Planning is one of the most difficult things about writing, and I receive questions on this daily.
So, I’ve decided to spill my outlining routine!
I’m laying all my cards out here - I didn’t do any planning before I started my current novel. I know - with how much I scream about outlines, this is an appalling piece of information to learn. So what happened with my project?
Basically, I ended up scrapping about 80% of what I had written in my first draft.
Once I took a step back, I realized my story wasn’t flowing, the pacing was off, the plot was a mess. There were tons of characters in my first draft which were completely unnecessary, and those who were important didn’t get nearly as much attention as I should have given them.
So how did I fix this?
I finally outlined.
I went over my initial idea and tore it to shreds in order to make a sensible plot. I ended up completely erasing a handful of characters, archiving about 30% of my chapters for good, and rewriting another 50%.
Through these mistakes, I developed a planning routine that would save me ever having to experience that mistake again.
I COVER THE BASICS FIRST
You’ve got to have the basics of your story figured out before you start anything at all. This includes:
- The premise - I come up with 2-3 sentences that describe your story’s hero, their goal and main conflict.
- The protagonist - I craft a strong protagonist who can carry the story and make sure they’re relatable enough to the readers.
- Their external and internal goal - I make sure I have one clear external goal my character sets out for at the beginning of the story, and then another clear internal goal, which they discover at the end of the story.
- The story theme - I usually extract my main story theme from the conflict that arises between my hero’s external and internal goals! Remember, you can have more themes throughout your story, but it’s best to have one clear theme that stretches through your entire story.
- Visual style - I think about my setting - the climate, the architecture, the colors, the people; anything that paints a clear picture in my mind and makes it easier to describe the visuals!
- Narrative voice (POV) - I decide on what type of narrator I want to go with. Typically, I’ll pick a character to focus on, whether I choose to write from the 1st or 3rd person perspective.
I FOCUS ON THE CHARACTERS NEXT
You should only start crafting the rest of your characters in detail once you’ve figured out your basics. A well crafted character should have:
- A distinct voice - I try to give each character a unique speech pattern - an accent, phrases, tone or way of speaking.
- Internal & external motivation - This aligns with your hero’s goals. Just like your hero, the rest of your characters should have their own goals and motivations.
- Character journey - And just as they should have goals, they’ll also need their own journey within the story. Think about where they start off and where they end up.
- A purpose in the story - Even if your minor characters don’t have their own developed goals, they should still have a purpose for being in the story. If you cannot justify a character’s purpose in the story, you might need to cut them out.
I OUTLINE MY PLOT LAST
Once you have your characters and each of their journeys figured out, you can put that all into a sensible outline. I use the 3-act outline for my own projects, as well as my clients’!
Make sure that your outline includes:
- An inciting incident - that event that pushes everything into motion
- Rising Action - the obstacles and the ups and downs your character will have to fight
- A False Victory + Realization - the point where your hero achieves their external goal, but realizes soon that it's not what they needed
- The Low Point - your protagonist reaches their lowest point and loses everything
- A True Victory - your protagonist finally faces their issues head on, with a changed mindset
- A Resolution - the ending that wraps up all your storylines
You can plan out your entire novel in just a month, pick up my 12-week novel plan here!
And if you’re ready to take your writing journey to the next level…
PLUS - I help you every step of the way.
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