Midweek Writer-Rummage - How to Plot a Novel

I thought it was time to resurrect this part of my blog … Looked back, and the first ‘Writerly-Rummage’ post I did was on the 11th Feb 2015 – I love synchronicity!

Calvin of 'Calvin and Hobbes' ~ Bill Watterson

As I was getting nowhere fast with my current work-in-progress, I decided to have a proper look through the chapter outline.  I’d made a few changes with the story idea but hadn’t changed the outline to reflect this – oops!  Now that I’ve done that, I’m hoping the writing will flow that bit easier.

Anyway, this got me thinking about the different ways of plotting a novel.  Over the years, I’ve compiled a list … any excuse to make a list!  I've experimented but always end up using the same procedure, the basic outline followed by the chapter outline.

The Basic Outline – which is exactly as the title suggests, and consists of listing the story in the order it happens, no dialogue, no setting.

Story idea

The Chapter Outline – this takes the basic outline to the next level, fleshing out what happens in each chapter.

Chapter outline for 'The Cursed Gift'

The Three Acts – another slight elaboration of the basic outline where you detail the beginning (Act 1), the middle (Act 2), and the end (Act 3)

The Outline in Reverse – this, I could never get the hang off.  Your starting point is the ending; once you've decided that, you then work out how to get there.  I’m hopeless at going backwards, I usually fall over.

Mind Maps – you know how it goes; the basic story is your starting point, drawn in the middle of the page.  Each heading, from character to setting to clothes to whatever grabs your fancy, branches off via different lines from the starting point.  Depending on how your mind works, each heading may have a sub-heading, and on and on … Until the whole thing could end up resembling a bicycle wheel on acid!

Index Cards – use them to organise your thoughts, especially if you prefer a more organic technique than mind maps.  With index cards, you can use a card for every character and every scene, for example, with the freedom to move them around.  I tend to use index cards after I’ve worked through a couple of drafts.  I list the basics of each chapter on them, and move the cards around to see which chapter sequence works best.

Whiteboard – I haven’t used this, but I so want to!  A visual thinking space.  Different coloured pens.  Erasable.  Why haven’t I used this yet?!

Visual Storyboards – it never occurred to me to have dedicated storyboards when I started writing.  It’s only with the 4thstory, not quite completed yet, that I put together visual cues in a picture folder on the computer, mainly 18th century European fashion, and settings ... 

Now that I’ve discovered the time-suck that is Pinterest, I’ve found storyboards which are truly inspirational.  And I am seriously considering making storyboards to go with my stories.

Finally, theNo-Plot method – for those who are able to jump right in and produce a novel without any need to plot.  And, to them I say, more power to you!  For someone whose mind/attention meanders like a river, it doesn’t take me long to, literally, lose the plot.

The thing to remember, regardless of whichever method you use, is to not let that become your sole focus.  Take it from someone who can give a master class in procrastination, it is oh-so-easy for your story to get lost in the planning, and never get written.

So, how do you go about plotting your story?