My Top Five Tips for Planning Your Next Novel
by Elizabeth Menozzi
Starting a new novel can be daunting. I like to avoid staring at a blank page, wondering what to write, as much as possible. This is why I always do at least a little bit of planning before I start writing. If, like me, you are preparing to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November, then novel planning is probably at the front of your mind, too.
So, if you’re struggling with your novel prep, or if you’re a “pantser” who doesn’t know where to start with plotting, then this post is for you.
Here are my top five tips and tricks:
- Arguably, characters are the most important part of any story. Know what your main characters want, sure, but also what they need. Figuring this out ahead of time is going to help you determine your characters’ internal and external conflicts. It’s also going to help you determine The End. The end of your novel will coincide with your characters finally getting what they want…or what they need…or maybe both. If you’re writing a romance, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a satisfying ending without your characters achieving at least one of these.
- For world-building, pick three elements of culture or environment from your invented world to go deep on. Then, brainstorm everything you know about each of those three elements. Next, brainstorm how each of those elements interacts with the other two elements in your story. For example, consider these three elements: magic, religion, and location. You might consider how your magic system relates to or is in conflict with the religious beliefs in your world, how magic is influenced by the specific location of your story, and how the location influences the religious belief system. This exercise will help you add depth to your world and uncover additional layers of conflict.
- Figure out your plot beats and where they should fall in your story. I like to think of these as stars that make up the constellation that will be my story. If you do no other outlining during your novel prep, jotting down some ideas for the key scenes in your novel will help guide you through the wide open sky of that first draft. Those key scenes should include your opening (“meet-cute” for romance), inciting incident, the first pinch point (or turning point), the mid-point (things/characters start to come together), the second pinch point, the crisis, the climax, and the happily-ever-after (or happy-for-now) moment at the end. For romance, I like to use the “Romance Beat Sheet” from Jami Gold’s website to help me It not only prompts you with what needs to happen at each of those points, but it also helps you break down your target word count for each section of your novel (for pacing).
- To help with organization, I use Scrivener writing software. Not everyone in the writing community is a Scrivener fan, but I love it. It’s amazing for outlining scenes, keeping track of notes and images, and keeping track of word count targets. I use my beat sheet to set up my file. I create a Folder for each of the traditional three acts. Then, each plot beat gets its own Sheet with a word count target. Using the Notecard feature, I write a summary of each scene as well as some detailed notes about what needs to happen in it. Scrivener makes it easy to insert additional Sheets as I imagine new scenes, and then I can move them around to get them into the right order. I jump between Sheets, writing parts out of order, when I’m feeling stuck. As I envision scenes, or as I write, I break up generically-titled sheets and folders into scenes and chapters.
- Images are great inspiration for capturing aspects of the people and places that populate your novel. Find photos on the Internet of famous people who look like how you envision your main characters. You can find paintings and drawings of almost anything related to setting: space colonies, ships, castles, hobbit holes. One great place to start for fantasy and sci-fi images is DeviantArt (https://www.deviantart.com/). Paste images that inspire you into character and location dossiers (i.e. character and location Sheets in Scrivener) or pin them to a Pinterest board so you have them on hand when you need a little fuel for your descriptions.
If you incorporate these five things into your novel prep process, you’ll be off to a great start with your next novel. You’ll have a rich world, characters with agency, a map to the finish line, and plenty of inspiration to keep you motivated along the way.
Now, you still have almost two weeks left to prepare for NaNoWriMo. That’s plenty of time to prep your novel. I hope to see you in the forums in November!
Elizabeth Menozzi is currently living her own happily ever after with her ginger-bearded hubby in the picturesque town of Sausalito, California, on the north shore of the Golden Gate. By day, she’s a program manager in the technology industry. She spends her free time writing, reading, swimming, and planning new adventures to satisfy her wanderlust.
Her young adult (YA) epic fantasy novel Petals and Runes won the speculative category of the 2017 YA RWA Rosemary Contest, and her adult paranormal romance, Eve of the Fae, is currently a finalist in the SFA RWA chapter’s 2017 Heart to Heart contest. This is her third year volunteering as a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for Marin County, California and her eighth year participating in NaNoWriMo.