Look at that title! As though I’m an expert or something.
Of course, I am not. But this question was raised on Twitter this week and the answers were interesting, so I thought I’d bring it to the blog (the blog which is now TEN YEARS OLD, by the way! A bit like a proud mother I am asking myself, where have the years gone? It’ll be going to secondary school soon and wearing a fancy uniform).
The question ‘How do you plan a novel?’ was posed by a self-confessed ‘pantser’ – i.e.: someone who doesn’t plan at all but writes by the seat of his/her pants and just hopes for the best.
The first couple of times I did NaNoWriMo (which starts on Sunday, btw), I did it in a ‘pantser’ style which Did. Not. Work.
I haven’t read either of the ‘novels’ back since then (and perhaps I should because they might not be *all* bad) but my general feeling, when I reached 30th November and therefore the end of NaNoWriMo, was that I’d written mostly rubbish.
So, my advice – and something I followed last year when I did NaNoWriMo and wrote big chunks of the novel that I’m now trying to finish – is to do some planning, even if it’s rough and you fully expect it to change as you write.
Of course, some very successful novelists claim they don’t plan: they just write the book. Marian Keyes (who writes huge novels. Her latest, Grown-Ups, has so many characters that it needed a family tree printed at the front) and Richard Osman, whose Thursday Murder Club is the fastest selling debut crime novel EVER – have both said they don’t plan. They don’t have spreadsheets or character biographies or Post-It notes. I find that amazing but perhaps that’s just the kind of brain they have: they can hold it all in there.
I am in awe of crime writers who don’t know who committed the murder until they get near the end of the book (they work on the basis that if they don’t know, it’s almost impossible for the reader to know either). But how can they do that?!
Anyway, I digress.
If you are a pantser trying to be a plotter, there is a book called (I love this), “Take Off Your Pants” that might help. I haven’t read it myself so I can’t recommend it but it might be worth a look.
I have compiled some of the answers that were given to the ‘how do you plot a novel?’ question:
Some people swear by the ‘Snowflake’ method of planning. This starts with a one-sentence description of your novel and expands outwards from there. A bit like… you’ve got it. There’s lots of information on line if you want to find out more, for example, here.
Then there’s the ‘3 Act Structure (In very simple terms, that’s: Set-Up, Confrontation, Resolution).
Some people swear by ‘beat sheets’
Or if that all sounds a bit too technical/formulaic/screenplay-ish for you, there are of course, trusty Post-It notes (move them around, have different colours for different viewpoints or characters or timelines). I have tried Post-It notes by the way – as you may remember from this post – but I find the whole process a bit too fiddly.
Some writers write a complete novel synopsis before they put pen to paper. Yup, they know the whole novel (or at least, all the important bits and the ending). The synopsis (1 or 2 pages max) by the way, is great for reminding you what the book is supposed to be about, if/when you go off course.
Other writers plan their novels using:
* A pile of scrappy notebooks.
* Index cards.
* Scraps of paper
A nice simple piece of advice was: List the scenes that are going in the novel. Write them. Put them in order later.
Some people swear by the software Scrivener and are evangelical about it (much in the way that I RAVE about my soup maker and lots of people think I’m weird and what’s wrong with a saucepan and a sieve, anyway?)
Scrivener seems to be one of those tools for novel writing that you either swear by or about which you say, “I couldn’t get on with it.”
I suspect, if I delved into it, it would just be another form of procrastination for me. Plus, I hate learning new things, especially new, techie things so I don’t think I have the patience to even start. But if you want to know more, apparently you can get a free 30-day trial.
What have I found works best for me?
After a lot (a lot!) of trial and error, my preferred method seems to be a simple Excel spreadsheet with each scene on a new line, the name of the point of view (POV) character and date in two other columns.
That way I can instantly see if I’ve forgotten a POV character for a while, or if I’ve got my days mixed up. It’s easy to change the order of the scenes and as I write each scene, I ‘colour in’ the cells, which is very motivating.
But that’s what works for me (at the moment, at least) and that’s the most important point to take away from this: everyone’s different.
You have to work out what works best for you (what does work best for you? Tell me if I’ve missed anything out!).
Maybe you’re one of those lucky people that can just keep it all in their head…!