My Novel Planning Process
Most new authors have no idea where to begin when it comes to planning their novel. This is the process I used to plan out every aspect of my debut novel, The Injection Game. 12/12/18.
A few weeks ago, I set out to write my debut novel, The Injection Game. I’ve read books before, so how hard could it be to write one?
Apparently very hard.
I knew I had a tremendous task before me and I wanted to prepare, so I did some research on novel writing.
Two Methods of Writing
Ever play The Game of Life? If you haven’t, it’s a game where you spin a wheel containing the numbers from one to ten and move the corresponding amount of spaces along the board. You can go to college, buy houses, have kids, and retire.
Along the way, though, there are a few STOP signs that you run into. No matter what your spin was on the turn, if you encountered a STOP sign, you had to stop moving and make some sort of decision – a fork in the road, if you will.
The two methods of writing a novel was my first STOP sign.
Apparently, you can either plan a novel or pants it.
Pantsing is a term that’s derived from the saying “fly by the seat of your pants,” which means to make stuff up as you go along. As it relates to novel writing, a pantser is a writer who doesn’t use a novel outline. They just have the idea in their head and start writing.
The alternative to pantsing is to use an outline for the novel. To me, pantsing just seemed like a recipe for disaster. I felt that if I were to just start writing, unplanned except in my head, I would encounter numerous problems and plot holes along the way that would be hell to fix. Some writers are good at fixing things on the fly, but I’m not one of them, so I decided to outline my novel.
My Outline Structure
So… I just write down my characters and ideas and then start writing, right?
Properly outlining a novel takes much more work than that. While every writer’s outline is unique to them, there are a lot of common elements they should include, which I learned while researching different outlining techniques.
In the broadest of terms, outlines should include information about the plot, characters, settings, and research for the novel. Within those four categories are some specifics which take more work than you might initially think, but I’ll get into that in just a bit.
I looked at many unique outlining methods and combined the aspects that I found would be most useful for me in each of them. I ended up with this monster of an organization process:
1. Plot Summaries
The first thing I worked on were the plot summaries. I completed three of them. They didn’t vary in content, though, they varied in detail.
I started by writing down all the major events I could see happening in my novel (in any order) to form the skeleton of my plot outline. I wrote down the climax of the story, the resolution, the inciting incident, etc. Then I filled in the smaller events which would logically lead to those larger ones. Once I had my big event list, I ordered them so that they would make chronological sense and devoted a chapter to each one (to make sure that something substantial happened in every chapter). That was my first outline.
For my second outline, I expanded on my one-sentence description of each chapter and made the descriptions four or five sentences – I added a little more detail. For example,
Chapter 6: Marsha and Florence meet at the fair. They kiss, but Marsha’s parents catch them.
Chapter 6: Marsha arrives at the fair with her parents. She pleads to her parents to venture off on her own and they reluctantly let her. She checks out the various booths for a bit until she spots the apple booth where Florence is working. She hurries over to the booth and talks with him, begging him to leave his post and explore the fair with her. After a bit of convincing, they sneak off behind the barn and share a kiss but are caught by Marsha’s parents.
The kissing chapter is just something I made up for the example. That’s not what The Injection Game is about, so feel free to use the idea!
After I completed the second outline, I moved onto the third, which just included even more detail about each scene: what the characters would talk about, when I should describe parts of the characters or setting, etc. The five sentences per chapter turned into a few paragraphs per chapter.
The third outline would be my direct reference when I’m writing the book. With that, the plot summaries were complete.
2. Characters and Relationships
The next portion of my outline process is all about characters. I developed two character profiles, which are huge lists of information that should be provided for every character in the novel. I had one for supporting characters, and one for main characters which was a bit more detailed.
The character profiles included things like: age, height, eye colour, skin shade, facial hair, jawline, vocabulary, accent, vocal pitch and tone, philosophy, religion, outlook, likes/dislikes, occupation, hobbies… the list goes on and on.
To develop your own character profile, I would recommend finding a template online (there are tons of them) and modifying it by removing the information that you don’t find helpful and including the information that you do find helpful. Using a character profile streamlines the process of developing a set complex, interesting characters for your novel.
After filling out the profile for each of my characters, I also created a document for every relevant relationship in the novel. If two characters had business interacting with each other at some point, I wrote notes on what each character thought of the other, and what their overall relationship dynamic is like.
At that point, I had a firm grasp on the plot and the characters.
The next thing I had to tackle were the settings in my novel. Much like the character profiles, I also had a setting profile that I filled out for each place in my book.
The setting profile included: geographic location of the setting, smell, lighting, humidity, temperature, atmosphere, physical description, etc.
The profile contained more information than I could possibly need to describe any one setting – besides, it’s important to let your reader paint their own unique picture of your world. However, with all the setting profiles complete, when it comes time to describe my settings, I can just pick and choose the details I want to include in the description without having to think too much about it.
The final aspect of my outline to take care of was my research. Once my final plot outline was complete, I read through it and jotted down every topic I would need to research, organized by chapter.
In The Injection Game, there’s a character who suffers from dementia and a subsequent caretaker character. As a result, I needed to research the affliction and how to appropriately care for it. There’s also a gunfight, and since I’ve never even seen a gun in person let alone handled one, I needed to research how guns work.
After I finished scouring the plot outline for my research topics, I ended up with a list of about forty unique things that I had to learn about. So, I took my time, read about each one, and kept the most important information saved so I could refer to it when I would later write the relevant section of the novel.
On to the Writing
The entire planning process took a little over two weeks of work, averaging about five or six hours per day. Yes, it’s a lot, but if you want to write a fantastic novel, it needs to be thoroughly planned. Unless you’re a pantser, but those people are just freaks of nature.
I’ve taken care of the plot structure, characters, settings, and research. Now, I finally get to start writing the novel.
The good news? I’ve gotten the most boring part of the experience out of the way. In fact, I shouldn’t even say that, because the novel still needs to be edited after it’s written. The bad news? Planning the novel took me two weeks and I though that was long. There’s a good chance that writing the damn thing will take upwards of two months.
I guess I’m in it for the long haul.