple others, so I thought with all of this pre-writing stuff fresh in my mind, I’d share how I start and plan my novels.
In my last post about writing, I talked about characters. Like I shared there, my characters drive the plot of my stories. I imagine everything my characters might do, and I use that as the big plot points I want my novel to have. However, even though I usually have great ideas for an ending or the climax, I struggle to get my characters to that point. That’s where outlining comes in.
Outlining works really well for me. I’m a visual and kinesthetic learner – if I can see it and do it, it’ll click very well with me. This is why I take notes over everything and like to listen to podcasts while I work out or run. That being said, my way of outlining might not work for you. There are multiple ways people set up their novels, and each method has benefits, but you have to find what fits you the best.
My outlining method is a mix of tips I picked up from Victoria Scott via her Instagram and The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing and Crafting Novels and Short Stories, both by the editors of Writer’s Digest.
Fangirl moment here – she is my favorite person I follow. She interacts with her followers/fans and always has writing advice. If you’re not following her, please do so – check out her out @realvictoriascott.
PSA: All three resources I mentioned above are fantastic tools. I strongly urge you to check them out! One of the best things you can do as a writer is just read. Read your favorite authors for inspiration, read about writing, read to research what you’re writing about. Just read. That’s literally the best advice I can give you.
Anyway, back to outlining:
The first thing I do is write a short blurb about my book – What’s it about? How can I describe it in one or two sentences? Doing this helps me narrow down exactly what my focus is of my novel. I don’t want to become so distracted by subplots that I drift away from the main plot. Writing a short description helps keep me on the right track.
After I’ve figured out the description, I think about the setting, especially where and when. Doing this helps me keep things consistent. If I’m writing a story that takes place in 18th century France’s countryside, I can’t have my characters wearing Vans and Snapbacks.
Now that I’ve finished the pre-pre-writing, I jot down the most important plot points. If you think back to your junior high or high school days, these are probably the things you would write down on a plot line worksheet.
These things. They’re glorious.
Anyway, I write down my inciting moment (what starts the plot moving), the climax (the most intense part of the story – the part everything is leading up to), and what I think I want the ending to be (but I don’t hold too tightly because this could always change).
Once I have the “backbone” of my plot down, I move on to adding more to the structure. For this, I start thinking in chapters – How many chapters do I want my novel to be? How many words should my novel be? How many words should I have in each chapter? This part will be different for everyone. Some authors have insanely short chapters, which I think works really well if it’s a high intensity, high action novel. Other authors writing longer chapters. Either way is fine – just make sure it fits you and your book.
My goal is for each chapter to be about 1,500 words. Obviously, sometimes my chapters are longer, sometimes they are shorter – it depends on what is happening in that chapter.
Before I write a chapter, I outline it. I basically do the same thing I did for the important plot points. I figure out what I want to happen in each chapter or what the climax is going to be and the inciting moment. Then I come up with a new problem to put at the end of the chapter, which makes a good cliffhanger to encourage your readers into the next chapter.
Writing everything out this way helps me better visualize where I want my story to go. It also helps me create a sort of anchor for myself – I can fully embrace my creativity and do create subplots and back stories, but I always have something that ties me down to the main plot.
I should also mention that I use Ulysses, a writing app that I like using better than using Microsoft Word or Google Docs. You can find some information about the app and it’s website here, but I’m planning on doing a blog post in the near future about why I think using some sort of writing software is beneficial.
So yeah – I know there’s a lot of information there, but I wanted to give a quick snapshot of what I do.
What works for you when it comes to pre-writing or planning your novel? Are there any writing questions you’d like to ask me?? Or is there something from this post I need to cover in more detail?? Let me know below!!